Remembering the Kothkai Rape Victim Whose Death Shocked India
16-year-old Gudiya was raped and murdered on her way back from school in Himachal Pradesh’s Kothkai.
Fifteen-year-old Aman looks down in thought and deep regret, as he recalls the last time he spoke to his 16-year-old sister, affectionately known as Gudiya.
(“Didi came and said she was heading home. She asked me if I would accompany her back. I said no... I wish I hadn't.”)
It was on the way back home from school the same day that his Gudiya was brutally raped and murdered in Himachal Pradesh’s Kothkai on 4 July this year. With no clothes on her – even her socks pulled off – she lay in the forest with a liquor bottle on her side.
The family's pain was amplified by the way the case was handled. The police was initially investigating the case, but the CBI took over on 22 July, after one of the suspects, a Nepalese worker, was killed in police custody. There was and continues to be widespread discontentment and anger in the region.
‘Virbhadra Should Be Locked up in Jail’
Himachal Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh did little to help. He made a comment saying such incidents happen all the time, further antagonising people in the region. This could be one of the reasons Singh didn't stand from Theog, despite veteran Congress leader Vidya Stokes giving way to him. Theog is the constituency Gudiya's family lives in, and is adjacent to Kothkai, where the rape happened.
On the morning of 5 July, after Gudiya failed to return home, around 200 people from across the villages swept the jungle in search of her as the sun rose. The family thought she had probably been killed or attacked by an animal.
The family's ire is concentrated on the Congress government. Gudiya's father Keshav Ram, 56, whose emotions swing from grief to anger, wants Virbhadra in jail.
Keshav is certain no one is going to vote for him.
Everyone is constantly paranoid and scared. No one gets out after sunset here anymore.
‘She Had Been Using That Route Only for 48 Days’
Earlier, Gudiya used to study in a different school nearby, but was moved to the Kothkai school. Her father tells The Quint she failed in two papers in class 10.
I knew she wanted to study. So we thought she should start Class 10 again in another school.
As she moved schools, so did her everyday route. The new route had no houses on the way, just dense forests with one muddy path leading towards the hilltop. Since the incident, villagers have stopped taking that path.
Remembering the Day Gudiya Was Born
“This is where my daughter was born, next to the stove right here,” Keshav says. After six daughters, the youngest of whom was Gudiya, the family had their first son. "Apne peeche beta bhi de gayi thi (after her, we had our first son), " Keshav says looking towards Aman.
Her mother, Krishna, 47, breaks down while remembering the day her daughter was born. I leave my pen and close my notebook for a few minutes. After a while she gathers herself, and says:
("How am I supposed to accept this? Every evening at 5:00 she used to come home. Where is my daughter?”)
Gudiya's Belongings Are Still Scattered Around the House
Krishna walks up to a cupboard to show me some of Gudiya's belongings.
She didn’t ask for much. She was shy and well-behaved, but when she asked for a pink wallet, her father bought it for her.
Keshav says Gudiya was very particular about her hair, nails. She would spend hours in front of the mirror.
‘Once the Remote Was Hers, No One Could Get It’
Gudhiya loved the television and would spend hours listening to Punjabi music in front of it. She would learn the dance moves and show it to her father when he returned from work. Her mother says her days even started in front of the television. Everyday, just like on 4 July, she woke up to listen to a local programme where an astrologer predicted the day for every horoscope.
Her mother wonders what was foretold for Gudiya on that unforgiving day.
Gudhiya and Aman, the youngest in the house, used to often fight for the remote control.
"Didi never let me watch television. We would have a battle almost everyday about getting our hands on the remote control first, she would win often," Aman says with a reluctant smile.
Today the TV is still there, the remote control too – but no one is fighting over it. The set remains in the room as the family tries to cope with everything that reminds them of their daughter.
Meanwhile, Aman searches for peace and sense in the aftermath of his sister's death. On some days, the burden is too big for a 15-year-old to comprehend. While everyone waits for the day the accused are arrested, the safety of other young school and college going girls – and justice for Gudiya – has become a key concern for the people of Theog and Kothkai as they decide their vote in Himachal Pradesh’s upcoming assembly elections.
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