I can’t forget the sight of my daughter in flames… can’t get that image out of my mind. I fainted when I saw her,” says the mother of the 14-year-old who burnt herself to death on January 6 after being harassed and later gangraped allegedly by four men from an adjoining village.
According to the FIR filed by the mother of the girl at Bhavanpur police station in Meerut Rural, on January 6, four men from Gawdi village “waylaid the girl while she was coming home after her tuition and tried to rape her in a field. She somehow manged to flee and come home. At home, she set herself on fire, fearing the family would lose its honour in the village”.
The 14-year-old, who studied at KVSS Inter College in her village, went to a tuition centre in Gawdi, an village neighboring hers where three of the four accused lived. On her way to the tuition class, she would have to pass by the tailoring shop run by Shobhit, the main accused. All the other three accused – Ravi, Ankit and Mohit – were unemployed and had dropped out of school. They have been booked for rape and under sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act.
While the family of the girl has alleged that she was harassed on her way to the tuition centre, the family of the prime accused, Shobhit, claims he and the girl were in a relationship and alleges that the girl’s family killed her to “protect their honour”.
Sitting on a broken stool on the terrace of her house, the girl’s mother recalls the afternoon on January 6, when she doused herself in kerosene and set herself ablaze. She died in hospital five days later, on January 11, from 80 per cent burns.
“We were sitting right here. She was helping me make envelopes that we sell in the market. Suddenly she got up and went. Her chaachi was the one who called for help. People came from the neighbourhood. Everyone was in a state of panic,” says the girl’s mother, trying to concentrate on folding newspaper cuttings and pasting them with glue made of rice.
The girl’s aunt says she still cannot come to terms with what she did. “She was a very well-mannered girl, she only cared about her studies and household chores. Ask anyone in the neighbourhood,” says the aunt, who suffered minor burns while “trying to save the girl”. The aunt, a mother of three, says the girl was usually reserved but chatted with her a lot. “Just a month or so ago, she told me she wanted to be an IPS officer or a bank manager. I was surprised to hear that from her because she never really opened up to anyone,” says the aunt.
The family claims they got to know about the harassment and stalking only when the girl was battling for her life in hospital. “She told her eldest cousin and me that she used to be harassed and stalked by these men, and that, on that day, they raped her. She said that they told her that they would kill her father if she told anyone. She loved her father the most, so she didn’t talk to anybody about what she was going through,” says the mother.
Police say that their investigation so far has revealed that the four men had been “harassing the girl for 15-20 days”. “We have recovered her phone, which has messages from the main accused, saying ‘I love you’ and ‘how are you’. There are no messages from the girl’s side, but there are calls that she made. The girl’s family has alleged that she was gangraped and stalked. We will file the chargesheet based on our findings in a day or two,” said Rajesh Kumar, SP, Meerut Rural.
The girl’s father, who sold samosas and kachodis in the area where the prime accused, Shobhit, lived and ran his tailoring shop, says he had no idea that she had a phone. “These four men gave her the mobile phone on which they would call her and send her text messages. She kept the phone hidden in her school bag, I guess. If we knew that these people were bothering her, we would have spoken to them or taken it up with the village head,” says the father, sitting on a cot with four other men outside his home’s main entrance.
“It’s only after she died that we found out that these people used to follow and harass her,” says Arun Gupta, the girl’s paternal uncle.
“We didn’t notice anything unusual about her behaviour. She was a quiet child, stuck to her routine – school, tuition and back. So we did not suspect anything,” says the father.
At Shobhit’s home, neighbours sit huddled in small groups and talk in hushed tones. Shobhit, 24, lived here with his wife, their year-old son and his eldest brother Dharmendra and family. A year ago, Shobhit had married his middle brother’s wife after he was murdered.
Dharmendra claims Shobhit is innocent. “He knew the girl because she used to come to his shop to get clothes stitched. He did not harass or rape the girl as they are claiming. They killed her when they got to know of the affair. The girl’s chachi is the one who killed her because they feared they would lose their honour in the village.”
He claims that Shobhit’s wife has not eaten since they took him away. “She has been admitted to hospital. Their one-year-old boy is also with her,” says Dharmendra.
About a kilometre from Shobhit’s home is the tuition centre the girl went to. Her tuition teacher, Sandip, 25, says the girl started coming to the centre only a few months ago. “She was here the day she died. I did not notice anything about her behaviour. I did not know anything about the harassment,” he says.