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On 19 October, Vania Asad Sheikh’s younger brother Hamza was turning seventeen. As the only daughter in the entire joint family which lived together in Meerut’s Rasheed Nagar, Vania was very pampered. But if there was someone she loved to spoil, it was Hamza. So before leaving for her classes that day, she told the family that she would be back by evening and bake a cake for her brother. She then left for Swami Vivekanand Subharti University, where she had been pursuing Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS). The 20-year-old was in her second year, and busy with a hectic schedule as exams were slated for next month. Around 3 in the afternoon, she was caught hold of by a classmate of hers, Siddhant Singh Panwar, who allegedly slapped her publicly on the campus premises.
The Meerut Police say they have a recording of him slapping her. She then ran up to the terrace of the college library and jumped — an act caught on camera, the video of which has gone viral on social media. Vania’s father, Asad Sabih, was then called by the university authorities to inform him that his daughter has been hurt; he rushed there along with Hamza. Vania never returned to celebrate his birthday with him.
Forty-eight hours later, on 21 October, Vania passed away, succumbing to her injuries.
Voracious Reader, Fan of English Literature: Who Was Vania
The Quint met Vania’s family in Meerut, who have been struggling to make sense of the loss. One of the brightest students of her class, the 20-year-old had aspirations to apply for a Master of Dental Surgery (MDS) course in a foreign university, her father said. “She would often say that she wants to learn the best techniques of dentistry from abroad, come back, and start a charitable clinic here,” her father Asad told The Quint. “Do Muslim daughters not have any respect of dignity? Should Muslims stop teaching their daughters?” he questioned.
Vania also won the ‘most adorable student’ award soon after joining the Subharti Dental College. But besides dentistry, she had another major interest: reading English literature novels.
“Everyone reads course-work related books, but she would take out the time to read novels and poetry. She was obsessed with reading and loved collecting books,” her elder brother, Sheikh Zardar told The Quint, as he showed her collection. The books range from Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns to Karin Slaughter's Criminal to Good Vibes, Good Life by Vex King.
“She was also very studious. She would compete with me, she would say ‘Bhai, I will get more marks than you.’ And she would always inevitably do so,” said Zardar, who studies at an engineering college in Dehradun.
Vania’s paternal grandparents have a total of seven grandchildren, but she was the only granddaughter among them. “She used to bring me warm milk every night without fail, for years. She was the ideal child,” her grandfather said.
The three siblings—Zardar, Vania and Hamza were very close-knit and shared much of their day’s events with each other. “But I wish she would have told us about the boy who troubled her. That’s our only regret. That she didn’t share this with us. If she had, we would have certainly tried to help her,” Zardar lamented.
Meerut Police Says The Two Were In A 'Relationship', Family Says Attempt At Character Assassination
Minutes after Vania jumped from her college building, her family rushed to see her, only to find her connected to machines and lying on a bed unconscious at the Subharti medical college’s ICU.
A day later, the father registered an FIR at the Jani police station, close to the university. The FIR, accessed by The Quint, states that when Vania walked towards the canteen via the security post, she “was stopped by Siddhant, who held her with ill-intent and my daughter (Vania) tried to defend herself. That caused scratches on Siddhant’s face. Siddhant then slapped the complainant’s daughter (Vania) and tried to catch hold of her with ill-intent. The complainant’s daughter, in an attempt to protect herself, ran up to the library’s terrace and jumped from there in order to safeguard her dignity.”
Siddhant was arrested later that day by the Meerut police and was charged with IPC Sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), and section 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace). Moreover, Meerut SP (Rural) Keshav Kumar told The Quint that an abetment to suicide case has also been registered against the accused.
However, on 23 October, the Meerut police tweeted the following: “The (deceased) girl was in a relationship with the accused and their relationship was going through a rough patch. The girl, with help of a friend, tried to test the "loyalty" of her boyfriend. The accused learnt about the act...got angry and slapped the girl who then got hurt/insulted and attempted suicide. She died during treatment. There is CCTV footage, mobile recording and chat as evidence to corroborate the above-mentioned incident and facts.”
Speaking to The Quint, SP Keshav Kumar said that “It became clear from their WhatsApp chats that they were in a relationship but were having problems for a while. Then she tried to prank him on 19 October, through a loyalty test, but when Siddhant found out he slapped her publicly. We have the video footage of the slapping.”
The slap is what seemingly triggered Vania to take the severe step, the SP said.
However, Vania's family claims this is an attempt at character assassinating her, and diluting the severity of what transpired.
“They didn’t let her live in peace. And now even after her death, they are going out of their way to question her character. My daughter was a five-time namazi, would wake up for tahajjud (special prayer performed late in the night. And even if there was something going on (between them), that doesn’t make Vania his (Siddhant’s) private property. It doesn’t give him the right to slap her. He can’t slap and insult her like this. That’s harassment,” the father said.
Students, Family Raise Questions About University's Security
Moreover, the family alleges that Siddhant had been troubling her for a while now. “A few days ago, she had mentioned to me that Siddhant was troubling her and disrespecting her. But I didn’t know the extent of it. She did tell me that she has complained to the college authorities about his behaviour," her father told The Quint.
There are also bigger questions of security lapses that are being raised about Subharti University. Since her demise on 21 October, student unions have been protesting against the university’s “lax security and grievance policies.”
“How could a girl run up to the terrace of the college, which is on the fourth floor, and no one stopped her? Why was the terrace left open for anyone to access. In most colleges, the terrace is always locked. If it wasn’t locked, a guard should have been positioned in front of it,” said Karar Hussain, Student Seva Samiti’s national president. The student leaders and Vania’s family are also questioning why no action was taken against Siddhant if he was troubling her for a while.
The Quint reached out to Dr Nikhil Srivastava, the Principal and Dean of Subharti Dental College. A family member of his received the call and said that he is on holiday till 27 October and will only be available after that. The Quint has also sent a detailed questionnaire to Dr Pradeep Raghav, the dean of student welfare, but we haven’t received any reply yet. When there is a response, the report will be updated.
The police, however, refused to have initiated any inquiry against the university yet. “When there is a complaint against the university, we will investigate. But there hasn’t been any official complaint yet,” the SP said.
'If Roles Were Reversed, A Muslim Boy's House Would Have Been Bulldozed': Family
On 24 October, Chandrashekhar Azad, the Azad Samaj Party chief, came to visit Vania’s family and give his condolences.
“Imagine if the roles would have been switched...girl from another community and boy from another community, do we not know what would have happened in Meerut? The right-wing would have created riots here, and called it all sorts of ‘jihad’,” Azad said, speaking to the media.
Student leaders have also written to UP CM Yogi Adityanath, demanding a swift inquiry and justice into her case. So far, the CM hasn’t said anything on the incident.
The family too raised questions at the lack of mainstream media’s coverage, as well as the cold response from political leadership of the state.
“If this was a case of a Muslim boy harassing a Hindu girl who jumped to her death, there is no doubt that bulldozers would have been run over his house in a day’s time. That is the reality. But here, no one is even bothering to reach out to us,” said Mohammed Abid, Vania’s cousin.