On a rainy winter afternoon, clusters of protesters are scattered across the streets near Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. The cacophony of slogans raised for various causes almost drowns out the cries of a father seeking justice for his daughter. Sitting on a pavement with downcast eyes, Kunwar Singh Negi, 52, recounts the horrific details of the night his eldest daughter was abducted, brutally gangraped and left to die in a mustard field in a village in Haryana.
On 9 February 2012, Negi was in Agra when he received a call from his neighbour that turned his life upside down. Three men had abducted Kiran, Negi’s 19-year-old daughter, from a spot just minutes away from their house in Qutub Vihar Phase-2, close to Dwarka sub-city in west Delhi. Four days later, her disfigured body was found in a mustard field in Rodhai village in Rewari district of Haryana.
On the fateful evening, Kiran was on her way back from work with three female colleagues who lived in the same neighbourhood. The girls were dropped off by a bus around 8.30 pm. From there, they had to walk through a maze of poorly lit lanes to reach their homes. When they reached Hanuman Chowk, a roundabout on their way home, they were accosted by three men in a red Indica car, who started misbehaving with them. The girls panicked and cried for help, but no one came to their rescue. Then the men dragged Kiran into the car and sped away. “That was when one of my neighbours called me,” says Negi in a quivering voice. “Nothing has been the same ever since.”
When the police arrived a few hours later, the people in the neighbourhood insisted that they go after the men. The policemen allegedly told them, “Get us a car and then we will follow them.” Enraged by this apathy, the locals immediately decided to protest and around 300 of them landed up outside the Chhawla police station and started a sit-in. For three nights in a row, despite repeated threats of a lathicharge, the protesters refused to budge. “How could we let the police get away with this? A young girl from the neighbourhood had just been kidnapped. It could have been my daughter,” says the father of one of the girls who was with Kiran when she was abducted.
It took the police three days to nab the three accused — Rahul, Vinod and Ravi. All three are residents of the same locality as the accused and had earlier been booked for robbery. In fact, they had been released from New Delhi’s Tihar Jail a few days before they abducted Kiran. Initial investigations revealed that they had taken Kiran to the mustard fields where her body was later found and had gangraped her there. The details are spine-chilling. They had mutilated and poured acid into her eyes, inserted a broken liquor bottle into her vagina, and then left her there to die. According to the post-mortem report, she breathed her last on 13 February, a few hours before her body was found. This means Kiran had slowly bled to her death over more than three days. Forensic tests confirmed rape.
Almost two years have passed since the incident, but justice continues to elude the Negi family. The case has been transferred thrice from court to court ever since it was first admitted. Now, it is being heard in a fast-track court in Dwarka in west Delhi. The pursuit of justice has been long and arduous for the victim’s family. Negi says that for six months after the incident, all his time was consumed by paperwork and tracking his daughter’s case. He would wait outside the court room but never enter it. “I did not have the heart to do it,” he says in dismay.
The stress of running after police officials and lawyers took a toll on Negi’s health. Three months after the incident, he fell seriously ill and had to quit his job as a peon at an academic institution in Dwarka. He used to earn Rs 7,000 a month. Before her life was brutally snuffed out, his daughter had been working as a data entry operator in Gurgaon’s Cyber City to supplement his modest income. As the surviving siblings of the victim — a brother aged 14 and a sister aged 11 — are too young to take up jobs, making ends meet has become an ordeal for the family. Soon the family was knee-deep in debt. They had to dip into the meagre savings left behind by the dead daughter and also sell a part of the plot on which their one-room tenement is built.
Negi had moved to New Delhi from his native village in Pauri-Garhwal district of Uttarakhand at the age of 14 in search of a better livelihood. He married Ganeshi Devi a few years later. The couple considered returning to their village a number of times, as Negi was finding it difficult to earn enough for a comfortable life in the city. But they had stayed back to provide their children the best education they could afford. Ganeshi Devi says when her eldest daughter, Kiran, was born, she had told herself, “We may be poor, but will make sure that our daughter has a better life.”
The Negis toiled hard to raise their three children. Kiran aspired to become a teacher. Her mother says she was pursuing her graduation at a college in Dwarka when she had to take up the data-entry job to help her father pay off his debts. She was also saving money to get her siblings admitted in a good private school. “She was my hope for the future and my biggest strength. She used to take better care of me than my parents had,” says Ganeshi Devi. Pointing to the little piece of land that they had to sell off, she says Kiran wanted to have an extra room built there so that her siblings could study without being disturbed.
