(Descriptions of assault and physical violence. Reader discretion advised.)
Around 2:40 am on 19 October, Meena Babbar saw her 23-year-old daughter sitting motionless with her face down in a lane barely 300 metres away from their house in Delhi’s Uttam Nagar. An hour before she was led to the spot by police personnel, the lane echoed with the screams of her daughter Dolly. She had been stabbed seven times by an acquaintance.
“I thought she was unconscious, I couldn’t see the blood on the road at night. Never in my wildest nightmares had I thought that she had been murdered. She just lay there motionless, my child,” said Meena, as she let out a wail, at the family’s modest home in Uttam Nagar.
The midnight murder has shaken up the lane that Dolly grew up in.
A 36-second-long CCTV footage shows a man – identified as Ankit Gaba – brutally pulling her hair, and stabbing her, as two men try to intervene. A fourth person in the video is seen watching as the violence unfolds.
On Wednesday, the police arrested three of the four men seen in the video, including Ankit. A case under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) has been registered at Dwarka district’s Bindapur police station.
“After the incident, Ankit and two others – Manish and Himanshu – fled to Chandigarh, and then Patiala, by bus. They returned to Delhi, and were apprehended from their hideouts in Dwarka only."Shankar Choudhary, DCP Dwarka
The victim was stabbed seven times in the stomach, arm, and her waist. Her family claimed she also had wounds on her neck and face. Media reports had suggested that Ankit had been turned down by Dolly a few times in the past.
The victim’s family on Wednesday, however, told The Quint that they were “not aware” of this.
“Everyone is aware of Ankit’s reputation in the colony, he is a troublemaker. Dolly knew him but not too well, we believe. She knew Manish and Himanshu since childhood and used to tie them rakhi every year,” said the victim’s cousin Chandni.
Dwarka DCP Shankar Choudhary stated that the victim and the three accused were partying on the terrace of an under-construction building nearby that night.
He said, “A heated verbal duel happened between Dolly and Ankit over some personal issues and alleged relations, which turned into a fight and later culminated in Ankit stabbing Dolly in the presence of his friends.”
Cries Left Unheard
As per the CCTV footage timestamp, the incident took place at 1:38 am but the first call to the police was only made at 2:15 am, that too by a Zomato delivery executive who saw the young woman lying in a pool of blood in the alley.
“When the police came home to inform us of the incident, the delivery executive was with them. He told us that he saw her lying there, and when he went closer, he saw there was blood, and so he called the police,” said Meena.
On Wednesday afternoon, The Quint visited the lane where Dolly was found. The tiny stretch of lane has been cordoned off by the police, the pool of blood has dried off but the marks remain. Passers-by stop to take a look. The narrow lane is marked by houses – many of neighbours and friends Dolly was acquainted with.
“And yet, no one heard my daughter scream that night? Did they not hear her cries and pleas? You have seen the lane, it’s narrow. It’s impossible that no one heard her, they chose to ignore her cries. If they couldn’t intervene, could they have at least called us? Maybe timely intervention would have saved her life. Now that the media is here, people of that lane are supplying them with stories of what they saw and heard. What happened to these people that night?”Sudarshan Kumar Babbar, Dolly's father and an auto-driver
Both Meena and Sudarshan recalled how they stood in the lane that night as police investigated the spot, and waited for the ambulance. “I didn’t even get to see her face one last time. An ambulance came after an hour or so, took her away,” said the father.
Dolly was taken to DDU hospital where she was declared dead on arrival. Her post-mortem was conducted Tuesday morning, and the family performed her last rites in the afternoon.
“I saw the CCTV footage… Manish and Himanshu, seen in the video, were her childhood friends. They used to come home also, and even they couldn’t help her. One person just stood and stared. Maine dekha jiss berahmi se Dolly ko maara (I saw the brutality with which they killed Dolly,” said her father.
An Evening Before the Nightmare
Around 11.30 pm 18 October, Dolly informed her cousin that she was stepping out for a friend’s birthday nearby, and will be home in 30-40 minutes. “Late nights were common for her. She was into event management and would often return home late. Dolly didn’t like being bound, she loved her freedom. So, this was an ordinary night for us,” recalled her cousin Chandni.
Three hours later, a knock on the door changed the ordinary night into a nightmare.
“Before the police came home, I received a call from Dolly’s friend Vikrant… He said Dolly is not at home, she got into a fight. I checked her room, she wasn’t there. She had called him from there. Usually, I wait till she gets home, and I call her to inquire. The one night I slept off, my daughter didn’t make it back home,” recalled the victim’s mother.
Just a few hours before Dolly left home, she told her mother about upcoming work projects in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad.
“Due to the lockdown, her work suffered but the tide was slowly turning. I was happy for her. She had bigger plans, my daughter,” said the mother.
The same evening, Dolly sat down with her cousin Chandni to discuss this bigger plan – their very own event management company.
“She was very good with people, and friendly and frank with all. Jisko kehte hai na bindass,” said the cousin.
Dolly studied at a private school in Delhi till Class 10, and then finished Class 12 from open school. Soon after, she began working in event management companies. Dolly’s room is littered with her memories – a stuffed toy, and a cupboard bursting on the seams with her clothes.
“She was very pretty, she loved fashion, make-up, new clothes, posing for photos… Like anyone else her age. She used to take me along with her for all plans. She was very close to our mother and every time she would step out, she would video call her and show her where she was, and with whom. That night she didn’t call,” said her younger brother Lakshay.