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Brutal end to a brilliant mind

When the results of her postgraduate exams were announced in October 2007, Dr Savita Gupta (then 27) was the only student in her batch to clear the exams, reports Vijaita Singh.
By Vijaita Singh | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2010 12:01 AM IST

When the results of her postgraduate exams were announced in October 2007, Dr Savita Gupta (then 27) was the only student in her batch to clear the exams.

At that time, the young woman was lying in a hospital bed in an insulin-induced coma, after being sexually assaulted and forcibly injected with the drug in her hostel room one month ago.

She remained in the “brain-dead” state for seven months before breathing her last: the most brilliant mind in her class of medical students. She weighed 15 kgs at the time of her death.

Twenty eight months after her attack, her faceless killer is still on the loose. A murder charge was added to the initial attempt-to-rape case when Gupta died in April 2008.

Gupta, a resident doctor at government-owned ESI Hospital in Moti Nagar, west Delhi, was found unconscious in her room in the woman’s hostel on September 21, 2007. An injection was still jammed in her right arm. Her underclothes had been pulled down.

Police said the crime scene suggested a “friendly entry” and that the victim knew the assailant. The door to her room was bolted from inside.

Delhi’s women are often advised to carry a mental checklist of places to avoid for their own safety: dark lanes, deserted stretches. Savita Gupta was assaulted in her room in a woman’s hostel on the campus of a busy hospital. It was not yet 9 pm, when she was found.

Her brother-in-law and a colleague were among those police suspected. A plea by police to administer truth serum — a narcoanalysis test — to Ashwini Jain, the brother-in-law, is pending before the Delhi High Court.

Three people, all employees at the ESI hospital, were held by west Delhi police for tampering with vital evidence, and are out on bail.

Friendly entry

It was Suneeta Jain (43) who found her younger sister that day.

Savita had planned to leave for her native place, Ferozepur in Punjab, on September 21, eager to share details of her professional success with her other sister.

A month before, the 27-year-old had won the “best doctor award” at the Holy Family Hospital in Okhla, where she completed her postgraduate degree in pediatrics (children’s medicine). Postgraduate exam results, which she was sure she’d top, were a month away.

Savita reportedly left for the New Delhi Railway Station, but she missed the train. “She called me and said she was going back to the hostel,” said Suneeta Jain. It was already 5 pm.

When Suneeta did not hear anything from Savita for the next two hours, she called her younger sister’s mobile phone.

Not once or twice, but many times.

The calls went unanswered.

Worried by now, the older sister went to the hospital from her Janakpuri home. She reached her sister’s first-floor room. It was locked from inside.

Suneeta Jain banged on the door repeatedly. Then she noticed the ventilator on the wall adjacent to the door.

Jain lifted the glass pane, reached inside and unlatched the door.

Savita was lying on her bed, semi-nude, unconscious and frothing at the mouth. A syringe dangled from her right arm.

The fan and the mosquito repellent were still switched on.

Hostel-mates in adjacent rooms later said they had heard no cries or the sounds of a scuffle.

Gupta was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the hospital and later shifted to Balaji Action Hospital in Paschim Vihar. A medical examination revealed she had been injected with insulin and sexually assaulted. There were bruise marks all over her body.

Gupta was “brain dead” at the time and did not respond to any treatment.

Investigators still do not know if the insulin was taken from Savita’s room or brought by her killer.

Insulin, an important drug in the treatment of diabetes, can be fatal when administered in large doses, as it bring down the body’s sugar levels so low that vital systems stop functioning.

WHY THE BROTHER-IN-LAW

“I was like a father to Savita,” her brother-in-law Ashwini Jain (45) had said in 2008. A suspect in the case, Jain claimed police were harassing him.

“She was an extremely bright student. She died such a lonely death,” Jain had said.

Jain and Suneeta had virtually bought up Savita, after the sisters’ parents died 17 years ago.

But police have a different story to tell. A police investigator told HT he was “certain” Jain had tried to rape his sister-in-law, over 15 years his junior.

“I have all the reasons to believe that Jain tried to rape and kill her.

He had long phone conversations with her and often came to meet her in the hostel,” said one of the first investigators of the case, on condition of anonymity.

When HT tried to contact Jain on Thursday, he said: “Why don’t you look at the news clippings of those days to know what happened. The case is stuck where it was.”

Unanswered questions

How did an outsider manage entry into a woman’s hostel?

Why were there no eyewitnesses to the entry?

Why did hospital staff dispose of the clothes the victim was wearing at the time of the assault?

Many such questions in the case evade answers.

Perhaps to fend blame of providing poor security to its women staffers, ESI hospital prepared a document that said Savita’s tenure had ended a day before the attack and she was staying in the campus without authorization.

There is no evidence to suggest she was staying unauthorized in the hostel, police say.

A colleague of Gupta’s was also detained for questioning in connection with the incident. A lie detector test cleared him of the charges.

Three others people were arrested.

Dr. Sunil Kumar, the Chief Medical Officer at ESI hospital was held for tampering with evidence, nursing assistant Hari Kishen Meena for alleged medical negligence and Dr Ravi for preparing a document to show Savita was staying in the campus unauthorized.

Police said the three accused had disposed of Gupta’s clothes and did not preserve her stomach-wash samples.

“We have again moved a plea to conduct a truth serum test on Jain. The next date of hearing is on March 11,” said Sharad Aggarwal, deputy commissioner of police (west).

The case that saw widespread protests about the lack of safety for professional women drags on.

Gupta’s life has ended.

Two months before her death, she developed breathing problems. Doctors put a pipe in her neck so she could breathe through a ventilator. The body that housed the brilliant mind gave up on April 17, 2008.

(The series resumes on Monday.)

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