Crushed by the Wait, Chhutki’s Parents Want Her Rapist Punished
Video Editor: Kunal Mehra
Cameraperson: Nitin Chopra
A year and a month. That’s how long it’s been since Suresh* and Geeta* ventured outdoors to catch a breath of fresh air at the same time. A year and a month since husband and wife walked out with abandon, trusting the care of their two little daughters to their vast extended family.
When Geeta had first moved here from Kolkata – to this nondescript house with its green door in a north Delhi chawl – cohabiting with an extended family had seemed like a dream. She knew Suresh and she needed to eke out a joint living if they were to feed four mouths (Geeta was a house-help and Suresh a daily wage labourer) – and so, having hands on board willing to feed and love their babies in their absence, was a boon.
The Morning It All Changed
Until a year and a month ago, Suresh and Geeta trusted their kids with someone else, but never after the fateful morning of 28 January 2018.
Geeta returned from her chores to the anguished cries of her 8-month-old baby in bed – when she ran in, she found her lying in a pool of blood and stool. Her heart stopped. “I felt faint,” she told me later. She called out to Suraj, her husband’s 28-year-old nephew who lived in a room above the couple’s, and whom she’d seen earlier, loitering shiftily.
Suraj was flustered; he “panicked, tried to call his wife several times,” recalls Geeta, “and then fled upstairs”.
Geeta’s worst fears were confirmed when it was discovered that her baby had been raped. Things happened quickly: an FIR was filed, Suraj confessed to the cops that he’d committed the crime under the influence of alcohol and emergency hospitalisation ensued.
Before the couple knew it, their lives had irrevocably changed. The biggest change? The bitterness and the helplessness that has set in for a year now – bitterness at the family that failed to protect their girl, and helplessness at not having the money to move out.
Signs of this severance in ties are splattered through Suresh and Geeta’s daily existence today; the couple do not speak at all to Suresh’s two brothers who share the house with them but live on different floors.
Interestingly enough, Suresh got none of that judgement.
Why Chhutki, Her Sister and Her Parents Always Stick Together
Suresh is also not on talking terms with his two older sisters who live in Uttar Pradesh; on Rakshabandhan last year, Suresh called to invite me to celebrate the festival with them. When I landed up with a bright crimson rakhi, I was told that he’d stopped celebrating it with his own sisters.
I’ve, therefore, been “adoptive sister”, as Suresh likes to call it, for the past year and one month – which is why I’ve been able to witness the gradual paranoia and isolation the couple has been living with. There is no leaving home without both kids in tow.
At a court hearing in Chhutki’s case last month – Chhutki has so far had only three hearings in a year – the judge wanted to know if they couldn’t just leave the little girls home? Chhutki had been wailing and flailing in Suresh’s arms at the time of this admonition – while her older sister, 3 years old, was running circles around the prosecutor’s table. “Where would we leave her, sir?” asked Geeta sadly, as she scooped up her children in her thin arms and handed them to Suresh, who left the POCSO courtroom. “We have no one we can trust at home.”
So, Suresh, Geeta and their two daughters go everywhere together. To court, every few months, dressed in their finest, the couple grasping their daughters’ hands and sitting on wooden benches in labyrinthine corridors at Rohini District Court for hours on end. To the market nearest their home to buy packets of Maggi and bars of chocolate for Chhutki and her sister’s birthdays last year, even as guests who arrived early waited outside a hastily padlocked door to the couple’s tiny one-room flat. To the police station at regular intervals, when a member of the extended family has taunted them about the status of their case.
It is this latter that causes the deepest hurt. Even as we shoot the present documentary, Suresh and Geeta are determined to talk for as long as they can and as much as they can about the court case.
“Every time we finish a hearing, we’re told our testimony will be carried over to the next date. That date is usually four months later. Why is it taking so much time?” Geeta demands. She looks at her baby, now more than a year-and-a-half-old today, and says softly, “she isn’t just my child. She’s everybody’s child.”
‘We Don’t Want our Daughter to Grow Up Here’
Chhutki was certainly a unifier for a large part of the Indian populace last year, when crowds stormed the streets in protest after her rape. Shocked at the heinousness of the crime, Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chief Swati Maliwal had even undertaken a fast, demanding strict punishment for the rapist, and the Supreme Court had said it was “concerned” about Chhutki, immediately admitting her to AIIMS for treatment.
It’s been a year and a month, and many of those crowds have dwindled. Public memory is fickle, and Chhutki’s parents are hoping to keep her story alive as much as possible through appeals to the public.
They might move to Kolkata, says Suresh, for whom occasional visits to his wife’s old family home has been a source of comfort – away from the city that has now become synonymous with his daughter’s rape.
We pore over beautiful, bright photographs of the four of them on a day out, last year, to India Gate, as Suresh talks. In the background, Chhutki and her sister are giggling uncontrollably as they chase each other up and down the terrace. Geeta’s keeping a watchful eye at the door. It is a picture of tranquility – and so are the photographs that Suresh has laid out, of their ‘perfect family outing’. But when I ask him when the family plans to go out next, the answer comes pat, soft but resolute – “when Chhutki gets justice.”