(Rhythma Kaul covers health for HT. She reported extensively on the December 16 gang-rape case since the victim was admitted to hospital in Delhi late that evening.)
My phone blinked at 3.15am. I’d received a mail.
It was December 29, 2012. On a normal day, I would not have sacrificed a moment from my already insufficient sleep hours. But this was no normal occasion.
Even in my sleep, I would subconsciously be thinking of my phone lest I miss any call, message or email.
I was prepared for the news – like the other journalists on my beat, the doctors at New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital and many others whose lives had knowingly or unknowingly got intertwined with that of the 23-year-old fighting for her life. It was just a matter of time.
As I grabbed my phone from under the pillow, and began reading the email, I knew it was time.
The mail read:
“Dear Press Member,
In relation to the young female patient from Delhi who was assaulted in a bus, and who was transferred from a hospital in India to receive further treatment at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore on 27 Dec... We are very sad to report that the patient passed away peacefully at 4.45am on 29 Dec 2012 (Singapore time). Her family and officials from the High Commission of India were by her side. The Mount Elizabeth Hospital team of doctors, nurses and staff join her family in mourning her loss. The patient had remained in an extremely critical condition since admission to Mount Elizabeth Hospital in the morning of 27 Dec (Singapore time). Despite all efforts by a team of eight specialists in Mount Elizabeth Hospital to keep her stable, her condition continued to deteriorate over these two days. She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain. She was courageous in fighting for her life for so long against the odds but the trauma to her body was too severe for her to overcome...”
She breathed her last at 2.15am (India time) – losing her 13-day spirited battle to stay alive.
Though most of us were prepared, her family was not. Not until the last day of her life, miles away from home.
When her organs began failing, the family members of the December 16 Delhi gangrape victim had held each other’s hands in the Intensive Care Unit of the Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Singapore; their eyes fixed on the cardiac monitor.
At 9pm — Singapore time — on December 28, the doctors treating her said “sorry” to the family, as her condition took a turn for the worse.
Her younger brother, while trying hard to fight back tears, later told me, “They told us to be by her side in her last moments. We cried all through the night and kept looking at the monitor. They had told us when the screen shows zero, it means her heart has stopped beating.”
For nearly eight hours, the victim’s mother, father and her two brothers, both younger to her, were huddled around her bed. At 4.45am, the heart monitor went blank.
“She was lying still. When mother touched her body, it was cold. She lost consciousness after the heart attack in Safdarjung Hospital and never spoke after that,” said the elder brother.
From the time they learnt of the rape till the 10 days of treatment at Safdarjung, the family – though traumatised – hadn’t lost hope.
So when they were told on December 26 that their daughter was being flown out of India for better treatment, they agreed readily.
“Jo bhi karna hai kar lo, bas bacha lo humari bachchi ko (Do whatever you have to, just save our child),” the father had told the doctors.
But on their second day in Singapore, it became clear that the young woman was not going to make it.
“They (Mount Elizabeth staff) hid nothing from us and I, too, explained everything clearly to our parents,” the brother said.
“Papa was still composed but Maa was devastated. She just couldn’t stop crying.”
Having watched her condition deteriorate from the time she was brought to Safdarjung Hopsital on the intervening night of December 16 and December 17, her survival was doubtful since day one.
In fact, according to the doctors at Safdarjung Hospital, it was a miracle that she survived that long – barely an inch of the 20-foot-long intestines was left inside her abdomen.
One of the accused later confessed to doctor, during a medical examination, that he was so drunk he did not realise what the “rope-like” thing they were pulling out from her body was.
The rapists had thrown her intestines out of the window of the moving bus while raping her.
Even the doctors were shocked at the brutality she had suffered, claiming they had never seen such injuries in their career.
“In my 30 years of medical experience, I had not seen such severe trauma meted out to a woman ever – not even in the war zones abroad where I had been posted,” a senior doctor at Safdarjung had said.
All of them applauded the fighting spirit of the physiotherapy student, who was ready to get placed with a hospital in a month’s time.
“Looking at the injuries, she should have collapsed on the spot. It’s only her fighting spirit that saw her through all this while,” a doctor had said.
Like any other girl from a middle-class family, she had elaborate plans about spending her first salary.
She wanted to buy a new mobile phone to replace her four-year-old handset.
She planned to buy clothes for the whole family and to take them out to eat – making up for all the time the family could not afford to splurge.
She liked watching television and was very fond of Big Boss. She never missed a single episode.
This time, when the seventh season of the reality show began, I was reminded of her.
But I confess: it’s not just when I watch Big Boss that I am reminded of her.
I am reminded of her every time I am subjected to that male gaze. I am reminded of her whenever there is a catcall made at me on the streets. I am reminded of her every time someone makes an obscene gesture towards me. And I am reminded of her every time a man makes an attempt to touch me in a crowd.
In short, every time I step out of the safety of my house – I am reminded of her.