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'The juvenile was the most brutal, how can he get just three years?'

Last updated on: August 31, 2013 15:25 IST

'The juvenile was the most brutal, how can he get just three years!'

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The brothers of the Delhi Braveheart are shocked at the three-year sentence for the juvenile convict, but say this is not the end of their fight for justice
 
Reportage and photographs: Swarupa Dutt
 
Gaurav Singh sounds tired over the phone from Delhi. It has been a long and bitterly disappointing day for the family. On August 31, the Juvenile Justice Board, presided over by Principal Magistrate Geetanjali Goel, sentenced the minor convicted for murdering and raping his sister to three years in a probation home. It is the maximum punishment that can be awarded under the Juvenile Justice Act.

Gaurav (20), who accompanied his parents, Badrinath and Asha, to the JJB, says they could not believe the verdict.

“Yes, we knew the rules that govern a juvenile accused, but we thought the judge will consider that he was the most brutal among all the six men. The board went strictly by the rule book, not the case. The world knows how my sister died, yet there is no punishment for that man?”

The eight months already spent by the juvenile in custody during the inquiry will be considered as period already served and would be deducted from the three years sentence.

"What’s the point in keeping him custody? We have seen him in court. Use koi nahin sudhar sakta hai (He cannot be reformed). Why bother giving a verdict? We will appeal to a higher court," he says.  
 
The family was at the JJB at 10 am. Theirs was the last case to be heard. "Those hours, waiting for the verdict, was so stressful. My mother broke down when she heard that boy would be given a three-year sentence, but she did not say anything. What is the point of crying and pleading before the judge? They know how my sister was brutalized, yet they give this verdict!"
 
He says he expects the death sentence for the four adult accused, but after the juvenile's verdict, he would not bet on it.

"We thought the nation was with us, we have strength in numbers, but it really makes no difference to the government. All those protests will not end rape, only the death sentence can make a difference."
 
During an interview with Gaurav and his brother Saurav (18) at their home in Delhi on the eve of Raksha Bandhan, the boys recalled how they 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. She tied the rakhi 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 29, 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.

The juvenile who was six months short of 18 years was acquitted by the Juvenile Justice Board of 'attempt to murder' of the paramedic's male friend, who was the sole eye witness in the case.

"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.

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

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'Men who raped my sister stare at other women in court'

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"We take things for granted. I never ever imagined life without her. She was not 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 would not 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.

In Dehradun, his sister worked at a call centre to fund her course. Her father, Badri Singh, sold their ancestral land in Balia, Uttar Pradesh, but the money was still not enough to meet the tuition and hostel fees.
 
"She had night shifts quite often at the call centre, and she would text me to give her a wake-up call. I would do it, though at the time it was a pain," he grins.

"We used to fight a lot. Nothing serious, just regular stuff, but she never let anything remain unresolved. She could solve any problem, anything. Bas, ab toh didi ki yadeein rahegayi hai (now all that’s left are memories of my sister). At home we hardly have a normal conversation. It's always about what happened to her, the men who did it, the trial, the verdict," he says.

Mahavir enclave in southwest Delhi, where the family lives, is a warren of tiny, subterranean hovels. Cables and  electric wires festoon the narrow paths that crisscross the colony. The paths are unpaved, dug up, with rain water and seepage from septic tanks collecting in little fetid pools every few feet.

Saurav, 15, who will appear for his higher secondary examination in 2015, says it just takes a little rain for the colony to flood.

"But my parents have lived here for 30 years and, after the incident, people have been very supportive. We were happy here."

He says he wanted to become an astronaut. "It sounds so far-fetched. Like a dream, but didi and my parents never laughed at it. They told me I should do what I wanted to, but I had to work hard."

But his goal has changed since his sister’s death. "I want to be a doctor now. I want to live her dream," he says.

Like Gaurav, he too can think of nothing else but justice for his sister.

"It’s what keeps us going," Saurav says. "We want nothing but the death sentence -- for all the five accused. What happened with our family should not happen to anyone else."

He says he was always conscious that his sister wanted him to do well.

"I knew we could not afford a lot of things but, you know, life was good. Things were looking up. She would become a doctor, Gaurav was studying to be an engineer and I an astronaut. We had dreams and we knew we would fulfill them. Now, it's become a chore."
 
The Delhi gang-rape case made headlines not just for the unbelievable brutality the girl was subjected to, but also her parents' decision to go public with her name. Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code prohibits disclosure of a rape victim's name.
 
"Why should we be ashamed? We haven't done anything wrong. Those who did this to her should be ashamed," Gaurav says.
 
"I have seen those men (the five accused) in 0court. They don’t have any shame or regret about what they did. They keep giggling in court. In fact, if there are any women in the room, they keep staring at them. Besharam hain woh (they are shameless).
 
"I don't know why they have to be treated so well in jail. From the first time I saw them to now, they have put on weight. They look well-fed. Isn't this sending out a wrong message? Kisike ke saath aisa karo aur tumhe jail mein achchi tarah rakha jayega (you commit a crime like this and you get treated well in jail). I don't understand it.  
 
"My sister fought desperately to live in those 13 days in hospital. She began the fight, we have to end it," says Saurav resolutely.

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Image: The lane leading up to the family's home in Delhi
Photographs: Swarupa Dutt

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