The massive protests and outrage following the 16 December 2012 gangrape in Delhi gave the Negis a ray of hope. “Thousands of protesters took to the streets in the Nirbhaya case and the State ensured action and a speedy trial. My daughter suffered a fate as gruesome as Nirbhaya’s, but nobody came out on the streets to seek justice for her,” he says.
Negi has tried to give voice to his dead daughter by writing a biographical account of her life in the form of a letter. He has put into words what he thinks his daughter would have wanted to convey to the world. The letter is pasted on a board put up at Negi’s little corner of protest on a pavement outside Jantar Mantar. Curious passersby sometimes stop to read it. It starts with Kiran’s dreams and aspirations, then narrates the gruesome details of the incident that put an end to all that, and goes on to demand death penalty for the three accused.
Although going over the details of the incident and talking about it to people every day wears Negi out, he says he cannot forget what his daughter went through and will make sure that society doesn’t forget it either. In the past two months, he has turned the small portion of the pavement near Jantar Mantar, where he is protesting, into a memorial for his daughter.
Initially, neither Negi nor Ganeshi Devi had thought of taking their fight for justice to the streets. The case had dragged on for over a year and a half, leaving the family financially drained. “We were also scared that if the accused get out on bail, they would try to harm our other two children. We were planning to leave the city and go back to our village in Uttarakhand,” says Ganeshi Devi. But, around seven months ago, they met Anita Gupta, who heads a New Delhi-based activists’ group called Sanjeevani. Gupta convinced them to carry on their struggle.
Gupta was 10 years old when one of her teachers was brutally raped and murdered — an incident that haunted her for years. “I still remember the sight of her stripped and battered body left near a drain in our locality,” she recounts. “I wish I could have helped her, but everyone had dissuaded me then from even talking about the incident.” Later, she realised that women are not safe even in their own homes. Around five years ago, she and a few other activists got together to formSanjeevani and started taking up cases of female victims of violence and harassment.
While the Negis’ neighbours had supported them immensely in the initial days after their daughter had gone missing, the anger had fizzled out after the accused were arrested and the case dragged on. They were also scared of the accused. That was when Gupta took the initiative and went from door to door in the neighbourhood, urging the locals to come forward again in support of the Negis’ struggle for justice.
Gupta’s efforts bore fruit when most women of the neighbourhood decided to join the fight. Over the past two months, around 200 of them have been taking time out to participate in the protest at Jantar Mantar and attend hearings at the Dwarka court. “It was not just one household that was affected by the incident. All of us live in fear today,” says Devashri Rawat, 33, who had quit her tailoring job after the gangrape incident, fearing for her own safety as well as that of her 15-year-old daughter.
It’s 25 January and there is going to be another hearing of the Kiran gangrape and murder case at the fast-track court in Dwarka. Hundreds of people from the Negis’ neighbourhood, besides many from other parts of the city, have come together for a protest march on the streets outside. Bharti Negi, 32, one of the Negis’ neighbours, urges the women to lead from the front. “It is our cause after all,” she quips.
The protesters march on the nearby streets before gathering at a spot just outside the court. The chorus gets louder as the visibly tired Negis emerge from the crowd to attend the hearing in the courtroom. A few months ago, when the victim’s father had attended a hearing for the first time, he had returned home deeply angered and petrified by the actions of the accused in the courtroom. “They would stand in the corner with their heads held high and make gestures suggesting they are just waiting to get at our throats,” recounts Negi. But, that is when women from his neighbourhood beat up the accused and since then they have stopped making threatening gestures.
The case is now being heard by Justice Virender Bhatt and is in the final stage of arguments. The prosecution has presented a strong case against the accused. In the concluding arguments, the prosecution counsel argued that although there are no eyewitnesses to the gangrape and murder, the body of the victim was recovered on directions given by the accused. The prosecution’s case is based on strong circumstantial evidence and forensic tests that confirmed that the accused had raped the victim. The next hearing is slated for 5 February and the verdict is expected later in the month.
The day after the protest outside the Dwarka court is Republic Day and the Negis are at their home in Qutub Vihar. As Ganeshi Devi walks up to the door to welcome us, a few women from the locality greet her. There is a hint of a smile on her face, but it disappears as soon as she sits in her room and looks at a photo of her dead daughter. “Did she deserve to die such a painful death?” she asks as her eyes moisten with tears.
(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 11 Issue 6, Dated 8 February 2014)