Preeti Rathi, our eldest child, was quiet, unassuming and hardworking. Good in studies and extra-curricular activities, her dream was to get a good government job.
So when the appointment letter from the ministry of defence reached us on March 28, Preeti was thrilled. We were ecstatic.
Of the 15,000 applicants for the job, only 500 were selected. It was a big achievement for Preeti.
The letter said that Preeti had been selected for short service commission in the military nursing service and that she must report to the commandant of the naval hospital — Asvini — in Colaba, Mumbai, on May 15.
In the last week of April, Preeti received a letter from INHS Asvini.
Please read the letter (below). It will give you an idea about the beautiful life that awaited my 24-year-old daughter as ‘Lieutenant Nurse Preeti Rathi’ in Mumbai.
A month-and-a-half later, on June 1, Preeti succumbed to the injuries she had sustained during an acid attack.
I am illiterate. So I wanted the best education we could afford for Preeti and her siblings, Hitesh (21) and Tanu (19).
Where we come from, Rewari in Haryana, girls are often forced to drop out of school.
So, a few years after Preeti’s birth (January 26, 1990), my husband Amar Singh Rathi, 57, who is with the Bhakra Beas Management Board, took a transfer to Delhi and we moved into his official quarters at Narela.Preeti’s father, who works as a foreman, earns Rs 50,000 per month.
It’s not enough for a family of six (which includes my 103-year-old bed-ridden mother-in-law) and we could never afford small luxuries like a family vacation or even a sofa.
But we never discussed these things: our prime focus was our children’s education.
Preeti passed her Class 10 exam from National Public School in Narela and Class 12 from the Narela Government School.
Then she joined a four-year nursing course at Laxmi Bai Batra College in Delhi, and we spent Rs 5 lakh on her course. She graduated in 2011 with a first division.
When her siblings were in school, Preeti helped them with their studies to save us tuition fee.
After she cleared the course, Preeti did a year’s internship at the Batra Hospital in Delhi and then joined the Susheela Hospital in Narela at a salary of Rs 15,000.
With her first salary, she bought us new clothes. Her starting salary at the naval hospital would have been Rs 40,000, plus allowances. The day before she left for Mumbai, she said she would take us there once she got an official accommodation.
On May 1, Preeti — along with her father, uncle and aunt — boarded the Garib Rath Express from New Delhi for Mumbai to report at INHS Asvini. For the journey, I had packed Preeti’s favourite food: stuffed paranthas and subzi.
The train reached the Bandra station on time. They were looking for the nearest exit when someone tapped Preeti’s shoulder from behind. She turned around. A man, his face half covered with a handkerchief, then threw acid on her face.
Her father heard Preeti’s scream but before he could react, the culprit fled.
A few drops of acid fell on her father’s hand also. For a few minutes, the three stood there paralysed, shocked by the sudden turn of events. Then they started shouting for help and asked around for the first-aid counter.
There was none. They approached the Government Railway Police (GRP) for an ambulance, again without any luck.
A policeman told them to take Preeti to the Masina Hospital in Byculla (East), which has a state-of-the-art burns centre.
Preeti’s father was stunned and did not tell me anything. I came to know of the incident from television reports. On May 18, Preeti was shifted to the Bombay Hospital Institute of Medical Sciences at Marine Lines.
The hospital set up a 12-member panel to plan her treatment, but her health had deteriorated by then. Her eyes were damaged, her kidneys were infected and acid had entered her oesophagus, windpipe and trachea. I reached Mumbai with my son on May 8.
Even though she could not speak, Preeti’s mind was alert. She would write messages to us, asking about her job and why she was attacked. She wanted life imprisonment for the accused.To date, we don’t know who killed Preeti, or the motive.
One suspect picked up by the GRP was given the clean chit after police found out that he was in Delhi on the day of the attack. The second suspect picked up by the GRP too appears to be the wrong person.
After Preeti’s death, we met Maharashtra home minister RR Patil and pressed for an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The Maharashtra government agreed to hand over the case to the agency but the Union government is still sitting on the file.
For a month-and-a-half, Preeti’s father has been running from one government office to another in Delhi.
He has met the Union home minister; the chief ministers of Haryana and Delhi and the National Commission for Women’s chairperson. All of them have made the right noises, writing letters to one another and supporting our demand for a CBI probe.
My husband has also written to President Pranab Mukherjee and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. While the former’s office said it had forwarded the letter to the home ministry, Gandhi’s office is yet to respond.
For us, life has changed completely after Preeti’s death.
From a quiet family that kept to itself, we suddenly found ourselves fielding questions from the media, meeting politicians and leading protest marches to demand justice for Preeti.
It’s difficult to accept that she’s no more.
If the culprit is ever arrested, he will probably get a life term. But, tell me, is that enough?
(As told to KumKum Dasgupta)