She took the combined might of politics and money head on, and won. For 56-year-old Neelam Katara, the conviction of Vikas and Vishal Yadav was the logical conclusion of the six-year fight for her murdered son.
Neelam knew the fearsome odds she was up against: the accused were the son and nephew of a politician whose name spelt terror in western UP. But she refused to be scared.
“My faith in judiciary has been strengthened. I also thank the media. This will ensure that no son of any mother has to meet such a fate,” she said after the judgment was pronounced.
Like most people, Neelam’s knowledge of courts was limited to what she had seen in the movies. Till she landed up in one herself. “I floated into the courtroom with the rest of the crowd soon after the Yadav brothers were arrested on February 23, 2002,” she said. And after that, there was no looking back.
Despite the personal loss and the odds stacked against her, Neelam remained a picture of composure all through the battle. She conducted herself with dignity, ignoring grave provocation from the defence side, which launched many personal attacks on her.
Though despair and frustration, the gritty mother made sure she was present at all court proceedings. Several times, whenever the prosecution got adverse rulings, she nudged them to move the High Court and even the Supreme Court.
Her first victory came on August 23, 2002 when the Supreme Court transferred the trial from a court in Ghaziabad to Delhi on her petition that the powerful accused were influencing the trial.
Her role in forcing the prosecution to bring Bharti Yadav from UK to India to depose after she had evaded the court for three years, was critical in the manner the case turned out.
Yet, Neelam is aware that her battle is still only half won — the convicts would move higher courts in appeal. “I know there is a long road ahead but I am prepared,” she said.
She is in fact, used to long battles. Coming to terms with her son’s death was the toughest challenge in her life, but it was only the beginning. Her husband Nishit, a senior bureaucrat in the Indian Railways, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2001. Nitin, her younger son, was studying to be an engineer in Pune. It was left to her to take charge of the situation.