'She told me how to live my life, I know she would have wanted her murderers dead'
A teacher pays tribute to a ‘very special student’ – the Delhi Braveheart -- even as the juvenile is convicted for her rape and murder and begins a three-year term in a correctional facility.
Satendra Prasad (30), does not recollect anything unusual about the girl when he met her the first time in 2005. Her mother had asked him to teach her daughter science and math and Satendra, who lived less than a kilometer away, would go over to her house in Delhi’s Mahavir Enclave. The girl, now known as the Delhi Braveheart, was then in class 9.
She was very talkative, he smiles, and always had an opinion on everything. “She began tuitions in October, 2005, and after a few weeks, I realized unlike other students, she loved math. It was a pleasure teaching her because she was not scared of the subject,” he says.
In her board exams in class 10, she scored 92 in Math and 90 in Science and Satendra teased her saying she had not bettered his score. “She told me, dekh lena, bhaiyya, I will beat you next time.”
It was just an aside in a teacher-student relationship for him, but for her, it was a challenge. Two years later in her board exams in class 12, she scored 96 per cent in Math.
“She was grinning from ear to ear and told me, ‘see, I told you, I would beat you’. That was the kind of girl she was -- confident, bright and driven by a single-minded determination to succeed. She was a very special student,” he says.
Satendra was at work on August 31, when the juvenile was convicted for her rape and murder. He knew the verdict was expected, but did not know the juvenile had been given a three-year sentence in a correctional facility. According to the police he was the most brutal of all the six accused.
Speaking over the phone, Satendra is silent for a while, before he sighs and says, he did not expect this verdict. “We will approach higher courts. We are not satisfied with this verdict. I don’t want to make predictions over the verdicts of the other accused, any more.”
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Image: Satendra Prasad
Photographs: Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com
'You can imagine what her family is going through'
It’s been nearly nine months since she died of her injuries in the brutal gang rape on December 16, 2012 and Satendra says she’s constantly in his thoughts.
“You can imagine what her family is going through. They are such emancipated people; so much of what she was is because of her family. I remember, her brothers were hardly thrilled that her parents were going to sell their land in Ballia (Uttar Pradesh) to fund her physiotherapy course. If her parents hesitated, it was because it was a huge decision to sell the land, not because it was for a daughter’s education.”
She always knew what she wanted. “I am glad she rarely listened to me,” he smiles, “or she would never have been a physiotherapist.”
After class 10, Satendra advised her to choose Commerce and Chartered Accountancy instead of Science, since course fees and tuitions were cheaper. “But she told me, ‘bhaiyya, I can’t do Commerce. I like the white coat doctors wear; I want to be a doctor too.’
“I told her to be practical, her parents couldn’t afford her fees. She told me, I was a worrywart. She said she was committed to doing medicine, and she would do it,” says Satendra, who is a CA.
To fund her college fees, she began tuitions at home. Satendra says she was diligent in her studies, rarely, if ever, bunked lectures and despite a gruelling schedule, and crushing poverty, was always cheerful.
Their relationship changed. “She was the first student, who tied a rakhi to me. We would drop in unannounced at each other’s homes. On Sundays, she would call me and tell me to come over if I was free and she would do the same. She was family,” says Satendra.
Her gift of a T-shirt that said, ‘God is busy, may I help you?’ is precious and tucked away in his cupboard.
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'She would tell me, she would never spend her life cooking and cleaning'
“She had a loving family. She absolutely loved her father and respected him as well. On Sundays, aunty would ask her to cook, and she hated it,” he laughs.
“She would tell me, she would never spend her life cooking and cleaning. ‘We have one life, we should be doing better things than this. I will get a maid when I begin working’, she promised herself.
“Her father would tease her and tell her he wouldn’t drink tea unless she made it. Of course, she did. All five of them would laugh and joke and fool around. I loved the atmosphere in her house. Now, it’s so different,” he says.
In Dehradun, she did a four-year course in physiotherapy at the Sai Institute of Paramedical and Allied Sciences.
Arvind Singh, the administrative officer at the institute, says he remembers her from the time she and her father came to the office to enrol and pay the course fees. “She seemed so happy to be here, as did her father. But I think he was also worried,” he says.
Her mother, Asha, says, “She told me, ‘Ma aap itna daroge toh kaise chalega?. Kaise hum aage badhenge. (We will never be able to succeed if you are so scared). She was very happy there, so we were happy.”
Says Arvind Singh, “The physiotherapy batch had just 30 students and she stood out. She was a cheerful girl, extremely hardworking and very intelligent. She had lots of friends and I know the staff liked her. She participated in extra-curricular activities – sports, dancing. She was a good girl.”
But they were a tough four years. The tuition fees of Rs 50,000 per year for four years was impossible for her parents to shoulder, even after the sale of the land. “So, she began working in a BPO in Dehradun. I really don’t know how she managed her classes because she was almost always on the night shift.
“When she bunked classes it was because she was exhausted after the night shift, not because she went for a movie,” says Satendra.
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'She was a tough girl, I can't believe she's gone'
In December 2012, after appearing for her final examinations, she told him she wished she had worked harder and was apprehensive about her results. Satendra scolded her saying she was too hard on herself, “She barely slept; how could she expect fantastic results? I told her, for once, take it easy.”
She died before the results were declared. Arvind Singh says she had ranked second in her college. “I know she would have made a very good physiotherapist. She loved the fact that she could heal and her dedication would have won over her patients. Those men who did this to her should be shot dead,” he says.
Satendra says, “I think the incident has changed everyone who knew her. She used to tell me to toughen up. She told me I should learn to say ‘no’ sometimes. “Don’t let anyone take advantage of you’, she said. She was a tough girl, I can’t believe she’s gone.”
They were supposed to meet up on December 15, but couldn’t. On December 17, he heard a girl in the neighbourhood had been raped. “Then I heard it was her. I called her aunt and she confirmed it. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t have the guts to go and visit her in hospital,” says Satendra.
He tries to spend some time with her family on weekends. Her brother, Gaurav, who is pursuing engineering, an ambition she fostered, comes to him for help with math. “She loved her brothers so much, they miss her. It’s so quiet in the house now. You know, she used to talk a lot, it was unusual for her to be quiet, unless she was upset or angry. Then she would go to her room and shut the door. We just let her be.”
She was an asset in his life and as much as she drove herself towards her goals, she would push him too, he says. “She would see you will become a CA, I will be a physiotherapist, my brothers will be engineers. And we would grin at each other. They were good times, hard times, but we knew we were building a better future.”
He looks through her pictures on his phone and shares one she sent him, sitting in a coffee shop in Dehradun, smiling broadly at the camera. He says, that’s how he wants to remember her -- happy, not a victim of a crime where no punishment sufficient.
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Image: The victim's borther Gaurav Singh at the family's modest home in Delhi
Photographs: Swarupa Dutt