The Sunday Story: Their daughter, her fight

Three months after the Uber rape, the lives of a North Delhi family have turned upside down.

Written by Sumegha Gulati | New Delhi | Published:March 29, 2015 12:00 am
uber cab rape case, uber rape, uber cab rape, uber cab, uber cab rape trial, delhi, women security, delhi women security, delhi security, delhi news, sunday story The isolated stretch of road where the woman was raped. (Source: Express Photos)

Three months after the Uber rape, the lives of a North Delhi family have turned upside down. The father has given up his foreign job, the mother keeps checking on the victim all night, the 25-yr-old wonders if she should go somewhere far away. The family has also bought a car, to ensure Dec 5 is not repeated.

In a busy lane deep inside a congested neighbourhood in North Delhi, amidst the din of rickshaws and tempos carrying factory goods, stands an old, multi-storey house. It’s on one of the floors of this house that the 25-year-old woman who was raped by an Uber cab driver last December lives.

A flight of narrow, high steps opens into a courtyard surrounded by three rooms, one of which is the woman’s. It is modestly furnished, bare but for a bed, a wooden cabinet with her books neatly stacked, an almirah in the corner, and a study table with pens and pencils strewn around.

uber cab rape case, uber rape, uber cab rape, uber cab, uber cab rape trial, delhi, women security, delhi women security, delhi security, delhi news, sunday story The notes on the walls of her room.

Two walls of the room are painted bright red. Her mother says she likes “lively” colours. But what stand out more are the handwritten notes on plain paper pasted all over — the walls, the almirah and the cabinet.

‘Mom & Dad — the best gift. Blessed Daughter #Me’, says one note. ‘I am high on life from now on :)’, says another. One poster lists ‘Priorities Intact’ in bullet points: ‘Loving Yourself’; ‘Exercise’; ‘Eat Healthy’; ‘Work hard and success will follow’. In one of the notes, she writes, ‘I am strong/stable — inspiration for Delhi’. In another, she repeats, ‘I am strong and brave’.

Adjacent to the woman’s room is a kitchen and a bathroom. The other two rooms around the courtyard are her parents’ bedroom and a living-cum-guest room.

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The house, her mother tells The Sunday Express, was built by the father — now 53 — over several years. “My husband is from Delhi and got the land from his family. I am from a small town in Uttar Pradesh.”

The parents had an arranged marriage in 1988. The mother, who is an M.A. and B.Ed, says they had their daughter just a year later. The delighted family had distributed sweets to the entire neighbourhood and thrown a party.

Her father was clear from the beginning —they would have just one child, irrespective of whether it was a boy or girl. “I am from a middle-class family,” he says. “I was a good student but we lacked exposure. I wanted to give more than an average life to my child. I did not want to distribute my limited assets among two-three children. So, despite initial pressure from my family to have a second child, I refused.”

Nobody ever willed for a son later. The “beautiful baby with a lovely smile” became the laadli of everyone in the family.

According to her mother, the doctors involved in her delivery too still remember her. “During birth, when her head was taken out while the body was still inside my womb, her eyes were wide open. Even the doctors were surprised. For years, they would only identify us as the parents of the baby born with open eyes.”

Fond of photography, her father would keep taking pictures of her, now preserved safely in family albums. On her first birthday, she has a shaved head and is wearing a frilly dress as she cuts the cake. At her third birthday celebrations, she and her parents are all dressed in pink — her “favourite” colour till date, the mother says, pointing towards a grey-and-pink pullover hanging behind the wooden door.

“She was a ‘daddy’s girl’,” the mother adds. “If she ever got dirty in the mud while playing as an infant, he would scold my mother-in-law and me for not taking care of her properly. We always ensured she was well-dressed — even if it meant changing her clothes several times a day.”

She was three when her father went abroad to work. It wasn’t an “easy decision”, the parents say, but they felt it would help them provide their daughter the best they could.

With her father away, boarding was seen as the best option for her. And so, in Class II, she was sent to a hostel in Chandigarh. That was the first time they realised how determined their daughter was, says the mother. “She desperately wanted to be home. In jest, we challenged her to score 99 per cent marks. She got that and we had no choice but to bring her back the same year.”

In Delhi, she was enrolled into one of the city’s topmost schools, where she studied till high school. Later, she left for a boarding school again, in the hills. This time, she stayed.

In a conversation with this reporter shortly after the rape, the victim had said how she came to love her school and teachers. “Hostel gave me a broader outlook towards life and changed me completely. It instilled self-confidence that shaped my attitude towards life’s problems.”

In school, her favourite subjects were chemistry and biology. She was actively involved in social issues and often visited blind schools to interact with the children. She was also good at volleyball and took classes in sitar and violin.

“Even though I used to be sad and lonely that our only child was away, my husband stood firm. He wanted our daughter to get the best education. So we made all the sacrifices. And she never disappointed us. Throughout school and college, she remained an exceptional student,” recalls the mother.

She eventually went on to do her graduation from Delhi University’s prestigious Jesus & Mary College, where she was a college topper and a university rank-holder.

She landed a job with a top multinational soon after graduation. One of her colleagues, who declined to be named, said the woman was “so good” at work that she got “rare, out-of-turn promotions” and was “the only one among the team to get a 5/5 rating”.

* * *

It is 9 pm on March 9. He had left home at 11 in the morning to meet human rights lawyer Colin Gonsalves at his office in South Delhi’s Jangpura, an hour away.

