Delhi horror: ‘Can’t sleep, can’t look at myself’

Updated on Mar 23, 2022 12:33 PM IST

Videos of the incident went viral on social media and shocked the nation, police arrested 21 people in the case and the government assured her of justice. But she continues to suffer the trauma.

Police in Kasturba Nagar, near the spot of the incident. (HT Photo) PREMIUM
Police in Kasturba Nagar, near the spot of the incident. (HT Photo)
ByHemani Bhandari, New Delhi

She covers her head with a red scarf and drapes a dupatta around her shoulders. She feels scared if a stranger walks through the small entrance of her modest, one-room set in Shahdara, where she lives with her husband and two-year-old son. It’s been nearly two months since the 20-year-old was sexually assaulted and publicly tortured near her residence, and while the physical wounds have now healed, the heinous crime has scarred her.

Speaking exclusively to Hindustan Times, she recalled the traumatic experience of January 26, when she was gang-raped, her face was smeared with black paint, her hair chopped off, and she was paraded through the street with a garland of shoes around her neck -- all because the family of a former neighbour falsely blamed her for the death of a man by suicide.

Videos of the incident went viral on social media and shocked the nation, police arrested 21 people in the case and the government assured her of justice. But she continues to suffer the trauma.

Poori raat neend nai aati. Soch soch ke darr lagta hai. Aaj tak vo video maine poori nahi dekhi hai. Sheeshe main apni shakal nai dekhti main. Apne aap ko dekhke mujhe darr lagta hai. Kaise baal they... Kaisi ho gai hun? (I can’t sleep the entire night. I feel scared thinking about it. I haven’t seen the whole video till date. I am unable to look at myself in the mirror. I am scared to look at myself. How my hair looked like earlier... how they look now),” she said.

The horror began in November 2021, when a 16-year-old boy who lived in east Delhi’s Kasturba Nagar died by suicide. He would allegedly harass and stalk the survivor, but after his death, his family blamed the woman -- who used to live in the Kasturba Nagar neighbourhood before she got married and moved away.

Days after the teenager’s death, the accused started coming to the house the woman shared with her joint family. They repeatedly threatened her and bad-mouthed her in front of neighbours.

“They just wanted to kill me. Every time they came, they asked the family for my details and told them that they wouldn’t do anything to them. They would come here and attack the family also,” she said. “Usne hamara beta maara hai to hum uska bhi ghar basne nahi denge (She has killed our son. We’ll not let her live peacefully)” she quoted the family members as saying.

Scared , the woman and her son left Delhi for her maternal grandfather’s house in Haryana in November or December while her husbandstayed back in the Capital at a friend’s house nearby.

She recalled that while she was away, the accused once came to attack her husband and his family, but added that they were tipped off and fled the house in time. “They stayed one night at a cremation ground and another night at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib... it was a very difficult time,” she said.

Sitting next to her, her husband said that eventually, his family also abandoned them because they didn’t want to get into trouble. Eventually, after spending a month in Haryana, the couple decided to rent a flat in Karkardooma, trying to make sure nobody knew of their whereabouts. But their luck ran out on January 26, when the accused followed the survivor’s younger sister and located them.

Eleven members of the teenager’s family followed the sister her in a car, an auto-rickshaw, and two-wheelers. As soon as the woman stepped out of her home in Karkardooma, the accused overpowered her and shoved her into an autorickshaw. They then drove back to Kasturba Nagar, around 2km away, before locking her up in a room and raping her. They then paraded her on nearby lanes for half-an-hour before the sister finally borrowed a mobile phone from a neighbour and called the police.

A senior police officer privy to the investigation said that 21 people, including five minors , were held in connection with the case and one person was absconding. The officer added that the absconding accused was not named when the First Information Report was registered but added that his role was established during the probe, and a chargesheet will be filed soon.

After the incident, the woman spent 10 days at a government shelter where she said she couldn’t walk or talk because of her injuries - mental and physical. Her son longed for her but couldn’t meet her.

“Our child suffered a lot. He used to cry for his mother at night. The days would pass but not the nights. When I used to take him to meet her, he wouldn’t let go of her and later would come back and cry. So I would avoid making him meet her. He also fell sick with flu at that time so he stayed with her sister,” said the husband, who works as a sanitation worker with a private company.

The crime has left her shaken. She often looks her two-year-old son and wonders whether he has any inkling of what transpired in the past five months. She still gets headaches and lies in bed when she is not running chores. She hasn’t stepped out of the house since she has returned - let alone visiting her sister and ailing father who live nearby. “Main bahar nahi jaati... sharam aati hai... log dekhenge to kya sochenge ki wahi ladki hai... (I don’t go out, I feel ashamed...people will see me and say that she is the same girl...)”.

Her fear is heightened by the rumours flying around in the neighbourhood. Her relatives tell her that one of the accused is at large, and members of his family still want to kill her. “I don’t feel safe because they have spread the word in the neighbourhood that they’ll have me killed by all means so I am not able to give any statement in court. I will not feel safe till the court puts them in prison permanently,” she said.

Anuja Kapur, a criminal psychologist based in Delhi, said that it’s not easy for a rape victim to become a survivor because the state “doesn’t allow it”. “The state largely concentrates on rehabilitation of offenders and not victims. A rape survivor is often questioned by her own family and is made to believe that it’s her own fault which makes it tough for the women to come back to normalcy. There is a dire need of professional and mandatory counselling sessions for women who go through such trauma,” she said.

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