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The price of saying ‘no’: On the murder of Haryana college student Nikita Tomar

Moolchand Tomar, father of Nikita Tomar who was shot dead outside Aggarwal College in Ballabgarh, speaks to the media after attending the funeral in Faridabad on October 27, 2020.   | Photo Credit: AFP

At around 3:30 p.m. on October 26, Nikita Tomar — 20, studious and ambitious — stood outside the sprawling campus of Aggarwal College in Ballabgarh, soon after writing an exam, and waited for her brother to pick her up. Giving her company were two friends. Winter was just setting in and it was a pleasant day.

But chilling events were to follow within minutes, captured in 23 seconds of closed-circuit television footage that later went viral on social media. Tausif, Nikita’s former schoolmate, and his friend and classmate, Rehan, are seen arriving in a Sedan. Tausif, just shy of 21 and his face covered in a white mask, tries to push Nikita into the car, but she manages to free herself from his clutches and hide behind her friend. Tausif pushes the friend aside and catches hold of Nikita. A brief struggle ensues. A man strolls past talking on the phone; another cycles down the road slowly. They see what’s going on, but don’t intervene. Suddenly, Tausif brings out a gun and shoots her point-blank. The bullet hits Nikita in the nape of her neck and she collapses to the ground. Nikita’s friend is transfixed, and then turns this way and that. A motorbike whizzes past, but doesn’t stop. Rehan runs towards Tausif and grabs him. Both of them, undergraduate students of physiotherapy at Gurugram University, make a dash for the vehicle, scramble into it, and drive away.

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Nikita’s grief-stricken father Moolchand Tomar says his daughter had told him that Tausif had called her a week before the incident. “She told me that he wanted her to convert and marry him. I promised that I would talk to his family about it and told her not to worry. But she did not reveal much. She may have been under a lot of pressure. I will never know. After the 2018 kidnapping incident, she did not want to trouble me any more by talking about him,” he says.

Nikita Tomar’s murder has yet again shocked a nation where cases of stalking are common. However, the outrage this time hasn’t always centred on the safety of women in general. Citing this case, the Harayana government is mulling a law against ‘love jihad’, the communal slur used to target inter-faith relationships in which the man is Muslim.

An exam and a murder

Tomar, 48, is seated on a mattress at a condolence meeting for Nikita on the street outside his Sector 23 Faridabad house in Haryana. On the wall behind him, plastered across a door and a window, is a large banner featuring Nikita’s photo and a lamp. It reads: ‘Lado hum sharminda hain tere kaatil zinda hain. Haryana sarkaar hosh mein aao. Hatyaro ko phansi do (My dear, we are ashamed that your killers are still alive. Haryana government, come to your senses. Hang the killers). India wants justice for Nikita Tomar.’

The price of saying ‘no’: On the murder of Haryana college student Nikita Tomar
 

Another banner across another window says Nikita was “shot dead by Tausif in broad daylight for refusing to convert and marry him”. Just beneath it, Nikita’s photograph with a garland around the frame is precariously balanced on a stool mounted on a grey plastic chair. The chair leans against a wall that has large patches of fresh plaster and fading paint.

Tomar recalls the morning of that fateful day. He says he left for work around 7:30 a.m. Nikita, who had been preparing for the exam till around 2:30 a.m., was still asleep. “I called my wife around 8:30 a.m. She told me that Nikita was studying after taking a bath and eating breakfast. I didn’t want to disturb her, so I didn’t speak to her over the phone,” he says.

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Around noon, Nikita’s brother Naveen and mother Vijaywati dropped her at the examination centre, the Aggarwal College, and went shopping. Nikita’s uncle’s house was a stone’s throw away from the college. “Nikita came out of the college after the exam and called Naveen to come over and pick her up,” recounts Tomar. “A few minutes later, I got a call from her friend saying Nikita had been shot. Since I was far away, I asked my brother-in-law to rush there immediately. Something was terribly wrong, I told him.”

Shattered dreams

After Nikita was shot, some students picked her up and took her on a two-wheeler to Manavta Hospital, where she died during treatment. “By the time I reached the hospital, the staff told me that her body had been sent to Badshah Khan Hospital for post-mortem,” says Tomar, his voice cracking. “I could not even speak to her one last time.”

The killer ruined their lives “in just 20 seconds,” he says. “All our dreams are shattered. All her certificates and medals are now useless. Her mother has not even gone to her room since the incident. Her clothes, books... everything reminds us of her. Her mother cannot face it,” he says.

Hamare liye gudiya thi (She was our doll). She was a reserved and studious girl. She loved me the most. Nikita would hug me when I returned from work in the evening. Like a little child, she would share all the details of her day with me,” Tomar says, surrounded by neighbours and his father-in-law.

