Recalling the eerie moment a stranger crept close to him in a court elevator, Ankit Sharma said, “The man touched my shoulder and asked, ‘Aap paisa leke khatam karr dijiye na is case ko?’ (Why don’t you take money and end the case?)
Shocked, he got away as soon as he could. This wasn’t the first time Ankit, brother of Geetika Sharma, had faced intimidation to settle. Geetika Sharma killed herself in August 2012 at the age of 23 after blaming Sirsa MLA Gopal Kanda for harassment.
Adding to intimidation, Ankit’s woes were exacerbated by his mother killing herself in the same room as Geetika, six months after the latter’s death. He was 22 at the time.
Until the JJP-BJP alliance was fructified, Kanda was on the radar to help BJP meet the 46 majority mark in the Assembly. Kanda, elected Sirsa MLA, was leading five Independent MLAs – the number BJP was falling short of to form government. He also flew to Delhi to meet BJP leaders. Ankit was appalled at the possibility of the man accused of his sister’s death being catapulted to the position of a cabinet minister.
Other than abetment to suicide, Kanda has eight other cases against him – of fraud, forgery, bounced cheques, cheating, and so on and so forth. He won for a second consecutive term by a narrow margin of 0.4 percent votes, translating to exactly 602 votes. Coming second was Independent candidate Gokul Setia.
Ankit says he’s disinclined to understand how politics works, adding, “This man (Gopal Kanda) does not know of women’s empowerment and women’s safety. He will not do any good if he becomes a part of government. He is the sort who will only think the girls in his house are someone’s children and not think the same of anyone else. My only request is: Please do not involve hooligans into public service, it is disappointing for people who pay taxes.”
Now 28, Ankit runs a small packaging business. He opened up to The Quint about how he and his 60-year-old father have relentlessly pursued justice. He narrated how he, the face of the case, has been subjected to intimidation by strangers, apathy by courts and suggestions of compromise by people posing as journalists.
‘Used to Say She Felt Unsafe’
“The harassment started back in 2008,” Ankit began. Geetika had joined the MRLD Airlines as an air hostess. She worked there for about two years and when the airline became defunct, she decided to apply elsewhere but her efforts were repeatedly stopped.”
When she attempted to start afresh in Dubai, Kanda followed her, harassed her in her apartment and forced her to return, Ankit said. “Basically, he was trying to bring her into his clutches and prove that she could not do anything without him.”
Upon returning from Dubai, Geetika insisted she wouldn’t work and enrolled in Delhi University to do a post-graduation course instead. “He even pursued her there, even impersonating a sardar. He was a stalker. He was calling her friends 350 times a day and saying ‘Do not talk to her.’ She was under so much pressure.”
“She kept saying she did not want to go back. That she did not feel safe there, that there was no work. But she was harassed and stalked till she took her life,” Ankit said.
Ankit Doesn’t Trust Fake Journalists, Insensitive Neighbours
Ankit is visibly cautious while talking to journalists. While speaking to this reporter, he requested her to verify her identity. Later, he explained why he has no option but to ask these questions as he has had bad experiences in the past.
He remembered a few conversations he had with ‘journalists’, describing how a person called him and said, “Hum journalist hai, hum aapki baat kara dete hai. Aap kyu itna follow up kar rahain ho? Thoda leke khatam karo.” (I am a journalist, I will help you talk to the other side. Why are you following up on the case as much? Take some money and end the matter.)
Furious at Ankit asking for their ID, they dropped the call. “Then I got a call from another number, with someone else saying the same thing. Someone asked me, ‘Kyu ladna chahte ho case? Aapko pata nahi hai kya kitna dangerous aadmi hai? Aapka ghar se nikalne mushkil ho jayega.’ (Why do you want to fight the case? Don't you know how dangerous these people are? It'll be hard for you to even step out of the house.) Once you meet this kind of a person, you have to rule out each and every person,” he continued.
“We do not let anyone enter the house because journalists always want to shoot the house. It is an invasion of my privacy yaar. Yesterday too I had 80 people standing with cameras outside my house and you know how insulting it is when you go out and your neighbours start asking, ‘Aapke ghar mein kya ho rahaan hai.’ (What is happening at your place?) No one cares, they just want us to know they are getting troubled because of us.”
A few of neighbours repeatedly asked Ankit and his father to step out of their home and address the media. “They ask us why people are standing outside out house. They kept saying how this was inconveniencing them and asking us to come out. What do I tell them?”
Intimidation Continues in Courtroom
Seven years of trial, six to seven different judges, four different courts, and eight different courtrooms, Ankit said.
“You have no clue of the kind of people I have met over these years,” Ankit reinforced.
People come up to him outside the courtroom many times, he said. “Initially they show support and then directly or indirectly advise me to compromise and follow the case.” Ankit attends all the trials, sometimes with his father now that he’s retired. “These completely unknown people will just come close to you and start talking. Then they’ll start murmuring in your ear.”
“It is humiliating. Every time we go to a new court. Every time there is a different judge. Every time people need time to understand the case. We go for one hour, we kill time, and we come back disappointed.”
Referring to unfair treatment in the courtroom, Ankit said, “We as the victim's family stand near the judge’s seat and this criminal is offered a seat on the lawyer’s chair. As per the law, the accused is not allowed to sit during the hearing. His body language is intimidating and we do not feel like attending trials anymore. We are persistently humiliated when they raise questions on my sister’s character. Imagine my 60-year-old father, how should he deal with all this?”
He requests government authorities, appealing to their conscience, “It is me right now, it could be you next time. 602 votes, just... 602.”