The conversation about a six-year-old girl starts with silence. It ends with that.
One crisscrosses several labyrinths in Hallo Majra where people from balconies stare. Cops in plain clothes are too bored to hide that they are photographing visitors and their cars’ number plates. Now it is one of the very few organic areas in Chandigarh, not defined by the ‘City Beautiful’s’ brutalist architecture. It is where the city wants to hide some — migrant laborers, factory workers, plumbers, and electricians. The list goes on.
Their room is on the first floor. It is painted in bright green and ends as soon as it starts. It contains their world. The remaining two children are in the room with their parents. The two-and-a-half-year-old boy is fiddling with the TV remote non-stop (the father warns him at least thrice). The one-year-old girl is sitting in her mother’s lap, staring into nothingness. She is smiling.
The mother of a six-year-old is holding on to her. Says she has not let her out of her sight ever since the incident happened.
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It was on March 5 that her six-year-old girl was abducted while going for her second tuition. A 12-year-old has been nabbed for rape and murder the next day. The parents and residents of the area kept searching the whole night, but nothing. The next day, her body was discovered 300 meters away from the house in a forested area, face crushed by a heavy stone and injuries on several other parts of the body. She was semi-naked.
Agitated residents blocked the Chandigarh-Ambala highway. Several activists also reached the spot. It was only after the police agreed to give in writing that the accused would be arrested as soon as possible, did the protesters decide to leave the spot. However, just as they were doing that, a lathi-charge ensued and three activists Vaibhav Chhabra (25) from Naujawan Bharat Sabha, Amandeep Singh (25) from PSU (Punjab Students Union), and Gopal (27), a resident of Hallo Majra were arrested.
It is the father who speaks first. He cannot believe that the 12-year-old was alone. “The Police are not making any effort to find the other culprits. Every time I talk to them, they insist that he has confessed that he was the only one.” He says that he wants to see him once. Only then the restlessness will go away. He also wishes he could be alone with the accused of some time.
“As soon as the homework got over, she would switch on the television, you just could not make a move when she was watching cartoons. Her latest fancy was becoming a doctor,” the mother of a six-year-old girl also says that she could write her name in flawless English. That the teachers admired her handwriting.
“We sent her for two tutions as schools are off. For us, it was important that she didn’t suffer academically. She had come back from her first class and gone off to play. I was called by my wife at 7:30 p.m. when the other residents and she could not locate them. We kept looking for her till 2:30 a.m. It was only at 8 a.m. the next day that we found her body,” the father remembers.
The six-year-old girl’s mother interjects, “She loved wearing jeans. Also lehengas.” The father feels she loved lehengas more. They both go quiet for some time.
The residents of the area and activists went out of their way for the couple — blocking the road, braving the lathis. He is thankful. “Yes, it was fellow workers from UP and Bihar and not people from this region who helped. The student activists have been a great help.”
You tell him about the rumor that money had exchanged hands, and he is no longer interested in pursuing the case, that he may shift from these premises soon. “I don’t deny the compensation of Rs 7.50 lakh awarded (by the CMJ cum Secretary District Legal Services Authority). I have already received Rs 2.50 lakh. But why would I take money from anyone to not pursue the case? Which father would do that?”
Will they still live here? They are not sure. The mother says that she is constantly looking for her. That maybe miracles are for real, and she will appear holding the doll she loved the most. “But when we went to Haridwar, we gave away everything that belonged to her. Including that doll. They say that is how it should be.”
The father is sure that they would not leave before the case starts. “It is tough living here now, but the cops know this place, so we will stay put for some time. And no, there is no truth in the rumor that I have been given a flat.”
Lamenting that the student activists who went out of their way for him have been booked under several serious charges, the father says that he has approached the police several times for them but nothing has happened.
Chhabra, Singh, and Gopal have been booked under sections 147, 149, 323, 332, 341, 353, many of them being non-bailable. Their bail was rejected by the magistrate on March 8 citing the reason that the police required more time to investigate the events on March 6.
Speaking to IANS, Amandeep, a student of Law at Panjab University from PSU (Lalkar) who was also present during the protest and ensured that books reached Singh in Burail Jail, said, “The dead body was found only 300 meters away from the girl’s house. The cops could not find it at night. Instead of focussing their energies on arresting activists and slapping false charges on them, would it not be better if they did their jobs properly. Why are they not further investigating if more people were involved? Also, we have video evidence that our protest was non-violent, and are ready to share that.”
Chhabra is a Sociology student at Punjab University and gives free coaching classes to children of Hallo Majra while Singh studies Library Sciences at the same University. Gopal runs a stationery shop in the area.
Sarah, a student of Delhi University and an independent activist who has been part of several fact-finding teams visiting the girl’s home adds, “Both Chabbra and Singh have serious back issues. The judge, when told about Singh’s exams on March 18 said that he would be allowed to take the test to be taken from jail. Now the next hearing is on March 18.”
Claiming that their faces were swollen and both were limping when they were being presented, Manavjot Singh, an activist with ‘Naujawan Bharat Sabha’ added, “How can the police claim that we incited the people. The protest had already started before we reached. They also say that they were attacked and stones thrown. We have one and a half hours of video footage to prove otherwise.”
Despite repeated attempts, the IO, Motiram, and SHO Narinder Pattiyal could not be reached.
Meanwhile, at the parents’ house, the father of a six-year-old girl whispered, “People will forget all about it in some time. The thought — could have I, in any way, prevented it, will haunt me for the rest of my life.” (IANS/KB)