On January 24, Delhi had turned into a fortress for all practical purposes. Eighty thousand cops and 10,000 paramilitary personnel were deployed across the city. The President of the United States of America was to arrive in the capital in less than 24 hours, and the state understandably didn’t want to take any chance.
At around 5.30 pm the same day, M, just three years old and living for only two months in the city, was kidnapped, raped and dumped in a slum (and not in a forest as reports later stated) barely a kilometre away from the locality that houses some of the plushest farmhouses and one of the most iconic monuments of the city.
The next morning’s front-page headlines ranged from the American President cancelling his Agra visit to two spiritual leaders “refusing” a state-conferred award. M was a snippet in the city page of the few newspapers, which found space for her.
Incidentally – or perhaps not – Uber, the American cab-service company, which was asked to wind up its business in the city, following the rape of a young finance professional by one of its drivers, announced the same evening that it was back in business.
People forget after all and the city moves on.
Outside Ward number 5 of the All India Institute for Medical Sciences (AIIMS), D, M’s father, and a daily-wage labourer, is waiting for his wife to come out of the ward and collect the porridge he has got for his daughter. He is not allowed inside – visitors are only allowed inside the pediatric ward from 4 to 6 pm.
“She hasn’t eaten anything except for some milk ever since that day. I hope she eats the porridge; the doctors have said she needs to eat to recover,” D tells me after his wife collects the steel tiffin box from him and goes inside the ward without as much as exchanging a word.
But of what I have heard so far from D and others in the night shelter where M stayed with her parents and younger sister, M would eat soon. She wasn’t the kind to give up. “She was bleeding from all over her body when we found her – I’m surprised she’s recovered so fast,” says Yoginder, the caretaker at the night shelter.
R was a tempo-driver who would come to the night shelter often to use the bathroom. He would usually stick around for a while, warming himself near the makeshift tandoor where the night shelter’s residents made their chapattis.
When R came at about 5 in the evening on January 24, D was marking his attendance in the register that keeps a record of people staying in the night shelter. His wife was in the bathroom. M was playing with her one-and-a-half year old younger sister. R told M that there was a langar in the nearby colony on account of Basant Panchami and that she should accompany him to get some puri-chole.
Since R was fairly regular to the night shelter, no one paid much attention when he took away M, holding her by her hand. But when it was past 7.30 and M still hadn’t returned, D started to get worried. He, along with Yogendra, started looking around.
They went to the slum where R lived, but neither he nor M was to be seen anywhere. Then they went inside the forest that surrounded the area, but it was dark and they couldn’t see much. By then, D had started to panic. He then decided to go to the nearby Mehrauli police station, accompanied by his wife and Yogendra.
It was in the police station, at around 10.30 pm that D got a call from someone in the night shelter, frantically asking him to come back. They had found M – in a ditch in the nearby slum.
The three rushed back in a police vehicle.
“She couldn’t stand up straight, she was bleeding from her genitals, she had bite marks on her face and chest,” D tells me outside Ward Number 5 of AIIMS. His face is expressionless as he talks to me.
“They had found him too in the slum, and had locked him up inside the night shelter. People had gathered and had started to thrash him, but I didn’t want to hit him. I just wanted to take my daughter to the hospital.”
M was rushed to AIIMS in the police vehicle, and immediately operated upon. “The police have been very kind – they’ve said they’d take care of all the expenses,” says D.
A police officer in the Mehrauli police station confirmed that medical tests have established rape and a case has been filed under the Protection of Children From Sexual Offences (POSCO) act.
On January 29, when I call up D to check on M, his wife picks up the phone. She tells me that D has gone to the night shelter to get dinner. I can hear a child cry in the background – but I am not sure if it’s M or her baby sister. When I tentatively ask if M is better, she tells me that she hasn’t been eating much and has only had once biscuit the entire day. “She cries a lot when she tries to pee. Her external genitals were completely torn before the surgery,” she tells me, in an almost matter-of-fact tone.
“I wish we had stayed in Jhansi and never come to this city,” she suddenly says bitterly.
I have very little to offer in terms of consolation. I could tell her that the city would open up opportunities for her kids, and that it would all pass. Just then, the crying in the background becomes louder, and I am only left hoping it’s not M, but her younger sister, who perhaps, is just hungry.
Kiran Bedi, the day after she joined the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), announced that the central issue of the Delhi elections is women’s safety. Arvind Kejriwal, the other Chief Ministerial candidate of Delhi, has also often said that if he is elected, his party will make Delhi safer. I wonder if either of them has heard about M, or ever will. I ask D if anybody from either of the political parties has come to see him. He almost laughs at the implausibility of the idea.
The country has indeed been occupied by more important things – nuclear deals, spread at the Presidential dinner and so on. The media will vouch for that.
And it’s particularly easy to forget a daily-wage labourer’s daughter, new in the city, and living in a night shelter.