One murder, three families, and a long wait for justice
A crisply ironed school uniform, a pile of folded clothes, polished black shoes, a pair of sports shoes covered in mud, toys ready to be played with, and a family picture drawn with crayons kept neatly on five shelves within a brown wardrobe—that’s all there is left of the eight-year-old boy who was killed in the toilet of his school in Bhondsi, allegedly by a senior student on September 8 two years ago. He may be gone but his mother returns to the creaky wardrobe every day to relive the memories of the child known for his good nature and endearing smile.
“Nothing has changed for us. We still wait endlessly,” his father says, tears rolling down his cheeks as he remembers the last day he dropped his son to school in his car, his final chirpy goodbye still fresh in his mind.
The parents’ grief still engulfs them. Calling it the blackest day of their lives, the boy’s father says he still spends nights sobbing for his innocent son who was stabbed to death in the school toilet.
The murder had left parents across the country outraged and deeply worried, and created a stir in the city regarding the security of children. Most parents say schools that took stringent steps to begin with, realised that the situation had settled over some time and stopped making efforts. Despite promises to regularly check the maintenance of safety and security guidelines, there has been no further action or follow up, they allege.
The mother of the victim says she hasn’t touched her son’s cupboard, his toys, the drawings, and his bicycle since his murder. Untouched, it seems they are still waiting for him. “I open the cupboard but do not touch his belongings, I just stand or sit on the floor, looking at his drawings,” she says.
She and her husband recall the days they would watch him cycle around the streets they live, playing his favourite game of cricket and watching aeroplanes fly by.
“He was fond of drawing and would draw pictures of the family holding his hand; he always wanted attention, no matter what he did. He would ask his father to watch him cycle around or play and force him to record those moments on video. We didn’t know those videos would be all that we would have of our son,” the mother continues.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my son when I cross these lanes. Whenever I see the general store he loved, his school lane or his friends cycling by, my eyes invariably search for him. I often go up to the terrace and think of the times he would drag me upstairs to watch the planes fly by,” the father recalls, tears in his eyes.
The couple is now trying for another child. “We hope we are fortunate enough. We’ve been visiting doctors for over a year; my wife is undergoing treatment,” the father of the victim says.
For the past two years, the family has been fighting the case and running from one court to another. Even though the company the father works for has been supporting him, he still has to struggle with dates and hearings in Gurugram, Delhi, and Chandigarh.
“It’s not easy. I have been running from the district and sessions court to Supreme Court, but the trial has not yet begun. My savings are over and most of my salary is being spent in the legal battle. Also, I hardly have any time to spend with my family because I keep running around for the case,” the father says.
Speaking about the case, Sushil Tekriwal, counsel for the father of the victim, says the criminal trial remains incomplete and undetermined. “The final charge sheet against the police and the school management is yet to be filed despite the passage of two years after the incident. The territory of the judicial forum where the matter is warranted to be tried is also uncertain and undecided. The apprehension of clinching materials becoming passe’ and being compromised with every moment of delay in commencement and conclusion of a criminal trial in the matter looms large,” he says.
Over these two years, the circumstances of three different families have changed due to the murder of one child—his own, the family of the teenager jailed for the crime, and the family of the school bus conductor who was falsely implicated in the case and now has to struggle to earn his living. He says that once the tag of a suspect in the murder was attached to his name, he only lost his job, but had to bear the atrocities of Gurugram police for a crime he never committed.
The school bus conductor, forty-four-year-old Ashok Kumar, who was arrested on September 8, 2017, for allegedly murdering and sexually assaulting the eight-year-old, spent 74 days in jail, before he was granted bail on November 21, 2017. He was later acquitted by a special court on February 28, 2018.
A resident of Ghamroj village, around 18 kilometres from Gurugram, he says he has finally found a job—sweeping and mopping a mall in Badshahpur. He earns ₹6,500 a month for an eight-hour shift and finds it difficult to run his house. “My wife and I work hard to ensure our sons’ education is not affected. I want them to study hard and join the police force, so people get justice. It took more than a year to get this job; I was turned down by several offices, schools, and industries. I started a small vegetable shop but could not arrange enough funds and had to shut it down. People would sympathise with me but never offered me a job,” he says.
He alleges that the torture he faced at the hands of the police is still fresh in his mind. “I was falsely implicated for the murder that I had no role in. Sometimes I shudder to think, what if the case had not been handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation? I would have been convicted for the murder by now. Everyone believed I was a murderer. I was beaten, hung upside down and my head was submerged in water to force me to confess to the crime. The five police officers who tried to falsely implicate me are still at large and no action has been taken against them. The authorities are protecting them,” Kumar alleges.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on February 26, 2018, had directed the Gurugram police department to compensate Kumar. In May this year, he received a draft of ₹1 lakh from the Gurugram police, but he refused to accept the compensation, terming it inadequate.
A senior police officer, requesting anonymity, says that they are waiting for the CBI to file an additional charge sheet to take action against guilty officials. The officials deployed in the city say they were not posted here at the time of the incident and the investigation was handed over to the CBI, so they are unaware of the developments in the case.
“I need no money, only justice, the five officers who have been mentioned in the CBI’s supplementary charge sheet should be punished. I am waiting for the CBI to file it and for them to see how it feels when you are humiliated in public,” Kumar says.
Kumar’s family says they are waiting for the supplementary charge sheet to review the CBI’s findings. The investigating officer had filed the supplementary charge sheet on September 7 last year and had recommended prosecution against five officers, including the station house officer of Bhondsi, who was the investigating officer in the case.
Kumar says that if it weren’t for the fact that his name and respect were on the line, he would have accepted the compensation and got a bathroom constructed in his house. With such determination, he still awaits action against the people in uniform whom he alleges made him “go through hell to fulfil their vested interests”.
Teenager’s family still hopeful
The family of the teenager, allegedly accused of killing the boy, has been through sleepless nights and allege that their son has not been granted bail in two years due to a media trial, whereas in other heinous cases, accused men have been granted bail.
The district court in May had upheld the order passed by the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) on April 11 to transfer the teenager from the observation home in Faridabad to a Place of Safety in Madhuban, Karnal. He had been lodged at the Faridabad observation home since November 17, 2017, when he was apprehended by the CBI.
The Place of Safety is a home for boys aged 18-21 years, who are accused of heinous crimes. The boy had turned 18 on April 3, the court order stated. He could not appear for his exams due to the court proceedings.
His father refused to comment on the case.
Even though he is behind bars now, he is yet to face trial as an adult, adhering to the amendment in law which states that if a juvenile above 16 years of age commits a heinous crime, he would be treated as an adult.
Despite two years since the murder, several questions plague the three families, not the least of which are—with such slow progress in the legal system, will the victim’s father ever be able to spend enough time with his family? Will Kumar’s life ever be normal again? Will the juvenile get bail and be able to continue his studies?
Only time will tell.