HER SCHOOL bag still hangs in the room she slept in, untouched. In it, are four notebooks and two textbooks, mathematics and English. After her mutilated body was found near a canal in Haryana’s Jind on January 12, her family has been unable to put that bag away. This is their last connection with the elder daughter of the house.
A few kilometres away is where Gulshan lived. Police had named him the prime suspect in the girl’s murder till his body was recovered on January 17. In his room too, are the same two textbooks, mathematics and English. Except, they’re not in his schoolbag. “Gulshan’s schoolbag was used to carry his ashes to Haridwar. My brother will bring the bag back soon and I will put his books back in,” says his father, Jaswinder Kundora.
Police have made little headway in solving the double deaths, but they believe that Gulshan and the girl were “in touch” with each other for most of 2017. They met in the same private school and tuition classes they attended in Jhansa but apart from their apparent liking for each other, they had little in common.
While both families are Dalits, the girl’s family belongs to a sub-community regarded higher than Gulshan’s, who was a Valmiki. The families live in different quarters of the village. She lived in a house with two rooms and a courtyard just off a main road. She and her sister slept in one room and her parents in an adjacent one. “Her father is regarded as one of the best tailors in the village and earns more than enough to support his family. Though he does not own a shop, he was managing to save money every month for our daughter’s higher education,” says the girl’s aunt. The girl’s mother is still in shock and refuses to meet anybody. According to the aunt, the girl wanted to become a doctor. “She was excellent in studies, always scoring more than 65 per cent. Most teachers told us she was their favourite student,” she says.
Gulshan’s grades were significantly lower than the girl’s. “But this was understandable. She attended class every evening and scored well. But Gulshan was irregular. He had to help his father with work often,” says Naresh, a teacher whose tuition classes both attended. A daily wage labourer, Gulshan’s father works as a house painter. “There is no regular work. I usually work 15-20 days a month and earn just enough to support the family. Sometimes, my sons have to help me to finish work on time,” says Kundora.
His house, with just one room on a small road almost on the outskirts of Jhansa, tells the story. He points to the walls outside, a patchwork of bare concrete. “I have not even been able to paint my own house. But I have to save money for the education of my sons. And Gulshan’s only dream was to work outside India. I had even got estimates for my house, which I was willing to sell to send him abroad,” he says, adding that he’d managed to get a passport made for his elder son. Kundora has given the only room in the house to his sons where they can study and sleep “in peace” on a bed. He and his wife sleep on the floor in a make-shift room outside, with a carpet for a door.
According to call detail records obtained by police, Gulshan and the girl communicated on mobile phones. The girl used her father’s or mother’s since they had not bought her one and Gulshan had bought a second-hand phone. “I could not buy him one, but he managed to buy a second-hand phone sometime ago. I don’t know how he managed it,” says Kundora, whose own phone, held together by tape, is still with police.
Kundora and his younger son were released from police detention only after Gulshan’s body was found. They allege torture and illegal detention after police picked them up the day after the girl’s body was found. After having cremated his son last Thursday, Kundora and members of the community gather every day at the Valmiki dharamshala a few hundred feet from his house. “The community has rallied around us. They are supporting us in every way possible,” says Dharmesh Kumar, Kundora’s brother.
On the other side of the village, the girl’s father is in the Sant Ravidas mandir, where members of his community meet every day — unlike the boy’s family, they have police protection round the clock. “We must do this for justice. We don’t know what the police is doing and only want those responsible punished. We will sit in this mandir for as long as it takes,” says one of the girl’s relatives.
Despite the differences, the two sides have something else in common. The girl’s aunt lamented that the family had no photographs of her to frame or garland. They only have a passport-sized photo, which they gave police. “We have many photographs but my daughter was very shy and would always step back from photographs or turn her head away,” said her mother. Gulshan’s room too is devoid of his photographs, except for a small photo his father used to get him a passport. Kundora said, “We never got a family photograph taken. We never saw the need. If I had only known…”