Deepika Singh Rajawat
I always felt I am different, even when I was just a kid. For some strange reason, I felt very emotional about the injustices in the world. Eventually I realised that God had blessed me with empathy. After all, only if you really feel another’s pain can you help them. I made up my mind that it was my responsibility to work for people who didn’t have a voice.
In 2004, I was working as a journalist in Kashmir Times and was asked to cover a story. A Pakistani woman suffering from insanity had crossed the border and had been languishing in Amphalla jail for 28 years. I couldn’t just cover the story. I felt compelled to fight for her, so I engaged a lawyer and we approached the Jammu & Kashmir High Court. We got the woman released & she could finally go back. It was then that I realised the power of law and how it can be an instrument to help people. I realised that it can be a powerful tool to aid my activism. So, I decided to study law and in 2008, I started practicing as a lawyer.
I also got two fellowships in 2008- the Charkha fellowship & Rippan Kapur fellowship by CRY. It was then that I started working on child rights, focussing on juvenile justice in Jammu & Kashmir. No one was working for the rehabilitation of young offenders at that time. Among other issues, I kept filing PILs for juveniles. In 2010, I filed a PIL for proper implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act and was appointed as a member of the Juvenile Justice Board in Jammu. In 2013, I established my NGO, Voice for Rights to further this fight.
In 2018, I saw Asifa’s story on Facebook and offered to help the family. I wanted to give them legal advice as the circumstances around the case were such that I feared that the case would get ruined. I took up her case and did not charge a penny for it. Fortunately, the late Shujaat Bukhari noticed my Facebook post about the case and wrote on it, after which it got attention from national and international media. I decided to approach the Supreme Court to get the trial transferred. With Indira Jaisingh’s help, we got the case transferred to Pathankot where a smooth trial was ensured.
Throughout fighting for the case, I was never intimidated or affected by the negativity. The only thing that upset me was when Asifa’s parents filed an application against me for not giving enough time to the case, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I gave my blood, sweat and tears to ensure justice for Asifa. BJP leaders took out rallies in support of the rapists and I even faced opposition by my own fraternity, the lawyers in Jammu. There was so much pressure on me, including threats to my life. On top of the opposition we faced, we also had to run after her parents for timely signatures and cooperation. And yet, there was a conspiracy to malign my image. Even now, revisiting the case puts stress on me and affects my health. The media ran with the story and the same channels which portrayed me as a hero now showed me in a bad light. I couldn’t even find a house to live in because of the vicious propaganda run by channels & BJP leaders.
After this episode, it took me two years to recover. I had no sense of the larger politics till 2018. Only after experiencing everything in 2018, I have woken to the political reality of India now. I honestly feel like we are not in a democratic setup anymore. Our rights are being curbed left, right and centre. After 2014, democracy has been dying in a sense. And I am very apprehensive about the future. Imagine- a law like UAPA, which is so stringent, is being applied on students! And people like Kapil Mishra are roaming free while pregnant women and students are jailed! The country is really not in safe hands. I fear that the BJP will amend the Preamble & even the Constitution to completely murder democracy! People say Hinduism is in danger, but I never felt that. What is in danger is BJP’s power and they will go to any lengths to keep it.
As long as I am alive, I will continue to fight for victims like Asifa. It is upon us to make the country what we want it to be. For me, the rule of law is supreme. While a privileged celebrity is given Y+ security, the Unnao victim is not even treated like a human. We all must stand together and throw out this government, as harsh as it sounds. I want to fight for the women of this country, not just for their right to live but for their right to live with dignity.