More articles by

Mandira Nayar
Mandira Nayar


Prisoners of fear

Locked in Locked in: A cop stands guard outside the victim's house in Shahjahanpur | Sanjay Ahlawat

Trust no one. This has become the central truth in Dharamvir Singh’s life. On July 10, Dharamvir rushed a bleeding Kirpal Singh, the seventh witness to be attacked in the Asaram Bapu case, to a hospital in Bareilly. He returned the next day with Kirpal's body, convinced that sticking to the 'trust no one' maxim was the only way to survive.

Two years ago, Dharamvir's minor daughter had filed a rape case against self-styled godman Asaram Bapu, which led to his arrest a week later on September 1. Since then, threats have been a constant for the family. The first one came on August 25 when the family returned home after filing the complaint. A man walked into the house and asked Dharamvir, “Do you know how many people will be killed? Itne suhaag ujard jayenge [How many families will be ruined?] You don’t know what you will lose if you don’t take back the complaint.’’

That was just the beginning. Dharamvir hasn’t left his house for two years except to go to court. The two-storey house at Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh has become their sanctuary, their prison and their cramped universe. “They have used every trick in the book, offering us compensation, threats and emotional blackmail,’’ he says. “There is a group that comes and touches our feet and tells us that the person who forgives is divine. Asaram is old and has served time. We should forgive him.’’

Tall, taciturn and awkward, Dharamvir wears the bewildered expression of a man whose life has turned into a Hindi gangster film. He sits in a stuffy bright pink room with two cots. Khaki uniforms hang from a peg―this is where Dharamvir's private security officers rest in the day. They shadow his every move and yet he doesn't feel safe. An air conditioner ineffectively struggles to slice through the humidity. Kirpal's death hangs heavier than the damp air that chokes the room.

“He never took it seriously,’’ says Dharamvir. “I kept telling him that it could happen. He didn’t listen. We rushed him to hospital but it was too late.” Kirpal's wife, Moni, has denied that he was a witness in the case. She doesn’t want to be the next on the hit-list.

Rahul Sachan, another witness in the case, was attacked outside the trial court in Jaipur on February 13 in full view of the public. The two lawyers―P.C. Solanki and Pramod Kumar Verma―for Dharamvir's daughter had given the witnesses strict instructions not to go anywhere unaccompanied. Sachan had gone to attend a phone call when he was stabbed. Another witness, Arvind Bajpai―principal of Saraswati Shishu Mandir Inter College, who issued a transfer certificate to the victim based on which her age was ascertained―was sent live ammunition wrapped in a newspaper. A few days later, a woman turned up with five men and threatened to kill him.

Meeting the victim and her family is not easy. Despite an introduction by the investigating officer, Chanchal Mishra, and a photograph―sent via WhatsApp―to ensure that no one else turns up, Dharamvir is ill at ease. The possibility that they may be next stalks their every move. The victim hasn’t left the house for months. She watches television all day and has no friends. The last time she left the house incognito was to give her class XII examination. Her mother hasn’t left her side for months either.

Dharamvir is the first layer of security. Even with the right recommendation and a phone call from Mishra―someone who Dharamvir believes would get him justice―he is reluctant to let his daughter meet anyone. He finally relents and leads the way.

The home is a bomb shelter. There are trapdoors―which can be locked from inside―windows which become doors and a maze of corridors past two layers of guards. Two young women sit on the terrace of the house watching the street like hawks. Three armed men stand outside the gate. “We are terrified. You never know, there may be fidayeen attacks,’’ says Dharamvir.

The victim―tired of repeating the story over and over again―took three months to record her statement without wavering from her original statement even once. “I am not scared,’’ says the girl, whose face is covered, revealing only her eyes. “He should be.” She wanted to study―she loves mathematics―and dreamt of going to college. For the moment, however, she can't even walk out of her room.

This browser settings will not support to add bookmarks programmatically. Please press Ctrl+D or change settings to bookmark this page.

Related Reading

    Show more