Moolchand Tomar, father of Nikita Tomar who was shot dead outside Aggarwal College in Haryana’s Ballabgarh, and his relatives and friends sit outside his house demanding capital punishment for the accused.

Moolchand Tomar, father of Nikita Tomar who was shot dead outside Aggarwal College in Haryana’s Ballabgarh, and his relatives and friends sit outside his house demanding capital punishment for the accused.   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

 

A generation ago, the Tomars had shifted from Uttar Pradesh to Faridabad. Tomar sold the ancestral house a few years ago to borrow a loan and construct a new house, the one they live in now. As he wanted a good education for his children, he built the house near the main road where efficient transport facilities could take them to school quickly. “I ensured good education for them even if I had to go without food,” says Tomar.

He recalls how Nikita was a motivated woman and always strived to excel. “Inspired by her maternal uncles and grandfather, she wanted to join the Army. Sometimes she dreamt of becoming a civil servant. She would often say that she would be so powerful one day that her orders would be final and binding on all.” Tomar hopes that a school or a college is named after Nikita who “laid down her life to protect her dignity”.

Allegedly kidnapped earlier

Nikita was around 17 years old when she first met Tausif, a resident of Gurugram’s Sohna. Tausif comes from a family of politicians in Nuh, located about 70 km from Delhi. Nikita and Tausif met while studying at the Rawal International School, Nangla, in Faridabad. Tausif was a year senior to her. Nikita was a day scholar and Tausif stayed in the hostel. Nikita’s family vehemently denies that she liked Tausif. “I have no clue how he entered my daughter’s life,” says Tomar.

Tausif’s maternal uncle, Islamuddin, was arrested four years ago in connection with a spate of robberies across several States. He was also involved in the 2016 abduction of Inspector Surender Singh Phogat, who was then Station House Officer of Sector 29 police station. Phogat was kidnapped, robbed and dumped in Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh. Islamuddin, lodged in Gurugram’s Bhondsi Jail, is now out on parole for a family function. Tausif’s step-cousin Aftab Ahmed, a former Haryana Transport Minister, is a Congress MLA from Nuh. His uncle Javed Ahmad has contested twice, albeit unsuccessfully, on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket from Sohna.

The spot where Nikita Tomar was shot outside the Agarwal College in Harynana’s Ballabgarh.

The spot where Nikita Tomar was shot outside the Agarwal College in Harynana’s Ballabgarh.   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

 

The two families got involved in their teenaged children’s personal lives for the first time two years ago when Tausif allegedly kidnapped Nikita from outside Aggarwal College. The matter reached the police. The First Information Report of the incident, accessed by The Hindu, says Nikita was about to board an auto-rickshaw to her house on the evening of August 2, 2018, when Tausif kidnapped her. Nikita informed her friend Abhishek about it, who in turn called up her father. A case was registered under Section 365 of the Indian Penal Code at the Ballabgarh City police station.

The Tomars were later forced to withdraw the complaint owing to social and political pressure and mediation by the police. Tomar recalls that he decided to do this after the two families had a meeting. He says he did not know the family before the incident. Nikita gave in writing to the police that she had gone with Tausif of her own volition and the FIR was quashed. “They (Tausif’s family) apologised to us. They assured us that this would not happen again. Also, a poor electrician like me could not stand up against a mighty family like that with a long political and criminal record. I am a man with limited means, whereas they have a lot of wealth. Besides, Nikita was a good student. I did not want her to go from court to court. It was a question of her life. In our society, we also need to think about the girl’s esteem,” says Tomar.

For almost a year after the incident, Nikita’s mother and brother accompanied her every time she stepped out. Gradually, they put the incident behind them and normalcy returned. “Nikita was not on social media, so there was no question of anyone stalking her online. For almost two years after the incident, we never faced any problem from him (Tausif),” says Tomar.

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Tomar is now remorseful about closing that case. “I have regrets. But even if I am put in a similar situation today, what choice would I have? I cannot fight the bahubalis (musclemen),” he says.

Three arrests

Tausif, who was arrested a few hours after the incident, has no regrets, says the police. “It was a premeditated, cold-blooded murder,” says Faridabad Police Commissioner O.P. Singh. “The psychology behind it is the same as in most stalking incidents: Meri nahi to kisi ki nahi (If she is not mine, then she can’t be anyone else’s).” The 700-page charge sheet citing 60 witnesses was filed in court on November 6.

Though there is no evidence of Tausif stalking the girl after the 2018 kidnapping incident, mobile records show his location around the college on a couple of occasions a week before the murder. “He recced the area before the murder,” says Singh.

