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After Rape and Neglect, a Survivor’s Family Fades Into Oblivion in Delhi

After Rape and Neglect, a Survivor’s Family Fades Into Oblivion in Delhi


Neha Dixit

In April, a 5-year-old girl was raped and tortured in eastern New Delhi, then left for dead, with her internal organs and sexual organs damaged. The horrific nature of the crime set off a renewed fury in the streets of Delhi, which had already seen thousands of people protest after the gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus.
Five months later, the public’s outrage has moved on to other rape cases, like the one in Mumbai, where five men are accused of sexually assaulting a young photographer. Meanwhile, the 5-year-old girl, who was nicknamed Gudiya (Doll) by the Indian press, and her family members struggle on their own to help the girl recover from the trauma of the rape.

On a July afternoon, the girl’s father stood in the corridor outside the intensive-care unit at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. A small patch of translucent film pasted on the glass door of the unit had come off. He peered through the opening in the door and waved his hand every few minutes to his daughter, who was lying on a bed in the I.C.U.
With two pillows propped up under her, Gudiya, with her short, wavy hair, wore a purple frock, as a white sheet covered her lower body. Her father was waiting to meet her after her fifth and last reconstructive surgery, this one for her colon. During the rape, Gudiya’s internal organs had been damaged, so she had needed an immediate colostomy, which required a bag to hold her body’s waste.
“The passage for the stool would leak every half an hour,” said Gudiya’s mother, a wiry woman in her mid-20s, who wore a blue and yellow sari and had tied her hair into a shabby bun.
The surgery was a success. Gudiya, seeing that she no longer needed a colostomy bag, pointed to her stomach and screamed in glee, “Papa, everything has gone inside!”
It was one of the very rare moments of joy the family had experienced since Gudiya was found semiconscious in an abandoned apartment near her home in Gandhi Nagar in eastern Delhi. The area is populated by daily wage laborers and factory workers, many of them working in the massive textile market of the area.
Gudiya’s father, a laborer, had moved from flood-prone Sitamarhi in Bihar state, which is among the 100 poorest districts in India, to Delhi in 2010. He found work as a construction worker and earned close to 200 rupees ($3) a day. Around the same time, his younger brother also migrated to Delhi to work at a bicycle shop.
Gudiya and her mother came to New Delhi last year after her father found regular work. The family lived in a cramped single room with a tiny window in a Gandhi Nagar building rented to poor workers. The 20 families on their floor share a few bathrooms and toilets at the far end of a corridor.
Gudiya’s mother had never left her village in Bihar before she and their child joined her husband in Delhi last year. The city had overwhelmed her, and she feared for her husband’s safety as he went to far corners of the expanding metropolis to work as a laborer. He had bought her a cheap mobile phone to reassure her.
On April 16, Gudiya’s father and his younger brother were at the New Delhi railway station, dropping off their third sibling, who was returning to Sitamarhi to sow paddy on their ancestral land. Her father’s phone rang. Her mother was on the phone. Five-year-old Gudiya was missing.
After her father received the alarming call from his wife, he and his brother rushed home and looked for Gudiya. They went to the local police station. Dharmpal Singh, the officer in charge, shooed him away, according to Gudiya’s father. “Go and look for her yourself. Inform us if you find her,” Gudiya’s father recalled the police officer telling him.
Two days after the child went missing, a young laborer from Bihar who lived in the basement of their building told Gudiya’s mother that he saw a child crying near his room. “We used to live in that particular room before moving to a first floor room,” said Gudiya’s father. He found his 5-year-old daughter, crying, naked. Her neck and legs were covered in blood.
The next afternoon, Gudiya was transferred to India’s premier public hospital, All India Institute of Medical Sciences. “We had to perform the colostomy procedure to divert stool and surgical procedure for the dressing of her internal organs,” said Dr. D.K. Sharma.
Four days after Gudiya was admitted to the hospital, her parents went to meet Sheila Dikshit, the chief minister of Delhi. Ms. Dikshit met Gudiya’s parents but left them with cold, callous words. “There are so many rape cases every day in Delhi. How many can I take care of?” her father recalled Ms. Dikshit telling them.
