A custodial murder, the arrest of a top cop, whispers of a cover up, anger against the ruling establishment and a court verdict the family has no expectations from, the rape and murder case of 16-year-old Gudiya has been marred with twists since the incident unfolded on 4 July 2017 in Shimla’s Kothkai area.
Four years later the CBI’s lone accused in the case, Anil Kumar alias Nillu, is being sentenced on 11 May. A special CBI court convicted him of rape and murder earlier on 28 April. The family, however, is far from happy with the upcoming sentencing.
"“We are not happy. We reject this investigation by the CBI. How can only one accused be caught when the CBI itself kept telling us three to four people were involved. This is why we have approached the High Court, we are hoping there will be a re-investigation of Gudiya’s death.”" - Keshav Ram, 60, tells this reporter from his home on the hilltop in Kothkai.
It started when Gudiya left for school on 4 July 2017, there was a sports tournament in the school so her brother, who would’ve otherwise have accompanied back home, decided to stay in school. She left to take the path from the forest to her home, but never returned.
On the morning of 5 July, after Gudiya failed to return home, around 200 people from across the villages swept the jungle in search of her as the sun rose. The family thought she had probably been killed or attacked by an animal. On 6 July, her body was found in the Bankufur forest ahead of Hailala village.
Unhappy with the progress in the case, the family moved Himachal Pradesh high court seeking fresh investigation in October 2020. They however do not know if their desires will be met by court.
‘We Are Not Happy, The Sentencing Doesn’t Mean Justice’
Outlining their reasons for the rejection of the investigation by the CBI, we spoke to Gudiya’s family. They point out how hiccups right from the beginning of the investigation have made them doubt the intention of the authorities.
“It started days after Gudiya’s body was found on 6 July, when on 12 July the then Himachal CM Virbhadra Singh’s Facebook profile published a post with the names and images of suspects in the area. The post claimed the police has nabbed the suspects. The photographs were uploaded at 10: 37 pm but pulled down within an hour. Who gave these names to the CM, who put their photos up and then pulled them down? We did not get any answers ever,” Keshav said.
As people grew angry and there were protests across the state, an SIT was formed under IG Zahur H Zaidi. It nabbed 6 people of which one died in police custody during police interrogation. This fuelled further anger at how the authorities were handling the investigation.
This image above is from November 2017, when we met Gudiya’s father who was angry. Today when we speak to him on a phone call from his home he sounds resigned to the idea that he may never get closure regarding her death. Here is pointing to the spot next to the stove where she was born.
“Why was a suspect killed during interrogation? Now the problem is the man who died, Sooraj Singh, his wife even told the media how two men came to her home and offered her husband money for going to jail for the crime. They said they will give him money and within six months, get him out of jail. All this is cause for further investigation. But the man died, and the last we heard the woman was sent to Nepal. She had said that she can identify the people as well, but again oddly she never spoke since,” Keshav said as his voice kept rising in anger.
The same top cop who was the chief of the SIT was then arrested by the CBI in August 2017.
“Initially we were happy that the CBI was investigating. They kept telling us how at least 3-4 people were involved in this crime. But then they ended up arresting only one person. This Neelu who has been convicted, I have seen him. He is small and not of strong built, my daughter could have fought against him. There was no way he could have raped, murdered, bit her, strangled and done the other things as the mpost mortem revealed,” Keshav said.
Sometime about two years ago the CBI stopped taking Keshav’s calls. “Why should I be begging them do to their job properly? This is when we decided and eventually moved court for re-investigation in October 2020. When we meet the CBI in court, I told them repeatedly on their face that we were not satisfied with their investigation.”
The plea continues to be pending in court with one hearing after another. The family may have lost faith in the authorities but not in God. “CBI nahi toh bhagwaan mujhe aur meri bachi ko zaroor insaaf dega. Khud hoga insaaf. Marenge saale jinhone aisa kaam kiya. Ye nahi chhootenge. (If not the CBI, then my God will ensure that me and my daughter get justice. There will be justice in the end. Those who did this to my daughter will die for doing what they did. They will not go scot free.)
The judge while convicting Nillu said that 12 of the 14 points of evidence were presented. The most important of which was his DNA matching with samples on the crime spot. The judge ruled that the crime was committed at the spur of the moment.
‘Fear of Woods in Kothkai Won’t End, if Culprits Not Caught’
Despite what the court might say, the family says they have no reason to believe the investigation.
Aman, Gudiya’s 19-yer-old brother, who was the last to see her also says, “The people will never stop being scared of the woods if the culprits are not caught. They are all out in the world, without the fear of consequence of their actions. The government may go to sleep despite knowing this, but we can not.” Gudiya was a year elder to Aman.
Her elder sister Manu Raghuvanshi told us, “No body goes to that area anymore. It is forbidden. To the extent that all the kids who went to that school from our area now go to another school to avoid the path. When I was younger I also attended Gudiya’s school and nothing ever happened to me. Still cannot believe this has happened.”
Manu and her husband Keshav Chand have often gone for the hearings too.
Manu says there continue to be questions she would have liked the investigation to address, “Why were Gudiya’s socks, her hair clips and other things not found? If the accused is really the accused, then how could he not help the police retrieve everything. Also, why is he not saying who were his accomplices? This was not the crime of one man. They themselves said so.”
After being repeatedly asked if they were convinced if Nillu was an accused or not, Manu says, “The CBI said that they found fingerprints and his teeth marks, other than his DNA which matched the site of the crime. That is all good, but we are not convinced he is the only one. I saw Gudiya’s dead body, that was not the job of one man,” she says.
“Her photos and belongings continue to adorn our walls and homes. All our memories and marriages have her as a crucial member who loved dancing and ensured everyone was entertained and happy. Not a day goes by that we do not miss her,” Manu said.
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