Sinking into the chair besides the study table in his daughter’s room, he slowly takes off his glasses. Fatigue is written large across his face. It has been over 10 hours since he has eaten anything.

“Where’s the time? I have to be there again by 8 tomorrow morning,” he says as he asks his wife to make him a cup of tea. She returns with a plate of hot idlis.

Less than three months ago, he had been working abroad, comfortable in the knowledge that his wife and daughter were safe back home. All that has changed.

“The kind of things a father can never discuss with his daughter have to be discussed… personal questions. And we have to face allegations — in the court, neighbourhood, everywhere,” he says.

On December 5 last year, she had left home at 9 am for work, like on any other day, in an office cab. Her office, in Gurgaon, is 40 km away.

It was a Friday, and it was understood that after work, she would go out with friends. “Corporates work five days a week. It is part of their work culture to go out on weekends. That evening, she went out for dinner with her friends to Cyber Hub. One of them, who lives in Vasant Vihar, dropped her till there and arranged for an Uber cab to take her home,” the father says.

It was a tiring day at work, she would later tell her parents, and sometime during the 20-km drive home, she dozed off. When she woke up, she found the cab parked in a secluded spot and the accused, Shiv Kumar Yadav, in the back seat with her, assaulting her. He threatened to insert a rod inside her — a crude reminder of the December 16 Delhi gangrape — if she did not comply. Realising her life was in danger, the victim gave in and later begged Yadav to drop her home, promising not to reveal the incident to anyone.

“It was her presence of mind that even in such a difficult situation, she clicked a picture of the numberplate of the cab with her mobile phone,” her father says.

On reaching home, she first called the police and then informed her mother, who was up waiting for her. She immediately informed her husband, who was coincidentally in India at the time. He rushed home.

“I could always afford a car, but I didn’t buy it as I was living abroad and it was just the two of them here. But now I think it was a mistake. If she had been in her own car, this wouldn’t have happened,” the father says, his eyes welling up.

Recently, the family did buy a car for her, and she has started taking driving lessons. “Ab court-kachehri ke chakkar bhi lagne lage, isiliye gaadi ki zaroorat lagi humein (Now we have to make the rounds of courts, we felt the need for a car),” says the father. He has also left his foreign posting.

Each morning at 7, as they prepare to leave for court, the woman slips into a burqa.

The change is more than cosmetic though, fears the mother. “My daughter says she can no longer identify the person in the mirror. She had always been very strong, very courageous. She used to come home alone from her hostel, but today, she cannot even step out on her own. She is scared of all men.”

Two years ago, after the December 16 Delhi gangrape, the woman and her father had actively participated in the protests. They had attended candle-light vigils at India Gate and distributed pamphlets.

A change has also come in the family’s relationship with relatives and friends. “With people who know, the close ones, an unsaid tension hangs in the air. We feel the topic may come up during conversation. They do not want to hurt us either,” her father says.

But there are other ways memories of the incident keep coming back. “A newspaper reported she had consumed alcohol and lost consciousness, which is why the incident happened. People wrote in comments that she ‘deserved’ what happened to her and that it was ‘good’ she had learnt her lesson. Such baseless allegations can affect the morale of any rape survivor,” he adds.

The Delhi High Court order allowing the defence counsel to re-examine witnesses has been another blow. Her parents say she had begun picking up the threads of her life, begun working again and meeting friends. “After the order, she was depressed for days. She kept crying, saying she did not wish to relive the incident,” her mother recalls.

After the documentary India’s Daughter was banned, her father posted on a social media group: “India’s Other Daughter — revictimised by law(pla)yers”.

The defence lawyers of accused Shiv Kumar Yadav have been extremely “insensitive”, says the father. “Once, when my daughter retaliated to an objectionable question in court and told the lawyer she was just like his daughter, he replied, ‘Don’t insult my daughter’. I feel sad. The accused is present in the courtroom and it’s difficult for my child to face him every day. I feel disappointed that educated lawyers can resort to cheap tactics. We are a simple family. Maybe we don’t understand their ways.”

One of her close friends, a 27-year old woman who sat at the desk behind hers in office and has known her for four years now, says the victim is “daring, but very emotional”. Saying that she loved food, travelling and watching movies, the friend adds, “She is just like any other young person. But she is ambitious and not scared to speak up.”

The friend also remembers that December 5 evening vividly. “Before she left, she was excited and happy. I cannot forget that face. For a few days after the incident, she was low. But then, she put up a brave front. The way she reported the matter and has been coping, hats off to her.”

While praising the police and her office for being “extremely supportive”, the family adds that all this is taking a toll on the victim’s health. Often, her mother says, when she gets up in the middle of the night to check up on her daughter, she finds her wide awake. “She rarely sleeps before 4-5 am now. She just keeps staring at the ceiling. I ask her what she’s thinking. She says she does not want to stay here, that she wants to run away somewhere, far away, where these memories won’t haunt her anymore.”

Sometimes, she also asks, “Why me?”.

But those who know her believe she will get over it. There will be a day “5, 10, 20 years” from now, they say, when she will “move on”.

There are times when her father breaks down too, like during any discussion on women’s security, or when he is driving and it suddenly strikes him that none of the people around him knows his pain, his anguish. He can’t wait to rush home then to be with his daughter.

“I cannot say what will happen in the future, but like all fathers, I wish the best for my child,” he says. “Years later, I may not remember the incident, but I will always remember how bravely my daughter fought this battle.”

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