IT HAS been two years, 10 months and 18 days. Preeti Rathi’s mother, Roshni, keeps count.
“I want the man who killed my daughter to suffer, die painfully,” she says. On May 2, 2013, Preeti had just alighted at Bandra Terminus when Ankur Panwar, a relative, allegedly threw acid at her. Panwar is being tried in a Mumbai court, but that he is in jail does little to calm Roshni down.
In their tiny house in Bhakra Beas Management Board Colony in Delhi’s Narela, the mother says Preeti’s cupboard has not been disturbed. “Only she is no longer with us.” Her absence has hit the family hard, specially with the family’s sole earning member now about to retire.
In 2013, Preeti (23) had been selected among 500 in India by the Ministry of Defence for a nursing post at the INHS Asvini Hospital in Colaba. On May 2, she, along with father Amarsingh Rathi, uncle and aunt alighted from the Garib Rath train at Bandra Terminus.
“Someone tapped her on the shoulder and she turned to look,” recollects 60-year-old Amarsingh. A man with his face covered with a
handkerchief splashed acid on her face. Some drops fell on Amarsingh’s hand, and the scars remain, “a reminder”.
The acid burnt Preeti’s face, entered her lungs, throat, and left her speechless and blind for the next 30 days, as she lived in pain, unable to comprehend why someone would do this to her.
A month later, Preeti passed away in Bombay Hospital’s intensive care unit. Her handwritten notes, through which she communicated while in hospital, have been preserved by the family.
“The world has forgotten her. But how can a mother?” questions Roshni, who is awaiting the verdict. Soon after Preeti’s death, her books were donated to others in the colony while some of her clothes were given away to the poor. But most of her things have been preserved as memories.
Roshni had invested almost everything she had in educating her children. For Preeti’s four-year nursing course at Laxmi Bai Batra College in Delhi, the couple had saved Rs 5 lakh for fee. “When she graduated with a first division, our dreams came true,” Roshni says.
Preeti was born in Rewari, a village in Harayana, where girls are often forced to abandon their education as they grow up. To educate her properly, the Rathis moved to Delhi, where Amarsingh got a transfer in Bhakra Beas as a foreman.
On April 30 this year, he is due to retire. His monthly income of Rs 50,000 will be gone. “Had Preeti been alive, she would have taken care of us,” he says. His two other children, Hitesh (23), an engineer, and Tanu (21), who is sitting for various government exams, are both looking for jobs.
Since Preeti’s death, life has become a wait for the Rathis. “The sense of justice has not come. We wanted the case in a fast track court,” says cousin Lalit Solanki. Panwar, a resident of Preeti’s colony, was allegedly jealous of her achievements. After his arrest, his remorseful family left Delhi and moved to Harayana.
The deposition of witnesses in the case is almost over, with the deposition of the last witness Ashok Khot, the investigating officer of the case, currently in progress. “Once the deposition is complete, the statement of the accused will be recorded by the court, after which the final arguments will be made,” said special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam.
Amarsingh keeps visiting Mumbai, squeezing savings to travel. In Delhi, Roshni, a homemaker, now has one wish — to see her two other children well settled. “Even when the case in the court gets over, there will be no closure. Preeti will still not come back,” she says.