Nirbhaya Family Interview Essay

The young ex-convict in the Nirbhaya gang-rape case will find his home village in Baduan district forgiving. “Let bygones be bygones,” is a common refrain here. The people blame Delhi for turning him into a monster. His family — which lives in a tiny hutment that did not even have a proper roof until last year — remains in the dark as far as his homecoming is concerned. His father is mentally unstable; his mother has not been keeping well.

Youth’s past is past: villagers

Away from the heat and dust of the capital where his imminent release has created a furore, a far gentler reception awaits the juvenile convict in the December 16, 2012, Nirbhaya gang-rape case in his native village.

“He was a good boy till he lived here, Delhi made him a monster,” said Nathu Ram, 60, a former village headman. “He left the village when he was very young. We can scarcely believe he has done something as brutal as you people in Delhi claim he did. If he comes back to live here, we do not have a problem. He might even become a better person if he starts living here — we do not have even a single history-sheeter here.”

“Let bygones be bygones,” is a common refrain here. Babu, a distant cousin of the now 20-year-old convict, remembered him as someone who would not get into fights with other children. “Three years is enough of a punishment for him. The court should just release him and send him back to the village now. His family needs him, they are dying of poverty,” he said.

While the Delhi government has worked out a rehabilitation plan for him, his family — which lives in a tiny hutment that did not even have a proper roof until last year — remains in the dark as far as his homecoming is concerned.

His father, who is mentally unstable, has no idea what is going on; two younger brothers, aged eight and 10, are bemused by all the media attention their house has been getting for the past few days; and distant relatives are, well, keeping a safe distance.

His mother, who has not been keeping well for the past few days, said her son used to send money home after he moved to Delhi to work, but that stopped with his conviction. She is often forced to resort to asking visitors for financial help nowadays.

“We hardly have any money to feed ourselves. I don’t know if he is coming back home or they are taking him somewhere else but if he does come here, he can at least earn our daily bread,” she said.

More In DelhiNational

To keep her children warm on Wednesday night, Champa Devi tried to get a small fire going by puffing air into four pieces of wood outside their home in a South Delhi slum.

“I am heartbroken,” she said, coughing as a cloud of smoke billowed around her. “When I wake up, it feels like my heart has been torn away.”

Ms. Champa, 37, is the mother of Vinay Sharma, one of the six accused in the gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a moving bus on Dec. 16, which resulted in her death two weeks later.

The horrific account of the rape, in which attackers beat their victim and her male companion with an iron rod and threw them naked onto a highway, sent shock waves through India.

Ms. Champa said she still can’t fathom how her son, who she says was born in March 1994, could have been involved in the gruesome crime. “He was always a quiet and simple boy,” she said. “He worked hard in school and always got top marks,” she said. “He especially liked studying English. We hoped for a good job in the future.”

Mr. Sharma, his family said, had grown up to be serious-minded man who recently registered for college. He earned 3,000 rupees, or about $54, a month as a handyman in a gym. The money went mostly to support the meager wages of his father, who works as a laborer.

The Sharma household is in the Ravidas slum, where four of the six accused lived, according to police. The slum, made up of about 300 houses, is maze of muddy alleys, next to the Bijri Khan tomb, a monument from the 15th century Lodhi dynasty.

On an early Wednesday visit to the Sharma home, no one responded to a few initial knocks on their door. “Leave them alone — haven’t they suffered for losing their son?” cried an elderly woman standing in the narrow lane. “Now what are they to do except be hounded by you media people?”

Hearing the commotion, a teenage girl emerged from a nearby house and first identified herself as a neighbor. “He was a really good guy who was led astray,” she said about Mr. Sharma. But the emotions on her face betrayed her, and she quickly admitted to being Manju Sharma, his sister. The 14-year-old, who has burn marks on her face, described her brother as deeply caring about his three siblings.

“After I was burned as a baby, he always made sure I stayed away from the stove,” she said. “As kids, he used to gently pinch me on my feet and he often played hide-and-seek with our small brother.” Ms. Sharma said that her brother also paid for the medicines needed to treat her diabetes.

Later in the evening, the accused’s mother agreed to an interview. She said that she had spent the day standing in a long hospital line to get her daughter’s medicine. Without a regular dosage, she faints and can’t attend school, she said.

“It costs 100 rupees a week and we can’t afford it without Vinay,” said Ms. Champa. “Without him, how will get the girls married?”

While it isn’t surprising for Mr. Sharma’s family to speak well of him, his neighbors and friends give similar accounts.

“I’ve known Vinay since he was a boy and played with my children,” said a middle-aged shopkeeper in the slum, who declined to give her name to avoid any further media attention. “He just isn’t the kind to make trouble.”

Anil, 14, who declined to give his last name, recalled his friend had only one interest: cricket. “When Vinay wasn’t at work, he would play some fun matches,” he said.

A short distance from the slum, another middle-aged woman who knew the family agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity to avoid upsetting them. She said she hoped none of the four men returned.

“Vinay may have been a good boy, but now even he can’t be trusted,” she said. “As a woman, I wouldn’t feel safe. What if they tried something on me?”

Mr. Sharma confessed to beating up the woman’s male friend in a December court appearance and asked to be hanged, according to local media reports. He and another defendant, Pawan Kumar, a fruit seller from the same slum, also volunteered to become witnesses for the government, a Delhi police official said.

Mr. Sharma’s friends and neighbors say they blame Ram Singh and Mukesh Singh, two brothers who are also accused in the rape case, for leading the other men astray.

Some residents of the Ravidas neighborhood said they clearly remembered the night of Dec. 16, and that they sensed that Ram and Mukesh Singh, who also lived in the area, were in a mood to make trouble after they had drunk alcohol.

Ms. Sharma said that her brother was playing marbles with the neighborhood children. When it grew dark, his mother recalled, he came into the house and watched television.

“He was eating a sweet bun and laughing over cartoons with his siblings,” she said. “Then, the fruit seller boy came to call him and he left,” she said. “That was the last time I saw him.”

India Ink is profiling the men accused in the Delhi gang rape case. This is the second. Read the first here.

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