New Delhi: As the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of the Nitish Katara killers on Monday, a look at the four cases in the last two decades that shook the conscience of the country.

Jessica Lal murder case

Model and celebrity barmaid Jessica Lal was shot dead for refusing to serve alcohol to Union minister Venod Sharma’s son Siddharth Vashisht alias Manu Sharma near the Qutub Colonnade, Delhi, in April 1999. Sharma, according to the prosecution, had pulled out a .22 pistol, shot once at the roof and then at Lal.

The trial court acquitted Sharma on 21 February 2006. But the Delhi high court reversed this decision and sentenced him to life imprisonment for murdering Lal. His friends, who were at the party, were also found guilty. They included Vikas Yadav, who was later convicted of killing Nitish Katara, a business executive from Delhi. On 19 April 2010, the apex court upheld Sharma’s conviction.

Nitish Katara murder case

On 17 February, 2002, Nitish Katara, a 25-year-old businessman, was murdered by Vikas Yadav, son of Uttar Pradesh politician DP Yadav. The trial court, while convicting Yadav, said that it was a case of honour killing as Yadav did not approve of Katara’s relationship with his sister, Bharti. On 30 May 2008, the trial court convicted Yadav, his cousin Vishal Yadav and one Sukhdev Yadav on counts of abduction, murder, and hiding evidence. Katara was battered to death with a hammer and burnt.

The Supreme Court on 17 August upheld the conviction of Vikas Yadav, agreeing with the Delhi high court’s decision in April 2014. The issue of sentencing, which the high court enhanced to 30 years without remission for Vikas and Vishal Yadav, will be heard by the Supreme Court as it has asked the Centre to respond on the same.

Both Jessica Lal and Nitish Katara cases brought home the sheer arrogance and lack of respect for either life or law among a section of the political class.

The long-drawn trial in both cases also put the spotlight on instances where witnesses were bullied and coerced to change testimonies.

The outlandish behaviour of accused Manu Sharma—he got into a skirmish at an upmarket night club in Delhi while on ‘leave’ from Tihar to spend time with his ailing mother—drew lot of public ire.

Lal’s case was adapted for the big screen with the title, No One Killed Jessica, referencing the trial court’s acquisition of Sharma in 2006. In both the cases, it was the courageous family members, Sabrina Lal and Neelam Katara, who ensured justice for their kin.

Aarushi Talwar murder case

On 15 May 2008, 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar was found bludgeoned to death with a slit on her throat in her house in Noida. Their domestic help, Hemraj, was found similarly murdered on 17 May, 2008.

On 26 November 2013, a special CBI court convicted Aarushi’s parents, Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, for murder and hiding or suppressing evidence for the twin murders of Aarushi and Hemraj.

The Talwars’, now in Tihar Jail, have appealed before the Allahabad high court against the conviction.

The gruesome murder of Aarushi Talwar took on moral undertones with suspicions being raised about the parents and subsequently Aarushi’s intimate life.

16 December gang-rape case

The gang-rape and murder of 23-year-old physiotherapy student on 16 December 2012, in a private bus near Munirka, Delhi, by six people, including a juvenile, created an outrage across the country.

All six accused were found guilty by a fast track court. With the exception of the juvenile and one Ram Singh, who died in custody, four of them have been sentenced to death. The Delhi high court upheld the death sentences on 13 March 2014. The appeals of these four convicts are currently pending in the Supreme Court.

Following the outrage and protest after the 16 December gang-rape, a committee led by retired Supreme Court chief justice J.S. Verma was constituted to suggest reforms in the criminal law.

Based on the recommendations, Parliament passed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, which led to certain significant changes like compulsory registration of an FIR (first information report), and prosecution of a police officer if he/she failed to do so.

Violence against women has been endemic in India but the case known as ‘Nirbhaya case’ became the turning point. The sheer brutality and the intended nature of the attack (the accused admitted that they had set out with the express intention of picking up a girl forcibly) shook conscience of the society, leading to street protests in the national capital. The failure of the political establishment to react in time further fuelled the anger and gender crimes became a topic of national discourse.

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