(Trigger Warning: Disturbing details. Reader discretion advised)
As she watched her elder sister be paraded in the colony – her face blackened, a garland of slippers around her neck, and her shoulder-length hair chopped off – in Delhi’s Shahdara district on 26 January afternoon, the 18-year-old woman desperately sought a mobile phone.
“I wanted to call the police so they could rescue my sister. I asked a cousin nearby, she said she didn’t have a phone. I asked a neighbour who said there was no balance in her phone. No one helped her. No one was ready to give me their mobile phone so I could call the police,” lamented the 18-year-old, seated inside a dingy room, where she and her sister grew up.
She managed to dial 112 after she lied to a neighbour that she wanted to call her maternal grandmother, and not the police.
“Ten minutes later, the police arrived and rescued my sister. I didn’t get a chance to say a word to her then,” said the 18-year-old.
On Republic Day afternoon, her sister, who is 20 years old, was allegedly kidnapped, gang-raped, beaten up, and paraded in the Shahdara colony. A video of her being paraded, surrounded by women and girls, who cheered on the humiliating act, was posted on Twitter by Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chief Swati Maliwal a day later.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, and chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW) Rekha Sharma demanded strict action against the accused.
The Delhi Police has filed an FIR under sections of gang-rape, kidnapping, illegal confinement, physical assault, and intimidation. So far, nine people – including eight women – have been arrested. The police have also apprehended two minors “involved in the sexual assault” of the woman, said DCP (Shahdara) R Sathiyasundaram.
The officer told The Quint that a 38-year-old woman, who is one of the nine people arrested in this case, claimed that “her 16-year-old son died by suicide in November 2021 and that she blames the 20-year-old woman for his death.” The woman’s husband too is among those arrested.
The survivor is currently at a shelter home for women with her husband. The couple’s two-year-old son is with the survivor’s 18-year-old sister.
Two days after the incident, the survivor’s sister told The Quint:
“I was helpless, I heard my sister’s screams from the house she was confined in. Bacha lo, bacha lo (Save me)… But I couldn’t do anything. I had to protect myself, and her two-year-old son. I didn’t let him see what they did to his mother.”The survivor's 18-year-old sister
Tears rolled down her son's eyes as he inquired about his mother.
“He keeps asking where she is, I have told him she is with the doctors. I have no clothes for him, I have borrowed some from a neighbour,” said the 18-year-old.
Months of Harassment, A PCR Call, and a Police Complaint
In the last two days, the 18-year-old has narrated the trauma she and her sister have gone through in the last few months, multiples times to multiple people – police personnel, journalists, and relatives.
“A 16-year-old boy in our locality was after my sister. She is married and lives a few kilometres away with her husband, and every time she would visit, this boy would trouble her. He would tell her to leave her husband, he would threaten her. He told her he loved her but she had no interest. She was distressed,” claimed the survivor’s sister.
On 12 November 2021, the boy died, allegedly by suicide. The survivor’s sister alleged that since then the deceased’s family has “tortured” the two sisters, “burnt their father’s autorickshaw,” and “threatened to rape and kill” them.
“The day this boy died, my sister and I were at a relative’s house in the locality, and my sister had to hide because the boy’s parents and relatives marched towards our relative’s house to attack my sister,” she said.
Days later, the 20-year-old went to her maternal grandmother’s house in Haryana, along with her toddler, for a few weeks – “to escape the harassers.” A day after she was allegedly gang-raped and kidnapped, the survivor’s maternal grandparents – who are in their 60s – rushed to Delhi.
'She Stopped Visiting Father, Sister': Survivor's Grandmother
As she coddled her great-grandson, the 60-year-old woman told The Quint, “My granddaughter stayed with me for a few weeks, she was so terrified and worried. She moved homes, she almost stopped visiting her father and sister just so she can be safe. Little did we know this is the fate that awaited her. These sisters have led a very tough life.”
Around five years ago, the father of the two sisters, who used to drive an autorickshaw, met with an accident, which paralysed him waist below.
The auto he owns has been rented out, and the family gets Rs 300 per day from the driver. In 2018, the survivor was married off, and had a baby boy in 2019. In 2020, the sisters lost their mother.
While the survivor was away in Haryana for a few weeks, her 18-year-old sister was allegedly being harassed by the deceased boy’s family.