Rehan was arrested a day after the incident. Azharuddin alias Azru was also arrested on charges of supplying the country-made pistol used in the murder. According to the police, Azru is a close acquaintance of Islamuddin. Tausif also knew Azru well. “We have a strong case against the accused with digital and forensic evidence and some eyewitnesses. The CCTV footage of the incident is the most clinching evidence. The weapon and the car used in the commission of the crime have also been recovered,” says Singh.

Keeping in view the public outrage over the murder and the media attention, the Faridabad Police set up a Special Investigation Team, led by Assistant Commissioner of Police Anil Kumar, to investigate the matter. Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij announced that a fast-track court would be set up for day-to-day hearing and quick disposal of the case. The Faridabad Police have also moved the local court seeking to re-open the 2018 kidnapping case.

Tausif’s family maintains that they don’t approve of the illegal act and the law must take its own course. Tausif’s mother claims that her son was a brilliant student who stood first in class. “After the 2018 incident, he never spoke to anyone in the family about the girl. He got admission into an MBBS course at a college in Bengaluru, but did not go. He did not want to go that far away for a course. He is very shy and docile. I don’t know why he did this,” she says. She claims that Tausif did not kidnap the girl and that Nikita went on her own with him and was taken back by her maternal uncle later.

Political and communal colours

The case of a Muslim man stalking and shooting a Hindu girl has also become a perfect recipe for communal flare-up in the region. Just a day after the incident, several Hindutva organisations, including the Karni Sena (the Tomars are Rajputs), started using the example of this case to once again talk about ‘love jihad’. For a few days, the victim’s house was used by various organisations to hold demonstrations and protests seeking justice for the girl. But in these events, the problem of stalking wasn’t the focus.

One such demonstration was held by a group called the Sarv Biradari Sangathan on Dussehra Ground on November 1. Thousands participated in it. The crowd turned violent when around 200 young men, agitated over the turn of events at the panchayat, threw stones at shops and the police, and tried to block National Highway-44 (connecting New Delhi with Agra). Ten policemen were injured in the clash with the mob and 32 people were arrested. Investigation into the violence revealed that inflammatory and provocative messages were spread through Whatsapp groups and other social media platforms.

As the prime accused in the case is related to Congress MLA Aftab Ahmed, the incident has also assumed political hues. The party’s State chief, Kumari Selja, allegedly encountered misbehaviour when she went to Nikita’s family’s house to offer her condolences. An FIR was filed in this connection on charges of misbehaviour, wrongful restraint, and criminal intimidation by Faridabad Municipal Corporation member Jaiveer Khatana. He later filed a counter FIR accusing Congress workers of resorting to violence against him during Selja’s visit.

The problem of stalking

Two-time Rashtriya Gaurav Gram Sabha Puraskar winner Sunil Jaglan, also known for the ‘Selfie With Daughter’ campaign, says stalking lies at the core of most cases of heinous crime against women, such as rape, murder and acid attacks. “It all begins with stalking, but mostly, the girl and her parents tend to ignore it. They either don’t take it seriously or prefer to keep mum for the sake of social prestige. In a conservative society like ours, reporting such cases leads to loss of social reputation for the victim more than the perpetrator,” says Jaglan, who is also an adviser in the Pranab Mukherjee Foundation.

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Working in Nuh on issues concerning women and girls, Jaglan says parents in the region do not send their daughters to schools that are located far away as they fear their daughters will be stalked. “If a girl tells her parents about being stalked, they tell her to quit school and sit at home,” says Jaglan. Stalking is not about religion, he says. Girls are stalked by boys from their own religion and village, too. The police don’t take stalking cases seriously till a more henious crime is committed, since most of the time the two parties reach a compromise, he says.

Social media has made it easier to stalk a person. “However, in a predominantly rural area such as Nuh, online stalking is not prevalent. It is more common in cities like Faridabad and Gurugram. Social media makes it possible even for older men to stalk young women with the benefit of anonymity,” he says. “We need to communicate more and more with our children, especially during their teenage years. We should speak not just to girls, but also boys to guide them through their most difficult years,” says Jaglan.

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Tomar agrees that this is not about religion. Tired of sitting on a mattress for long hours, he presses his back against the wall to correct his posture. “How can a girl be shot dead simply for saying ‘no’? The parents of many girls in our locality are in shock after the incident. They are scared to send their daughters to school. They asked me whether they are bringing up their daughters only to see them being killed like this one day. It is not about Hindus or Muslims. We need a stringent law so that these obsessive stalkers don’t even dare to look at our daughters. Even in this case, when the police have such clinching evidence, why can’t the court decide the matter in a couple of days?” That is the question that keeps his mind occupied all day.


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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 11:15:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/the-price-of-saying-no-on-the-murder-of-haryana-college-student-nikita-tomar/article33043175.ece

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