At 2 pm Wednesday, amid wails from a crowded street blocked to bursting point by police vehicles and media crew, a 15-year-old girl’s body was brought to a small shop adjacent to her home in a Greater Noida village, where her father runs his tailoring business. She was laid on the floor of the shop — an area she would spent hours in — while her father sat on the ledge above and spun colourful kurtas and pyjamas, some of which she had lately started to wear.
In the early hours of Monday, she had been found on the terrace of this house, burnt and bleeding, crying for help.
Minutes after burying her Wednesday, her father said she was screaming the name of the accused, her alleged stalker and neighbour.
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“She was screaming… that he raped her and set her on fire. She kept saying his name… till the time she was conscious, she was asking for water and calling out his name… she was in so much pain,” he said.
The 18-year-old accused, who lives less than 500 metres from the girl’s residence, has since been arrested. Doctors at Safdarjung Hospital, where she was referred for treatment from a government hospital her family had rushed her to, would later tell the family that she had sustained 95 per cent thermal burns.
She breathed her last at 4.30 am Wednesday, after battling an infection that eventually permeated into her blood stream, as is common in such serious burns. Sources said she also sustained blunt injuries on her head and leg.
On Wednesday, her mother could not believe her daughter was dead; she had to be dragged out of bed and brought outside the shop. She peeped inside, refusing to see her daughter’s disfigured forehead and fingers and the tufts of hair on her head — the only parts of her body visible under the cloth that covered her.
“My daughter will come home. I met her yesterday. Ask her father to promise her that he will not scold her… just call her. She will come and beg for chatpata food,” screamed her mother, her voice louder than the wails emanating from inside the shop.
The victim’s younger sister, four years her junior, remained quiet as she held on to a photograph of her sister, smiling in one of her father’s blue creations.
“She ate with me, gave me her share of sweets… we fought about who would get the better pillow. Everything was so normal, and now there is this smell of burnt flesh… this is how I found her that night on the terrace. Why has she come back with this smell,” asked the child.
On Monday night, she had been woken up by her sister’s screams, coming from the terrace above.
“I ran up, and there was my sister and this smell… and she was screaming for water. I ran down and woke up my father. I even went knocking on neighbours’ doors,” she says, stoic, not a tear on her face.
On an adjoining street, residents point to a house where an yellow sari has been put out to dry, as the one where her alleged stalker stayed.
The mother and sister of the accused looked on, as the crowd lifted the victim’s body and moved out. “We have seen her grow up… Who would want a death like this for anybody? My son cannot do this to anyone… ,” said the mother, brushing away her own tears.
The suspect’s sister had ventured towards the crowded street; she had tried to push her way through the crowd to catch a glimpse of the 15-year-old.
“An old woman told me that I should not show my face there… the crowd would get angry,” she said.
Her 18-year-old brother was arrested by police two days ago.
“He was sleeping at home. He himself was so sad… he had been sleeping through the day. I asked him what happened but he did not say anything. At 5 pm Monday, the police came and took him away,” she said.
His family claimed that their son had known the victim for at least two years.
“They had taken up the matter with us, and we did the same with them. We did not like him going out with someone from outside our community any more than they did. We scolded him, but these are young modern people, they do not listen… look at where it has gotten him today,” said the father of the accused, a carpenter.
For many, the incident evokes a sense of deja vu; something similar happened 10 months ago, though with a different ending. “He had lured her away… she went missing through the day. We lodged a police complaint and went around, looking for her. We found them at 11.30 pm outside the village and got her back… there were other boys also with him. He was always a bad lot,” said the girl’s father.
But the father of the accused said his son and the victim had been a couple, and they had chosen to elope.
“Even then, they said my son had forcibly taken her. How is that possible? They created a hue and cry, accusing him of stalking her, but she did not say a word,” he said.
The girl’s family narrated a different version: “We decided against lodging an FIR because the boy’s family apologised, and we thought getting the police involved would affect our daughter’s marriage prospects. Who knew it would lead to this,” said her father. The girl had to drop out of school after the accused “kept following her everywhere”, said her uncle.
“We had no option but to take her out. But she told me she wanted to study and become a police officer, so I wanted to support her,” said her father.
A few days ago, he said he discovered that the accused had not mended his ways.
“The only way to stop him from following her was to keep her home for a few days. She was also terribly scared. He was a bad lot.. a few months ago, people caught him trying to steal parts of an auto-rickshaw parked here. Everyone cornered him, but let him go after his parents apologised,” said a neighbour.
Inside the house, oblivious to the fact that her daughter has already been buried, her mother screamed, “Call her now. Tell her not to be scared. I will take care of her”.
Both families, originally from Bihar, have been staying in the Greater Noida village for nearly two decades.
There were no eye-witnesses and there are two versions of the event, said the Gautam Buddh Nagar Police. Senior police officials said that the statement of the girl would have been a crucial link for the case. The police have registered an FIR under IPC sections of rape, murder and POCSO Act – 376, 307, 326, and 452.
The accused told the police that he had met the girl that night and they had had a fight.
“He said the girl doused herself with kerosene and set herself on fire. He said that he could not watch her burning. He claims that he would not kill a person whom he has been dating for two years. We are exploring all angles and investigations are still underway,” said a senior police official.
“We were unable to take the statement of the girl because she was not in a condition to give a statement. There is no eyewitness in the case… so that would have been a crucial link for us,” said Superintendent of Police, Rural, Abhishek Yadav.
“So far, based on allegations by the girl’s family, there is only one accused and he has been arrested. The accused and his family has given a different version. We are investigating all angles as of now,” said Yadav.