On April 19, four days after the assault on Gudiya, a team of Delhi and Bihar police raided a house in the town of Muzaffarpur in the northern state of Bihar. They arrested Manoj Kumar Sah, a 22-year-old man who was working as an electrician in Delhi and living in the same building as Gudiya’s family in Gandhi Nagar area. A crying, bleeding Gudiya had been found in his room.
Mr. Sah and his friend, Pradeep Ram, 19, had fled Delhi by taking a night train to Bihar. Mr. Sah was hiding at his in-laws’ in Muzaffarpur when the police found him. Mr. Ram was arrested the next day in the Lakhisarai district of Bihar, where he was hiding at his maternal uncle’s house.
The police said the two men confessed to raping the girl, saying that Mr. Sah had stepped out of his room when he saw the 5-year-old playing outside. The police said he then offered her potato chips and lured her into his room, promising more. The child followed Mr. Sah into the room.
Delhi Police charged Mr. Sah and Mr. Ram under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, which places the burden of proving their innocence on the accused. On July 24, the two men were arraigned in Delhi, and the examination of the witnesses is now under process.
While Gudiya was being treated at the hospital, her father moved out of his rented Gandhi Nagar home and moved in with his younger brother in a distant neighborhood of Delhi. He couldn’t bear the callous and caustic barbs of his neighbors.
“People said that my daughter was greedy and that’s why she could be lured with a packet of chips,” he recalled.
The brothers had been pursuing the police case, running between hospitals. Their meager savings were drying up. Her uncle sent his family back home to ease the pressure of feeding a larger unit in an expensive city.
“We all could not afford to live together, especially when both bhaiya and me have not been working for the last three months,” her uncle said, using the Hindi word for “older brother.”
After Gudiya’s initial treatment, the Delhi government’s Child Welfare Committee decided that as the girl needed several surgeries, she needed to live in a hygienic place. On April 20, the Young Women’s Christian Association in New Delhi offered free boarding and lodging to Gudiya, her mother and her infant brother. Her father couldn’t live there, as the hostel is meant only for women.
The YWCA hostel in central Delhi is a multistory building, but Gudiya, her brother, and her mother were restricted to their room. “I was asked to not go out of the first floor room allotted to us,” she said. The food on offer was very little, according to the young mother. “I gave my breakfast to the kids and ate my first meal when lunch was served,” she said.
They shared a common toilet with 12 other girls who were survivors of sexual abuse, but Gudiya’s mother said she was forced to clean the toilet twice a day because of Gudiya’s condition. “They said, ‘Your daughter keeps [expletive] all the time and that’s why you should clean up.’ ” YWCA administration did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
At the YWCA, her father was allowed to meet his daughter for half an hour. His wife was not allowed to leave the shelter except to buy medicine from a nearby hospital. The YWCA administration chose the people she could speak to, she said. “I was not allowed to meet my brother-in-law,” she said. “He knows more about the case than my husband.”
Rakesh Sengar, national coordinator of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, a nonprofit organization that has worked on child rights for four decades, said it was not uncommon to keep rape victims sequestered. “Once the rape survivor agrees to fight her case, it is important to shield her from all outside pressure to withdraw her case,” he said. “That is why the rehabilitation homes often impose restrictions on the movement of its inhabitants.”
Gudiya’s mother alleged that one day at the YWCA hostel, Gudiya walked into a room where a meeting was taking place and a caretaker slapped her. Another day, she said, her young son was slapped. She sneaked out of the hostel and spoke to the press. “After that, my movements were under strict vigilance. If it were a rich woman and her child, they wouldn’t have treated us like this,” she said.
On July 16, Gudiya was discharged from the hospital. Indian laws had nothing to offer by way of support for her rehabilitation. The family spent a few weeks in a relative’s one-room house until they could find a new place to live. They couldn’t return to their village, as scores of television crews had landed there after the incident.
“My elder brother has stopped talking to me. He blames me for not being able to control my daughter,” Gudiya’s mother said. “Everyone there knows what happened to my daughter.”
They sought refuge in the gift of anonymity Delhi provided. Gudiya’s father moved his family to a lower-middle-class area on the outskirts of Delhi, where he began a new life as a vegetable vendor. “They wanted to move away from all those who knew what happened to Gudiya,” her uncle said.

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