On the afternoon of January 27, the small room in Delhi’s Kasturba Nagar stood abandoned.
A fridge lay toppled on the ground, a handful of medicines scattered on the bed. A framed photo of a man hung on the wall, labelled “Late Ayush Nahariya. 12.11.2021”. Almost exactly under this photo was a handful of hair on the ground, outlined in yellow chalk.
“This hair belongs to Nitya*. This is where they assaulted, tonsured and tortured her,” said a neighbour.
Hours earlier that morning, a video had gone viral on social media.
It showed Nitya, 20, wearing a pink salwar kameez, being paraded down a road in Delhi’s Kasturba Nagar. Her head was tonsured, her face blackened, and her neck weighed down by a garland of shoes. The video showed Nitya visibly crying and pleading for mercy as the crowd around her, mostly women, slapped her with their slippers, while onlookers clapped and cheered.
The video was shot at around 12 pm on January 26. Shortly before, Nitya had been allegedly abducted and gangraped.
Eleven people have been accused so far in connection with the incident. Two are absconding and nine have been arrested – including seven women and two minor boys – on charges of gangrape, sexual assault, hurt, kidnapping, illegal confinement, and abduction, among others.
The police did not reveal the names or ages of the accused.
Nitya said “they put their private parts on her mouth to defame her,” according to R Sathiyasundaram, the deputy commissioner of police at Shahdara police station. “The men did this to her in front of their mother, aunt and other women in the family.”
“The medical examination of the girl is complete,” he added. “We have taken her statement and we are awaiting a full report of it. The victim is currently at a safe house in Delhi.”
Newslaundry spoke to Nitya’s sister and family members to piece together what happened.
The accused are all members of the same family. Their house is now abandoned, and their other family members could not be traced.
The hair on the ground.
The events of January 26
Nitya lives with her husband, child and in-laws in Karkardooma. Her sister Aditi*, 18, lives in Kasturba Nagar with their father, around four km away.
On the morning of January 26, Aditi took a cycle rickshaw to her sister’s home to hand over a sack of wheat to Nitya.
Aditi told Newslaundry that as she headed to Nitya’s house, she didn’t realise that she was being followed by four people in an auto: Manjeet, Karan, Akshay and Lucky.
They four are her neighbours and are also accused in connection with the incident. Newslaundry could not verify their ages.
“When I reached, my sister came down,” said Aditi. “Immediately, the men put her in their auto and sped away. They snatched my phone as well. I grabbed my sister’s baby and rushed back home.”
Aditi headed back to her own house in Kasturba Nagar, hoping to find her sister there. But there was no sign of her.
“I was so scared,” she said, “but within a few minutes, I started hearing commotion outside. I hid inside the house and watched everything through a crack in the wall.”
Through the crack, Aditi could see the lane opposite her house where she saw a group of people, mostly women, dragging Nitya and beating her.
“They had chopped all her hair and made her face black with kajal, I think,” she said. “My sister was crying but no one was helping her.”
After a few minutes, Aditi said she ran to a neighbour’s house and called the police.
The police arrived within “10-15 minutes”, she said, “rescued” Nitya, and took her to the Shahdara police station. She did not see the police take anyone else away, and the police refused to divulge details to this reporter.
“I spoke to my sister for a few minutes before they took her away,” she said. “In that time, she told me ‘mere saath galat hua hai’”. They did bad things to me – a colloquial expression for sexual assault.
As Sathiyasundaram told Newslaundry, the police then conducted a medical examination, took down Nitya’s statement, and put her in a “safe house in Delhi”.
A history of intimidation
Aditi lives with her father, 42, who used to drive an auto until he met with an accident. Their mother died of a cardiac arrest last October.
“He used to be an auto driver but four years ago, he met with an accident. Since then he can’t walk,” she said. A relative told Newslaundry that the father’s memory “has also been affected”. When Newslaundry visited their home, the father lay on a bed, a photo of his wife hanging on the wall nearby.
Lucky, Manjeet, Akshay and Karan live on the other side of the road with the rest of their family, including other accused. The four are relatives and, according to neighbours, the enmity between the two families runs deep.
The story began with Ayush Nahariya, who had been related to the 11 people arrested by the police so far. Ayush had been “in love” with Nitya, according to Aditi.
“My sister got married in 2018,” she said. “Ayush fell in love with her. He used to keep calling and asking her to leave her husband and be with him. She would always refuse.”
On November 12 last year, Ayush died by suicide. That’s when the trouble started.
“They blamed my sister for Ayush’s death,” said Aditi, referring to Ayush’s family, “and started taking out their anger against us.”
Naming Lucky, Manjeet, Akshay and Karan, Aditi alleged that they used to threaten her.
“I used to work at a shop. They came there and created a scene and I stopped going there,” she said. “They would come home and tell me that they will rape me. Once they came with sticks also.”
She added, “I have called the police two to three times when this happened. I went to the Vivek Vihar station and filed a complaint also once. Once the police came and warned the men but nothing happened. I never thought they would do this to us.”
Last week, on January 19, the four allegedly set fire to Nitya’s father’s auto rickshaw, according to Nitya’s uncle.
“This was their only income,” he said. “After Nitya’s father got paralysed, he rented out his auto and made Rs 300 a day.”
Nitya’s aunt, who had come to visit after the fire, alleged that she had been physically assaulted as well by a group of women who were members of Ayush’s family.
“They grabbed my hair, beat me and dragged me,” she said. “It was so scary. I’ve been so scared for these two girls.”
Aditi shared three call recordings with Newslaundry, purportedly between her and Manjeet. According to Aditi, these calls took place a week after Ayush’s suicide last November. Newslaundry could not verify the recordings, but Aditi alleged that Manjeet had been in love with her, and called her with threats and warnings.
In one of the recordings, a male voice – identified by Aditi as Manjeet – said, “At around 2.30 in the night, either Lucky or I will be sent to your house. I’m calling to tell you to not open the door when someone knocks. You are saying that you’ll give my number to the police, I will burn you. I’m telling you this because you are close to me otherwise I would not have called.”
He added, “Don’t mess with me. Something very wrong will happen if I were to come there and I don’t want it to happen...I don't want to ruin your name. Just be alert at 2 o’clock..."
Through most of the recording, Aditi could be heard saying, “Why are you bothering?...I have nothing to do with you...Because of you I’m being married off quickly.” She also constantly repeated, “Please don’t ruin my reputation, please.”
When Newslaundry met with neighbours in the area, most of them were too scared to openly speak to this reporter. Some of them told Newslaundry, on the condition of anonymity, that Manjeet, Akshay, Lucky and Karan “often deal in illegal drugs and liquor”.
“Sometimes, the police also come for raids,” a neighbour said. “But we used to hear the men say that the police also buy alcohol from them.”
As things stand now, the house belonging to Manjeet, Lucky, Karan, Akshay and the other accused now stands abandoned.
*Names of the victim and her family members changed to protect identity.
With translation assistance by Saeeduzzaman. Photos by Aditya Varier.