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'I still send my dead sister text messages'

Gaurav Singh at the family's modest home in Delhi
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In a Delhi home, two brothers miss a special sister on Raksha Bandhan.

Reportage and photographs: Swarupa Dutt

Every year, on Raksha Bandhan, Gaurav Singh (23) and his brother Saurav (18) would be prodded awake early in the morning. “It was always around 6 am and I hated it, but didi would badger me into waking up. We bathed and she lit a lamp and we had a small puja and she did an aarti. I tied the rakhi to her and the day would take over -- classes, homework, dinner -- it was honestly not such a big deal.
 
“Now, I would give anything, anything at all, for that nudge and poke in the morning from didi,” says Gaurav, shaking his head.  “We have cousin sisters, but we don’t want a rakhi from anyone. What’s the point in this ritual when didi is not here to tie a rakhi,” he says.
 
Their sister died on December 16, 2012, as a result of injuries when she was gang-raped and brutalised by six men in a moving bus in Delhi. Doctors treating her at Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi had said they had never seen a victim of sexual assault subjected to “such brutality” and described her condition as “horrifying”.
 
Doctors told her parents she would not survive, but for 13 days she did. After three critical surgeries at Safdarjung, where most of her intestines were removed, she was moved to the Mount Elizabeth hospital in Singapore, which specialises in organ transplants and highly complicated surgeries. Despite the best medical treatment, the girl died on December 29 -- just 23 and on the brink of a career as a physiotherapist.
 
The sheer barbarity of the incident caught the world’s attention and brought protestors in their thousands to the streets in New Delhi and much of India.
 
Eight months on, the four adults in the case -- Mukesh Singh, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur -- are being tried at a fast-track court in Saket, New Delhi. The prime accused, Ram Singh, died in custody at Tihar jail on March 11, while the verdict on the juvenile accused has been deferred till August 31 by the Juvenile Justice Board.
 
Gaurav says he can think of little else but the verdict. “But this case has become a free-for-all. Anyone who has a mouth, judges us. We have been hearing that we have become publicity hungry, that we want our names in the papers. But the reason is we want the publicity to keep the case alive. We want the government to feel pressured to make anti-rape laws more stringent. Punishment has to be the death sentence,” he says.

Kuch nahin toh UN mein jayenge. Wahan pe zaroor nyay milega, (We will approach the United Nations if we don’t get justice here).” 

While the trial keeps them going, it’s the ordinary, everyday life that’s difficult to bear.

“We take things for granted. I never ever imagined life without her. She wasn’t just my sister, she was my guide, and my tutor as well. Who do I turn to now? We were very close. Bahut masti karte the (we used to have a lot of fun),” he says wistfully.

His sister moved to Dehradun to pursue a four-year course in physiotherapy in 2009, but the siblings kept in touch every day. “Sometimes she would call, or I would. We wouldn’t speak for too long since it was expensive and mummy, papa wanted to speak to her as well. I would message her more often, nothing important, just general stuff,” he says.

After her death, Gaurav still writes SMSes to her. “I tell her about my exam, or about a friend or what mummy said today. Or that papa had just come home. Regular stuff that I would sms her when she was in Dehradun.

“The only thing is, who do I send the messages to, kisko bhejoon? But it makes me feel she’s still there. That I can still message her.” Her name on his phone is Di, abbreviated from didi.

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Image: Gaurav Singh at the family's modest home in Delhi
Photograph: Swarupa Dutt
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