A garlanded photograph of Yogita in her blue and white school uniform takes pride of place in the Thakre family's home on a narrow terrace. She used to wear a red thread, a symbol of her family deity, and believed no harm could come to her. Yogita, a class III student, was a lively and popular girl and usually accompanied her mother Vimal, a domestic worker, to the Mahal area in Nagpur. Everyone knew her there, including the vendors. She often sat and sold vegetables for them. She also knew the two police guards at the house of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Nitin Gadkari, who has a three-storey house there called ‘Bhakti.'
“She even gave his police guards sweets on her birthday and when she passed her exams,” says Ms. Vimal Thakre. On May 19, 2009, it was just another day for her. It was vacation time and Yogita came with her to work in the houses opposite the Gadkari wada as it's known here. “I had lunch with her around 2 p.m. and then I last saw her at 3.30 p.m. when she was in the guard room at Gadkari's house. She was talking to the guards there and I told them to keep an eye on her. These are decent people, I trusted them,” says Vimal.
That was the last time she ever saw Yogita. At around 5.30 p.m. she had finished some of her work and realised her daughter was not in the bazaar area. “I searched everywhere, I asked the police guard at Gadkari's house too and he said he didn't know since he had gone to the toilet. I ran around for two hours and came back to the “wada” and then Gadkari's driver told me Yogita was asleep in one of the cars. I was surprised since she never fiddled with cars. I went to the car, a big white one and my daughter was lying in it. They told me to take her away quickly. A doctor had come to see her and I think he said she was dead,” recounted a distraught Vimal.
Mr. Gadkari's house is located in the crowded area of Mahal. There is an iron gate now leading to the three-storied house with a guard room on one side. There is a modest parking space in the front of the house, inside the gate. Yogita was found in one of the cars parked in the compound that evening.
Haunted by her daughter's death, Vimal has been mentally affected, say her two other daughters, Kiran and Nisha. In an interview to The Hindu, the mother said Yogita's body was completely wet and when she held her in her lap, even her sari became soggy. “Her eyes were open and she looked as if she'd seen something horrible. There were nail marks on her forehead. I tried to revive her with water but she was bleeding and her mouth was full of blood. When I took her home, my husband came to carry her and his shirt was covered with blood.” When she picked up her daughter, she saw the police guard cycling away.
Despite being in the police, he never informed the local police station about Yogita's death.
“What did my child do to deserve this fate,” she wept. “She was young and full of life,” she said. Vimal is on medication for high blood pressure and has become very thin. But she is clear, like her other two daughters: “I want justice. My daughter did not die a natural death. She had blood on her body and private parts. I want to know who did this heinous act. I don't want money,” she cried.
The few people who have come forward to help the Thakre family have backed off, except for their old neighbour, Kishore Ingle, who has been charged with blackmail by Mr. Gadkari for allegedly demanding money from him. Mr. Ingle has been charge sheeted for this offence and the case is in court. Yogita's 18- year- old sister, Kiran, is spearheading the fight for justice for her sister. She has filed innumerable RTI queries on her mother's behalf for documents which show that the death was a mysterious one. “We even had to file an RTI for a copy of the FIR,” she said.
The last two years have been a nightmare for the family and they had to move from their house at Rahatekar wadi to two leaky rooms on a terrace nearby. Her mother has lost some of her household work in the old area. They were pressured by goondas and many people to back off and even offered money. “Sometimes we feel we have done some crime,” Kiran rued.