December 16 gang rape: A well-lit bus stop with a dark past
The physiotherapy student had boarded an off-duty chartered bus in order to go to her house in Palam, a ride which would end in her brutal gang rape, assault, and a few days later, death.Updated: Dec 16, 2018 08:34 IST
It is 9.15pm on a cold Thursday evening, when 23-year-old Savitri, a saleswoman at a shop in Vasant Kunj’s B-block, descends the stairs into the gleaming innards of the newly opened Munirka Metro station.
Although a lot has changed since December 16, 2012, Savitri’s mind races back to the fateful night, when a physiotherapy student, the same age as she is now, stood at a bus stop just 100 metres from where she is standing today.
The physiotherapy student had boarded an off-duty chartered bus in order to go to her house in Palam, a ride which would end in her brutal gang rape, assault, and a few days later, death.
Delhi Police reports said that she and her male friend were returning after watching a movie at a mall in Saket. They could only manage an autorickshaw till Munirka, from where they had planned to take a bus.
Investigating teams established that the duo waited for several minutes for a Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus before a chartered bus with her rapists stopped at the empty and unlit bus stop, calling for passengers. Out of options, the 23-year-old and her friend boarded the chartered bus, which became the last ride for the woman.
Savitri says the reports of what happened that day have never left her mind.
For the past six years, she says she has had no option but to take a bus from the same stop. “I couldn’t shake off the feeling of fear and anger. I was fed up,” she says.
“It was never easy to have to wait for a bus at the same stand; it used to bring to mind the horrific descriptions of what happened that day. But thankfully I do not have to use the bus stand anymore because I can take the Metro now,” says Savitri.
A new Metro station has come up this year, less than 50 metres from the bus stop.
A new station, a bustling market
Today, the bus stop carries a vastly different look from what it was like the night when the woman and her male friend stood there.
Earlier this year, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) threw open the Magenta Line connecting Janakpuri with Noida. This line also connects Munirka
with Palam, the route that the victim had intended to take six years ago. Today, as Savitri and I talk, several women, some alone, some with their friends, can be seen pacing in and out of the well-lit Metro station which opens right into the Munirka market.
The market is bustling like never before.
In the past six years, a lot has changed i Munrika as well. The urban village has become the home for young students and professionals looking for affordable rental accommodations.
In fact, the village houses several young women, many of whom return late at night after work or after a get together with friends, and stop at the same bus stand and walk home.
When Metro construction began here three years ago, many women waited for services to start eagerly. Regular travellers said that the landscape of the area has transformed with the new station. Shop owners said the market has become livelier.
Till earlier this year, they said, shoppers and residents were dependent on buses, autorickshaws and unregulated services such as gramin sewas.
After sundown, it used to be an uphill task to find a bus. Flagging an autorickshaw was not easy either. Now, the last Metro leaves the Munirka station at 10.55pm.
A LINGERING UNEASE
Though lighting at the bus stand has improved, some things remain unchanged. Standing here only for a few minutes still fills you with a feeling of discomfort.
The unwelcome stares, the hostility of autorickshaw drivers and the wait for buses continue. Occasionally, the sight of men walking towards you while zipping their pants up after a trip to the men’s urinal a few steps away from the bus stop also sends shivers down your spine.
Parvathy Sriniwasan, a Delhi University student whose coaching institute is around 500 metres away from the bus stop, said the area has always been a hub for mischief makers who had made it difficult for women to feel safe when they wait at the bus stop.
“With the opening of the Metro station, I don’t have to wait for buses anymore, nervously biting my nails, and looking over my shoulder to see if there is a man following me or staring at me,” Sriniwasan says.
She says that with the coming of the station, the area gets a bigger crowd even after dark. “After entering the station premises, there is a sense of confidence as there are security officials and co-passengers around me,” she says.
“If I scream for help, I know there will be people to hear me,” she says.
As we stood at the same bus stop speaking to women heading home from their offices, coaching institutes and colleges, a happy realisation comes to my mind. It was 9.27pm, exactly the same time the 23-year-old woman boarded the bus from the bus stop six years ago.
There’s a certain relief on the faces of women, who did not appear worried about catching a bus on time or over paying for an autorickshaw ride to get home on time. The bubble in my head was soon burst by a 20-year-old chartered accountancy student Sunidhi Ray, who cut into my thought with a sharp question, “…But what after the Metro ( in terms of last-mile connectivity)?”
While there are a few autos waiting outside the gates of the new station, they still refuse to go where you want to go, the trip till your doorstep from the gates of Metro still remains a battle.
“The roads are still dark and we still have to struggle to get an auto or cycle rickshaw that will take us to our destination. How much longer till we finally have safe public spaces?” asks Ray.
First Published: Dec 16, 2018 08:29 IST