'Nobody helped'


Rajbeti Prajapati

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The victim’s mother (centre) says they used to be on good terms with the man accused of murdering her daughter

A young Delhi woman was stabbed repeatedly in full public view by a man accused of stalking her for more than a year. Shock at the murder was increased by the fact many bystanders failed to intervene. BBC Hindi’s Divya Arya found grief and anger at the victim’s family home.

The tiny building where Karuna Prajapati lived on the third floor in north Delhi’s Burari area is surrounded by hundreds of people. Her grieving mother Rajbeti Prajapati is sitting amid a crowd of women on the ground floor. Her face is drawn and she looks dazed.

“I have no more tears to shed,” she tells me. Around her, however, there is plenty of weeping.

There is also a lot of anger.

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Karuna Prajapati (pictured between her parents in the photo on the left) was a young schoolteacher

“The police just don’t take our complaints seriously,” says one of the women. Others chime in with similar views, recounting incidents where they had tried approaching the police in harassment cases.

The conversation inevitably turns to the suspect, identified as Surendra Singh Malik, but known to locals as Aditya. CCTV footage of the attacker stabbing Ms Prajapati repeatedly before hitting her on the head with a rock and kicking her prone body has shocked and outraged Indians.

He was arrested by locals who say they caught him as he tried to escape, and has now been sent to prison for four days pending further investigation.

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“We knew him very well, because his mobile top up shop was right next door to our bag repair shop. We were very friendly with him, and he would even come to our house for meals,” says Mrs Prajapati. “Aditya and Karuna became very good friends and would spend time together, with Aditya even teaching her how to use a computer.”

But about a year ago, Ms Prajapati told her parents that Mr Malik had been harassing her for a while. He had apparently been putting pressure on her to agree to marry him, and would even beat her up in anger. The family also discovered that he was already married.

‘Police did nothing’

They decided to approach the police and register a case of stalking.

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CCTV

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The attack took place on a busy street in Delhi in broad daylight

Under India’s tough new women’s protection laws, “a man following a woman and trying to contact her repeatedly without her consent and despite a show of disinterest” can be sent to jail for a maximum of three years, provided it is the first time the person is convicted of the crime. For subsequent convictions, he could be sentenced to a maximum of five years with or without a fine.

But in this case, the family alleges that the police did nothing.

“They called him there and spoke to him, but his behaviour towards Karuna did not change. His father is a retired police officer, and has a lot of clout, so he thought he could do whatever he wanted,” says Mrs Prajapati.

Six months later, the family decided to approach Aditya’s father directly. So they went in a big family group to his house in Rohini, about half an hour away.

“He assured us that his son would not bother my daughter any more, so we decided to close the police complaint,” says Naresh Prajapati, the victim’s father.

“You can see the result of that in front of you,” Mrs Prajapati says.

As we talk, Ms Prajapati’s body is brought into the house. Amid weeping and tears, there is also angry shouting to take the body to Mr Malik’s father’s home or the police station. In the end, they decide to take it to the cremation ground for the funeral.

‘He was harmless’

Next I visit Mr Malik’s father, Prem Singh Malik. He says he is shocked by the CCTV footage of his son assaulting Ms Prajapati, saying that “he would not even kill a cockroach inside the house before”.

He says, however, that he had thrown his son out of the house eight years ago, following a family disagreement and only kept in sporadic touch with him. But he confirms that Ms Prajapati’s family came to him, asking him to ensure that his son stayed away from their daughter.

“I was shocked when I heard that, because I knew Aditya and Karuna were like brother and sister. I called Aditya to the meeting and confronted him, but he denied everything, saying that the Prajapati family was making the whole story up because they owed him money and could not pay him back.

“I told the family to pay him the money, but I also told him that whatever the reason, he could not harass the girl,” he says.

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The Delhi women’s commissioner says there is an attitude problem towards women

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There was palpable anger in the area where the family live

Mr Prajapati confirms that he owed Mr Malik a sum of 20,000 rupees ($298; £229) but says that had nothing to do with anything. “I had already paid him back,” he says.

The Delhi women’s commissioner Swati Maliwal, who also visited the Prajapati home while I was there, says the entire incident could have been avoided if the police had just done their job. She says they are issuing the police station concerned with a warning, asking them to explain why action should not be taken against them for not doing anything about the initial complaint.

Senior police official Madhur Verma says police did investigate the family’s complaint. “We even went to her home and took a statement. We only closed the case because her family asked us to.”

But Swati Maliwal says there is a wider problem about attitudes towards women in general.

“Police tend to take incidents of stalking very lightly. Such tragedies will keep happening if they don’t take these complaints seriously and take action immediately.”


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