After Kothkai Rape, Neighbours and Students Dread the Forests
One school girl, Muskaan, said everyone in her class cried in fear the moment they heard of Gudiya’s rape and murder
The slightest rustling of leaves and the eyes of the villagers swiftly move to inspect the horror that might be hiding in the woods.
15-year-old Gudiya was raped and murdered on her way back from school in a forest in Halaila village in Kothkai, Himachal Pradesh, on July 4. While the family's agony isn't easy to empathise with - the parents and kids in the area have experienced a roller-coster of emotions as they try and cope with the circumstances in which Gudiya died.
'Kids Worst Affected'
Urmila and her 32-year-old husband Sanjeev meet us at the bottom of the mountain where Gudiya lives. Sanjeev says he was a teacher in the school Gudhiya was from.
"You should talk to the kids who live here. They'll tell you how life has changed, they are the worst affected of the lot. They're still scared when they come to school and their parents are worried sick too," he said.
While panting and walking up the mountain, school kids catch up. As we begin to speak about how those three months were for them they settle to talk.
Police and CBI officials in this area have become a regular sight for the kids. Officials ask the kids, who are accompanied by their parents, questions about when they saw Gudiya last and how she was.
13-year-old Heena who lives in Kufra village, the same village where Gudiya is from, said friends in her class cried all day. “Everyone kept crying. My school friends, people in my village. The festivities that followed after were not celebrated.”
15-year-old Muskaan, also from the same village, said her parents would allow her to go to the forest to get wood or bring back the cattle but after the incident only men go to the village. “Cattle are not allowed to lay astray that side anymore. And even young boys are most times not allowed to go. Only papa goes there now and even when he does, mummy remains tensed till he returns.”
Heena says some boys in her class do make her uncomfortable, but she has learned to tell her parents and teachers about it.
The eeriness has slipped into their homes and their classrooms. As soon as school ends, everyone heads home as soon as possible. No one heads out after sundown in the village which are scattered over mountains that have no pakka road or clear path to walk on.
‘We Were Scared, But Principal, Teachers Never Spoke to Us’
On the way up we meet 16-year-old Dinesh Kumar. Dinesh was in the same class as Gudiya and on most days they would go and come back together.
Dinesh recalls that Gudiya wasn’t that good at studies but was very simple and shareef. She had a few close friends and kept to them. “After what happened everyone in school was so scared and confused but the principal or the teacher’s didn’t speak to us about it at all. I had seen her leave school. This doesn’t feel good. I wish we all get justice.”
Parents Stressed By Interrogation
Soon Dinesh’s mother, 36-year-old Reena joins us. She says right after this happened she removed Dinesh from that school.
“Everyone who lives around here took their kids out of the school. We don’t want our kids to take the path through that forest anymore, so we have put them in another school,” Reena said.
The locals said the new school doesn’t have adequate teachers or rooms yet but still safety has become paramount for these villages.
The CBI which has taken over the case since 22 July has kept a tab on meeting the school kids and their parents regularly. “They called us two days ago too and at least three times this has happened. They keep calling us to go to meet them and that involves walking down two hours and then walking through the mud path through the forest again. It’s unsafe and uncalled for with our kids when the men are out, why can’t they come to us?”
Reena says everytime the CBI sends someone to call the parents they hate it. It’s been three months but they’re still being called to relive an ordeal with their children, why?
Madhu, 36, who has three kids, says the CBI constantly calling them for interrogation needs to end. She said, “We trust them to do their job but they need to stop asking us to come there ourselves. Why can’t they come here for one day and meet everyone one after the other. We have to leave the house and take the kids and go. Haven’t we experienced enough stress?”
Kothkai Rape to Determine Vote
The villagers have no faith in the police. “If they were doing their job correctly then someone would be arrested by now. The police is tainted here,” Reena said.
Himachal Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh did little to help after protests erupted in the state. He made a comment saying such incidents happen all the time, further antagonising people in the region.
One of the reasons Himachal CM Virbhadra Singh didn't stand from Theog, despite veteran Congress leader Vidya Stokes giving way to him was because Theog is the assembly constituency Gudiya's family lives in, and is adjacent to Kothkai, where the rape happened.
Gudiya’s father wants Virbhadra locked in jail and the locals have no faith in the police handling the law and order.
Anger, discontent and stress rules the minds of these villagers as they decide theit vote in the upcoming assembly elections.
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