Jennifer, a teacher, spends her time wondering which of her niece's limbs Moninder Singh and Surender chopped off first. Meera, a maid, finds herself in a panic every time she comes across a polythene bag while sweeping Nithari's drains.
No food, no sleep, nightmares, hallucinations, rage and fear... an entire community is suffering trauma that, psychologists say, could last a lifetime.
Over Thursday and Friday, 29 residents of Nithari village — 11 men, 13 women and six children — were given questionnaires and interviewed by psychologists Rajat Mitra, Nidhi Mitra, Paresh Shah, Mahima Nayar and Rajender Singh, assisted by HT.
They found Nithari's survivors in the highest level of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), more than what Swanchetan found in its work with victims of natural disasters (2001 Bhuj earthquake), riots (Gujarat 2002) and terrorism (post-1990 Kashmiri migrants).
How total is the disruption of life? Not only were most residents truant from work or school, they were too listless for even daily chores. No one could eat properly. As soon as they touched their food, they saw images of bones, the culprits' faces, and the drain where the remains were discovered. That would end their appetite.
No one could sleep properly. During the past week, they slept an average of two to three hours. About 90 per cent reported nightmares; the children said they often dreamed they were trying to protect the dead, telling them to stay away from "that house".
Many hallucinated. Some spoke of hearing the killers' voices, others spoke of imagining the killers lurking around the corner. If there was a night-time knock on the door, the first thought for many was that it was one of the killers.
The survivors said that like Jennifer above, they often visualised the victims' last moments. Everyone wanted to tear D-5 down with his or her own hands; all wanted a death for the culprits as terrible as was for the victims.
Everyone had an eerie fear that the culprits would somehow return and take revenge against the villagers for having exposed them.
The survey found all respondents showing sharply increased regressive behaviour. It was highest among children – even teens were bed-wetting. The women complained that the men had become child-like in behaviour.
Swanchetan felt PTSD in Nithari was high because no one could explain the incident. "They could not ascribe causation, unlike in Bhuj, where they blamed God, or after the riots, for which they blamed politicians," said Rajat Mitra.
The study found PTSD highest among children and lowest among women, perhaps because women are used to huddling and collectively coping.
For the men, the statement at the core of the trauma was "Life is unpredictable". For women, it was "We could not protect the children". The men resorted to alcohol and drugs ("to deaden oneself"), while the women and children fell deeper into silence, punctuated only by hallucination.
The dominating emotion for men was rage, for children it was "survival guilt", and for women it was depression.
Swanchetan predicts lifelong trauma for many – first because there are no support structures for therapy, and second because the community of Nithari and Noida's sector 31 is a mix of locals, migrants and illegal immigrants.
Psychologists say integrated communities deal with trauma better. The result would be increased morbidity — crimes and mental health issues – and more "negative scripting". A "script" is an individual's basic belief of self and others.
For instance, the children spoke of how adult society could not protect them. Fatalistic beliefs have already sprouted – residents said they would not be able to protect themselves, and predicted that rapes would become common.
The survey showed the locals dealing with the trauma better than the migrants. Yet they also blamed the migrants for creating an evil atmosphere that led to the grisly crimes.
These preliminary findings will not differ significantly from the final report, expected in the middle of next week. Swanchetan plans to continue the work on a long-term basis, picking up on the interviews when the din dies down.
Part of the reason is the police ordering residents to clam up, the opposite of what mental health professionals prescribe for trauma victims. The NGO plans to set up support structures for therapy, and Mitra was critical of the administration's announcement of compensation for the victims' families: "The government should set up supportive structures the way the US did post-9/11, and the money should supplement that."