A father sits on a park bench as voices of happy children whirl around him. He is a frail man,frailer still in the pallid evening light. In his hands are pages photocopied from a colouring book,perky alligators and aeroplanes and buses for his daughter to colour in. She is happy at school. The teachers are fond of her,they say she is clever. She has a best friend too, he says.
Even a few months ago,such an assertion of parental pride would have seemed impossible,as this migrant family from Sitamarhi district in Bihar faced an unending nightmare. On April 15,his five-year-daughter went missing from his home in Gandhinagar,east Delhi. She was recovered from a neighbours house,whimpering and bleeding profusely after two days of sexual abuse. He fainted when he saw her. The assault on her by two men,with bottles and candles,had damaged her internal organs. She needed six reconstructive surgeries,and a colostomy. Two men were arrested for the crime,and the case is being heard at a Delhi court.
In Delhi,the memory of December 16,2012,was still raw,and the stomach-churning assault on a child added fuel to the accumulating rage against the system. The family left the east Delhi neighbourhood because the questions would not go away. From police stations to shelter homes,the father says he encountered indifferencefrom the police officer who bribed him with Rs 2,000 to keep things quiet to the shelter where his ailing daughter was allegedly slapped,and which evicted her without a days notice. If it were not for the pressure from news channels and the Aam Aadmi Party,who took up our cause,our daughter would never have got treated, says the man,who is in his thirties.
While financial help came from BJP leader Vijay Goel and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar,the Delhi government,he says,promised much and did little. Our case was not even placed in a fast-track court. When we met (then) chief minister Sheila Dikshit,she said there are hundreds of such cases. How am I expected to visit everyone?, he says.
Since his daughters release from the hospital in May,the familys biggest challenge has been to find a place to stay in,as landlords have often told them to move out. Everywhere we went,people knew what had happened, he says.
But in a city known for its apathy,they also found the kindness of strangers. An NCW volunteer who helped them find a house in Dwarka,the newsmagazine (India Today) which raised funds for his daughter,and a Delhi Public School franchisee which offered to enrol her and sponsor her education.
Three months ago,the family moved again,crossing the borders of Delhi to one of its suburbs,where it seemed possible to start afresh. The school offered him a job as a gardener for Rs 5,500 a month. They live nearby,at a place where the rent is Rs 5,000 a month. Once a labourer who earned Rs 300 a day,he is struggling to make ends meet. (His landlord is wary of journalists,which is why he meets us outside.) But the anonymity is welcome; here,neither neighbours,nor teachers associate her with grisly headlines. But we never leave her alone,not even for a minute, he says. Even two-three months ago,his daughter would wake up crying in her sleep: Maar diya,maar diya. Mujhe maar diya. She is better now the nightmares have waned. She loves school, he says.
All that the father wants for his daughter is for her to be armed with a good education and to forget her trauma. I have never asked her what happened to her. I never will, he says.