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‘I’m brave, but the trauma haunts me’

A year after the Shahdara gang rape, the now 21-year-old victim talks of the terror she still experiences, but also about confronting life and her alleged attackers

January 22, 2023 01:06 am | Updated January 26, 2023 09:57 am IST - New Delhi

The 21-year-old victim at her paternal house in Kasturba Nagar.

The 21-year-old victim at her paternal house in Kasturba Nagar. | Photo Credit: Samridhi Tewari

“Inside the courtroom, those who gang-raped me mock and stare at me, call me names. Outside the courtroom, their neighbours threaten to kill me and my three-year-old son once they’re out,” says the woman who was gang-raped and paraded through the streets of Shahdara’s Kasturba Nagar, with her head tonsured, face blackened, a string of shoes around her neck. The incident took place at noon, extending over an hour on January 26, 2022, with people watching, even filming the entire incident. It was only after a neighbour called the Delhi police that the kidnapped woman was rescued and an FIR filed.

The victim, now 21, does not see a future in Delhi because of the incident and the resulting trauma. She was inconsolable during her first courtroom visit about four to five months ago. At her fourth court hearing, on January 6, 2023, at Delhi’s  Karkardooma Court, she covered her head with her dupatta, and looked straight ahead, because, “If I don’t fight this battle, nobody else will.”

The FIR was registered on the day the incident occurred, under IPC sections pertaining to  attempt to murder, gang rape,  dacoity, kidnapping, assault, voluntarily causing hurt, wrongful confinement, criminal intimidation, insulting modesty of women, rioting, and criminal conspiracy, among others.

The Delhi police probed the matter and 16 adults, including 12 women, and five juveniles – three girls and two boys – were taken into custody for over a period of three months. Six, including the juveniles and an autorickshaw owner, have been granted bail. The juveniles continue living in the area. However, they maintain no contact with the victim and her family, the victim says.

“Examination-in-chief is under way, and cross examination is expected to the start in February,” the victim’s lawyer, Tej Pratap Singh says, adding that the accused have threatened the victim.

According to the police, the incident took place out of revenge. A 16-year-old boy, who lived opposite the victim’s house, had allegedly been stalking her for four years. She refused his advances. “I even complained to my family about him, and they spoke to his parents, but nothing changed,” she says.

The victim and her husband, a hotel room attendant, then filed a police complaint alleging threats from the minor’s family. No FIR was registered in the case. However, the victim was advised to move to a different area in the city. “My husband, my son, and I started living in Karkardooma  village without informing anybody; only my sister knew my whereabouts,” the victim says.

In November 2021, the boy was found dead and his family blamed the victim for his death.

In the 762-page chargesheet, the Delhi Police had said that the accused wanted to “kill the woman and take revenge for the death of their relative ”. Over 48 witnesses were a part of the chargesheet and at least 26 videos were recovered during the probe, 12 of which were from social media and 14 were found on the phones of the accused.

“Who even wants to come back and live in Kasturba Nagar? Everything reminds me of the trauma: the tiny lanes, the coloured walls, the people, and their faces. Some of them saw me when I cried for help; they didn’t bother to help. I wish I could leave this city and go somewhere else,” says the victim, adding that they didn’t have the financial bandwidth to bear the added expenses. My husband only earns Rs 15,000 and has to take care of my family of three and my 19-year-old sister,” she says.

The victim’s sister, who left her job at a clothing shop due to threats from the accused, has currently passed Class X. “I was trying to make money for our father’s treatment, but he passed away after a long-term illness last year in December. Now I only wish to study so I can get myself out of this space,” she says.

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