“The men of that house would enter our house and threaten me, abuse me, say such nasty things that I can’t repeat them to you… Tere saath bura karenge, tu bach ke dikha… I was scared, so I told my uncle to take care of my father, and I went to my grandmother’s house too in December,” she said.The survivor's 18-year-old sister
'They Abused Me, Threatened to Kill and Rape Me': Survivor's Sister on Accused
A day after she returned to Delhi on 12 January, the deceased boy’s mother allegedly beat her up. “She slapped me, abused me, thrashed me, tried to tear my clothes. I dialled 112, and the police came and rescued me. They took me to the police station, and then dropped me back a few hours later. They warned the woman not to trouble me,” said the 18-year-old.
Six days later, on 19 January, the sisters’ maternal aunt, who was visiting them from east Delhi, was allegedly beaten up by the deceased boy’s family. The same day, the family’s autorickshaw was burnt down, allegedly by the same people.
On 20 January, the sister of the survivor went to the police station and submitted a lengthy written complaint, a copy of which has been accessed by The Quint.
In the complaint, she has named some of the people, who have now been arrested by the Delhi Police in relation to the 26 January incident.
She wrote, “…Naa hi yeh kaam karne dete hai, naa hi yeh kamaane dete hai. Main apna ghar kaise chalaungi? Mujhe inn logo se khatra hai… Dhamki dete hai, izzat ki, jaan ki. Main majboor hu sir, mujhe tumhaari sahayta chahiye.(These people don't let me work on earn any money. How am I supposed to run my house? I fear for my life... They threaten me to kill me... I am helpless, sir, I need your help.)”
The 18-year-old asked if her sister could have been saved had the police acted when she had submitted her complaint six days before the incident?
Her father alleged, “The accused family deals in illicit liquor and drugs. They don’t fear anyone because the police never dealt with them strictly. They have threatened my daughters for so long, told them they don’t fear the police. Look what has happened now.”
A senior police officer told The Quint that the deceased boy’s father, who has been arrested in relation to the 26 January incident, has “multiple cases against him.”
What Happened on 26 January?
Since the survivor had almost stopped visiting her ailing father, and sister, it was the 18-year-old who often dropped by at her home whenever the need arose. On 26 January morning, it was to be one such routine visit.
“I had to drop off a small sack of flour to her house, and took a battery rickshaw. She lives a few minutes away. Little did I know that I was being followed by the deceased boy’s family. I reached her house after 11.30 am, and asked her to come downstairs and take the flour, as I had to go somewhere else,” recalled the 18-year-old.
Just as the survivor stepped out of her house with her two-year-old son, eight women pounced on her, claimed the sister.
“One of them picked up my nephew so brutally, they hit my sister, they hit me, they took my phone away, and they forced my sister to sit in an auto. I managed to take my nephew away from them. The women forced me to sit in the battery rickshaw, and took us to the colony where I live,” she said.
The 18-year-old claimed that the women then dragged her sister into a room near her house, as she screamed and cried for help.
“I managed to protect myself and my nephew, and ran inside my house, and locked the door. I had to save my nephew, you know. They even threatened to hurt him,” she said.
“Even Our Own Relatives Didn’t Help”
The room, where the woman was allegedly gang-raped and beaten up, is now locked. It’s merely a few metres away from the 18-year-old’s house.
“I heard her screams. I didn’t know what they were doing to her but feared the worst. I have been told she was raped. I climbed on to our terrace, and saw that they had dragged her out. Her face was blackened, her head was tonsured, and she was being hit. The woman who was holding her hand is the deceased boy’s mother… The whole colony saw what was happening but everyone was so scared, they did nothing,” she said.
She said that even her own relatives didn’t try to help her sister. “Today, they tell me they are with me. What do I do with their support now? Now I will take the support of the law. I want justice, and protection for my family,” she said, as her nephew bawled in a corner.
On the night of 27 January – a day after the incident – the survivor called her sister from the shelter home. The two spoke for barely a minute.
“She was crying, and just asked me how her son is doing. She told me to take care of him, and before I could say anything, she hung up,” said the sister.
Over five police personnel are posted in the lane now, including two women police personnel right outside the 18-year-old’s home.
“Since yesterday, so many people have asked me if I will leave this house and go elsewhere now due to fear. Why should I go? This is my house. I grew up here. Now, we will fight this. Today, it’s my sister. Tomorrow, it can be me or you,” she said.