What can you tell a family that has cremated a 23-year-old daughter a few hours ago?
A daughter who endured unimaginable horrors when six men gang-raped her and tore her guts out 13 days ago.
Their dimly-lit two-room house is a testimony of their modest background and the immense struggle they have had to endure as they put their daughter through school and college so that their future could improve.
“My sister was concerned about us. On Tuesday, around 9.30pm she asked my father if he had his food. That was the last time she spoke,” her younger brother said, during an hour-long talk, breaking the silence in the house. “Even though she could not speak, she kept communicating through other means,” he said, staring at plaster peeling off the walls.
He is preparing for his board exams. “Every time she saw me fooling around she scolded me and asked me to study,” he said, remembering what a meritorious student she was. “Her absence makes me feel I am lost.”
Their father, in his fifties, is a frail structure engulfed in darkness. “While other kids cry before going to school, she would cry if we stopped her,” he said, remembering his daughter was a determined fighter.
“She was one of the brightest students in school and she scored 95% in her 10th CBSE exams. She got through this college in Dehradun and was always keen on a career in medicine. She was most happy when she got a chance to heal somebody’s wounds.”
The father kept speaking even as some women, relatives mostly, kept peeping through the only ventilator in the room — two missing bricks in the wall separating the two rooms.
She did her schooling and intermediate from Delhi and then left for Dehradun to study physiotherapy. She started working in a BPO firm to ensure she did not become a financial burden on her family. “She would attend her classes from 10am to 5pm and work at the BPO firm from 9pm to 5am. She worked so hard. She used to do all her studies during the time she was in college... She was one of the top students,” her younger brother said.
Since her mobile phone has been stolen, her family could not inform her friends.
About the male friend who was with her that fateful night, her father said he came to meet her several times. “He was covered with bruises,” he said. “His family proved to be a huge support for us.”
Suddenly the father broke down. “Khet bech kar use padhaya tha,” he said in between inconsolable sobs.
“My uncle has been doing double shifts to make ends meet. Both my uncle and aunty starve at times to ensure their children get a good education,” a cousin, who has come from Gorakhpur to meet them, said.
“They invested all their savings in her and were waiting for her to get a job in the hope that it would end their miseries. Our financial condition has deteriorated. If anybody voluntarily wants, we will accept some help.”
The spontaneous protests on the streets has given them some solace. “If this brings about some dramatic change in our male-dominated society then it will be very good,” he said. “Lag to raha hai bahut kuch badal sakta hai. Agar log soch badale toh shahi mein wakai me kafi sudhar ayega.” But the family appealed the protesters to maintain peace.
The family has been living in Delhi since 1983 and had moved to their current location in 1988. On shifting her to Singapore, her father said, “We were told around 10am that it was important to take her abroad as that was the only way to save her.”
The woman’s mother is still to recover from the shock. “She has fainted almost 10 times since morning and her blood pressure too has fallen drastically. My older brother has taken her to the nearby hospital,” the younger sibling said.
The family is unsure about revealing the daughter’s identity to the world. “We will have to think about it.” The elder of the two brothers has passed his 12th exams and is preparing for engineering entrance exams. The younger too wants to study engineering.
People keep coming in as the day progresses. As the room is small, too many people crowding makes it suffocating inside. Still numb from the ordeal that changed their lives forever, the winter proves to be a long and cold one for the family this year.