Deepika Singh Rajawat talks about life after the Kathua rape case
Our collective impression of Deepika Singh Rajawat has been formed by a single image, where she marches out of court with a determined stride, the sole woman in a crowd of men, pausing only to adjust her lawyer’s robe. After the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl from the nomadic community of Muslim cattle grazers in Kathua became an inflection point across India, Rajawat, who volunteered to give the family legal support, became a household name for taking on their quest for justice. In doing so, she stood alone. Powerful local politicians, including two state ministers, defended the rape-accused. Her own community of lawyers agitated on the streets to stop investigators from submitting a charge sheet in court.
Today, Emma Watson knows of Rajawat, as does much of India—but the attention and success has come at a price, as it so often does, especially if you’re a woman. Petty aspersions were cast on her character for seeking the child’s family out, as distinct from the family approaching her. But she remains unequivocal. Her early work at Child Rights & You (CRY), she says, trained her for this very moment. “I have not made a single penny in this case—you can verify it.” The toxic allegations hurt at first. But she tells me she couldn’t sleep at night thinking about how the victim was strangled with her own dupatta, her skull smashed with a rock. “I never thought the entire world would come to know of this case,” she says, “My life has totally changed—both positively and negatively.”
A Kashmiri Pandit whose family had to make Jammu their home, Rajawat recalls the years when her parents were too poor to afford notebooks for her sisters and her. “We used stones to make marks on the cement floor to practise our writing,” she says. The hardship of her early years meant that school at first was irregular, but she took two attempts to clear her class X exams. When she went to enrol for a law degree at Jammu University, she had to borrow fee from a friend’s mother. “But I always had big dreams,” she says.
These days, the fame and public attention have been on the upside. But Rajawat has also had to live with abuse and threats. What is the worst thing you have had to battle this year, I ask her. “Being called anti-national” she says instantly. “It’s like being lynched. It’s abuse. What is this kind of nationalism? Our Constitution is secular—how can they bring Hindu and Muslim into the rape of a child? How can you communalise something like this?”
Married to a former major of the Indian Army, the tag of treachery was especially hurtful. “At one point, not just Arvind (her husband), even my family asked me to give up the case… I told my brother I could not stop working on this case even if they disowned me.”
It has been equally difficult to explain the cataclysmic changes in her life to her six-year-old daughter, Ashtami. “Activism is at the cost of your family life,” she says. “This case has come at the cost of the education of my daughter. I have had to neglect her studies and her health,” she adds.
Rajawat is struggling to make sense of the paradox of her life. She is feted and celebrated but also abused and ostracised, depending on who she talks to. At the height of the Kathua debate—when battlelines had been drawn between parties and even among her own colleagues—she worried for her safety: “I knew they could break me mentally, but I did worry about bodily harm.”
She was ready to be a woman in a man’s world but “what I didn’t know was the character assassination I’d be subjected to.” But beyond the vilification, Rajawat has become a national icon. The girl from Kupwara who ended up becoming a lawyer is non-committal when I ask if she might join politics one day. She says, “All I know is I want to bring a revolution.”
Read more in Vogue India’s November 2018 issue that hits stands on November 5, 2018
Photographed by: Bikramjit Bose. Styled by: Anaita Shroff Adajania
Hair: Yianni Tsapatori/ Faze Management. Makeup: Mickey Contractor. Production: Imran Khatri Productions; Divya Jagwani. Photographer’s assistant: Vikas Gotra. Assistant stylist: Priyanka Kapadia. Editorial assistant: Janine Dubash
The post Deepika Singh Rajawat talks about life after the Kathua rape case appeared first on VOGUE India.
Author: Barkha Dutt