On December 6, soon after news broke of the ‘encounter’ deaths of the four men accused of raping and killing a 26-year-old veterinary doctor in Hyderabad, celebrations broke out in a middle-class gated community in the suburbs of Hyderabad. A day later, in one of the flats here, the rape victim’s younger sister is still struggling to find closure.
“How can I be happy,” she says, referring to the encounter and the celebrations that followed. “A lot has to change, the approach of many of these men towards women, how they view women and their identity. A lot has to change before anyone can say they are happy,” she says as she attends to her shattered mother — combing her hair and giving her medicines.
As the nightmarish spiral of events of November 27 plays on endlessly in her mind — her sister’s call for help, the ordeal faced by the family as they tried to lodge a police complaint, and the horrifying realisation that the 26-year-old had been raped and charred to death while they were pleading with the police for help to start a search — the younger of the two siblings says only a swift investigation in the hours after her sister’s disappearance could have saved her life.
“I last saw her on the evening she went missing,” says the sister, who works with a government body.
Every morning, the elder sister would take her scooter, park it at a bus stop near their home and take the bus to work, about 2 hours away. That day, as usual, she came back from work around 5.30 pm, only to leave a few minutes later to a clinic in Gachibowli, where she had a doctor’s appointment. It was on her way back from this clinic that the 26-year-old was raped and murdered.
“I was on night shift that day, so I was home with my mother when she returned from work at 5.30 pm and left for the clinic at 5. 50 pm. Our father was at work,” says the sister.
That evening, she parked the scooter at Tondupally toll booth on the way and took a cab to the clinic, 25 km away. Around 9.15 pm, the 26-year-old returned to the toll booth on her way back from the clinic. “As she was about to start her scooter, someone in a lorry parked nearby alerted her about her flat tyre. She said she would manage with the tyre, but they advised her against it. One of the men took the scooter away and soon returned, saying all the shops were closed. They said they would try elsewhere and took the scooter away again. That is when she called me. It was at 9.22 pm. She sounded a little scared, said there were not many people around and asked me to keep talking. We spoke for about six minutes. I said I would call back as I was at work. But she called again immediately… I wasn’t able to talk for long. The call only lasted 13 seconds,” says the sister, speaking through her tears.
“After 15 minutes, at 9.44 pm, I called her back, but her phone was switched off. I knew her phone was low on battery… she only had five per cent battery when she left home in the evening, but she had a power bank. I waited for another 15 minutes for her to call,” says the sister.
Around 10 pm, her mother called to say the elder sister hadn’t returned home. “My mother didn’t know about our calls. I assured her she would be home soon. After that, my mother called twice in panic and I told her about the flat tyre. I then took my office vehicle and went to search for my sister at the Tondupally toll booth but I wasn’t able to trace her. I didn’t even know where people usually park their vehicles there. I asked some people around but they had no clue. The men at the toll booth refused to show me the CCTV footage, saying they had no permission. Around 11 pm, I reached the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA) police station, 2 km away. My mother had also reached there by then. She was already out on road, searching for my sister and had walked all the way to the police station,” she says.
There, they were told to write the complaint. “As we were writing our complaint, an officer started asking questions about my sister’s friends, her relationships, the chances of her hiding something from the family,” the sister says. “After we gave them what we had written, they told us to write it in another format. That’s when a senior officer offered to take us to Tondupally toll booth, where we went through the CCTV footage. We saw her in the visuals, parking the scooter before she let for the clinic. But there was nothing on her after 9 pm. The police were convinced that she hadn’t returned to the toll booth, that she might have gone somewhere else. I told them about our conversation and asked me to check with the clinic. When I said the clinic would open only in the morning, they asked us to call in the morning and then get back. We returned to the RGIA police station,” says the sister.
Back at the police station, when the family submitted the complaint in the format the police had insisted on, they said the case didn’t fall under their jurisdiction. “They asked me to go to Shamshabad police station, 2 km away. Sometime around 2 am, my mother and I reached Shamshabad station, where officers insisted that the RGIA police station was in charge of the area where she was last seen and that they can’t help. As we waited, they spoke among themselves and around 3 am, they finally agreed to accept the complaint. My father, who reached the station by then, asked for two constables who could accompany him as he searched for my sister. They refused, and asked us to go to the RGIA police station, where they sent two constables with him. Later, my father went with them to look for for my sister, after dropping my mother and me back home around 4 am,” she says.
Hours later, police found the charred body of the 26-year-old under a highway bridge.