Deepika Rajawat Kathua
(L-R) Lawyer Deepika Singh Rajawat with Shekhar Gupta, Maneesh Chhibber and Manasi Phadke from ThePrint
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The lawyer of the 8-yr-old Bakerwal girl who was gang raped and murdered questions the ordinance on child rape, and the efficacy of death penalty as a deterrent.

Mumbai: The lawyer representing the family of the eight-year-old Bakerwal girl who was gang raped and murdered in Kathua has questioned the government’s child rape ordinance, saying death penalty will not necessarily work as a deterrent for rapists.

Deepika Singh Rajawat, a Jammu-based lawyer with roots in Kashmir, instead emphasised the need for a system more sensitive to victims.

The ordinance, issued last week, was a result of nationwide protests and outrage over sex crimes against children, precipitated by the alleged abduction, gang rape and murder of the Bakerwal girl in Kathua in January. The law allows the death penalty for those convicted of raping a child aged below 12 years.

Speaking at ThePrint’s Off The Cuff Tuesday evening, Rajawat said murder being punishable by death under the IPC had not helped curb the crime.

“It (death penalty) will actually not work. The system should change, the judicial officers should be made to understand the sensitivity of the matter, lady doctors who conduct medical examinations on the victim should understand how to treat the victim respectfully,” she added.

Rajawat, who was in conversation with ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, Editor (Investigation and Special Projects) Manish Chhibber and Associate Editor Manasi Phadke, pointed out how some girls were also raped in custody. “The system has to change, we have sufficient law (sic) with us,” she added.

Rajawat recalled the case of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who was hanged in 2004 for the 1990 rape and murder of a teenager in Kolkata.  She added, “Do you think rapes did not take place after that (the Dhananjoy Chatterjee case)?”

(L-R) Lawyer Deepika Singh Rajawat with Shekhar Gupta, Maneesh Chhibber and Manasi Phadke from ThePrint

When a crime divides

The Kathua case has stood out not just for the extent of the alleged atrocities inflicted on the victim over four days, but also the deep divide it has fostered in the region because she and the suspected assailants belonged to different religions.

Local lawyers have played a leading role in the protests against the Jammu & Kashmir police crime branch’s investigation, which critics have dubbed “biased”. They tried to stop the crime branch from filing the chargesheet earlier this month, and members of the fraternity have reportedly also threatened Rajawat for taking up the case.

At Off The Cuff, Rajawat expressed disappointment with her colleagues, saying she was excluded from the fraternity’s social media groups for representing the victim’s family. She recalled how a notary even refused to attest some of her documents for this reason.

“I had tears in my eyes, but that gave me more conviction, strength and courage. There are also people who are silently supporting me even from my community and place,” she said, “They are supporting the case and they want justice for the child.”

A plea for peace

She said people should come together to condemn the communalisation of the Kathua crime. “I am a Brahmin. I am married to a Rajput. I never thought that this girl is not from my religion. I thought this is just an eight-year-old girl and that made me want to fight for her,” she added.

“The kind of polarised situation that has been created, that is something we all should stand against and condemn. Being conscious citizens, this is very important. Otherwise our country will never grow,” Rajawat said.

The young lawyer added that she saw hope in how her participation in the case was “bringing Jammu & Kashmir together”.

“It is breaking the ice and I am very happy about it. Kashmiri Muslims are calling me ‘Hamari Kashmirian (our Kashmirian)’, ‘hamari beti (our daughter)’. I am very happy,” she said.

“Although this is not the time to celebrate, we should, at some point, celebrate this breaking of ice.”List of sponsors

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