Bijnor: She was ambitious, excelled in Kho Kho, a sport in which she was a national-level athlete, and looked forward to a future in being a sports teacher.
But the 24-year-old’s dreams were cut short Friday — murdered brutally in broad daylight, her body was found just 100 m from her home, in the middle of the day, in Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor.
According to her family, she had submitted her resume at a local private school, having applied for the sports teacher job, and was heading back home through the same shortcut, near the railway tracks behind her house, that she always took. Except this time, she never made it home.
Her body was found hardly a stone’s throw from her house. Her hair was scattered, her nose was bleeding and her own dupatta had been used to strangle her.
The family believed that she had been raped but the Bijnor Police have ruled out sexual assault based on a medical report.
Police have also claimed to have arrested the accused, Shahzad, a daily wager who helped load and unload goods at the railway station. He was picked up at 2 am Tuesday.
Shahzad is a resident of Adampur village which is about 1.5 km from Bijnor.
In a press statement released Tuesday, the Bijnor Police have claimed that the accused had admitted that he attempted to rape the 24-year-old but panicked when she screamed and then strangled her with her own dupatta.
According to the police statement, Shahzad was a drug addict, who had kept watch on the 24-year-old.
“That girl used to pass across the railway station and I would often have bad thoughts about her. That day, I did not have any work so I was sitting on the tracks and was having ganja (marijuana),” the police statement quotes him as having confessed. “I saw her passing from there around 12 and I kept waiting for her to return.”
According to the police, as the woman returned, Shahzad pulled her towards the pile of cement railway sleepers with the intention of raping her. But as she screamed, he panicked and tried to strangle her with a rope and her own dupatta. She fell unconscious, and Shahzad ran away with the rope and her mobile phone.
According to the police, they traced the 24-year-old’s mobile phone location, which was last found near Shahzad’s residence.
They also claimed to have recovered a blood-stained shirt that he was wearing during the crime, two buttons from which were allegedly found at the crime site. He also had nail marks on his face, neck and chest due to the fight, police said.
According to the postmortem report, the cause of her death was strangulation.
In a press briefing Tuesday, Bijnor SP Dr Dharmveer Singh said Shahzad has had run-ins with the law earlier. “He is a habitual offender; he has been arrested by railway police thrice in offences of theft,” he said.
A Kho Kho player with big dreams
The 24-year-old is the second oldest in a family of four children. Her elder sister works as a tubewell operator in Bijnor, while two of her younger brothers are still studying — the older one in a polytechnic college while the youngest is a Class 10 student.
Her mother works as a domestic help, while the father is a daily wager in a sugar mill nearby. They are one of the few Dalit families in the colony adjoining the railway tracks.
According to the family, the 24-year-old was their biggest hope.
“Even if there were any sports events happening without a competition, she would participate,” her sister said. “Our house is filled with gifts she brought after winning sports competitions — blankets, bags, crockery items.”
Flipping through her numerous certificates in sports, her sister reads out the text aloud — “She stood first in this competition in Moradabad, also in this one in Nagpur…” — all the while locating her sister in every group picture with other athletes.
“Here she is, look at how beautiful she was,” the sister said.
“She was a very talented girl… She was keen to make her career in sports. Not just Kho Kho, she used to participate in every possible sport she got a chance to — whether it was basketball or athletics,” the sister added. “She was helping the family financially by providing tuition. How will my parents and small brothers live now?”
According to Mukul Kumar, the secretary of the district Kho Kho association in Bijnor, the 24-year-old was a promising athlete who took part in the 2016 national championships at Solapur in Maharashtra, where she represented Bihar.
“She couldn’t get into the UP team in 2016 as it was very competitive, so she gave trials in Bihar and got selected in their team for the national championship,” Kumar said. “She once got into the UP team, but due to viral fever, she couldn’t participate in the national camp.”
The 24-year-old was pursuing a Bachelors in Physical Education at Srinagar in Uttarakhand’s Pauri Garhwal and was back home due to online classes and the lockdown.
“My daughter used to help me with household chores and manage her outdoor activities and job as well.. She was preparing to leave for college in a few days,” the inconsolable mother said. “I gave my kids education by working as a daily wager… hum bas angoothachaap hain (We just know how to press our thumb instead of signing).”
The family has also been grappling with CCTV footage, captured by a camera in a nearby home, which shows the 24-year-old taking the path for one last time. “Hasti khelti ja rahi thi meri bacchi… kya pata tha wapis hi nahin aayegi (She was just going about her day… who knew she wouldn’t return home),”said the mother.
‘Police fought over jurisdiction’
According to the family, the 24-year-old left home at 11.40 am Friday to apply for a job at DDPS school.
Around 2 pm, when the family tried to call her, her phone was switched off. Around 2.30 pm, a relative informed them that the woman’s body was lying amid a pile of cement railway sleepers near the railway track behind their house. According to the family, her documents, which included a file with her certificates, tiffin and bag were also lying around her body.
The family then took her to Beena Prakash Hospital in Bijnor, where she was declared brought dead.
The woman’s sister, however, alleged that between 2.30 and 7 pm, neither the Government Railway Police (GRP) nor the Bijnor Police could decide in whose jurisdiction the case fell.
The FIR was finally registered at 10 pm at GRP Najibabd police station on the family’s account under IPC section 302 (murder), 201 (destruction of evidence) and 376 (rape), which was later ruled out. The case was later shifted to the city police.
After Shahzad’s arrest, IPC section 511 (attempting to commit offences punishable with imprisonment) was also added.
Moradabad DIG Shalabh Mathur, overseeing the case, said that after the case is resolved, the jurisdiction matter will be discussed with the Bijnor Police.
An officer at the GRP Najibabad, however, said that there was no conflict between the Bijnor Police and GRP related to the jurisdiction.
“The nearest railway station was Najibabad, which is 40 km away. The case was registered at 10 pm but the details were noted at around 8 pm,” said GRP sub-inspector Sarvez Khan. “It takes 1.5 hours to reach Najibabad police station. Before that, they had also taken the girl to the hospital.”
A neighbourhood worried
The murder has spread a palpable sense of fear in the neighbourhood.
“I have been living here for 30-35 years of my life. I have not seen something this horrible. What had the poor girl done against anyone,” a neighbour who did not wish to be identified said.
Another neighbour, in whose house the 24-year-old’s mother works as a domestic help, said the parents worked hard for their children.
“The mother has done so much for her kids. All their children are so capable and talented… this one incident has pushed them far behind from where they were,” she said.
A relative echoed the neighbour by pointing to the small house, with no cement or paint on the walls, in which the family lived.
“This is what these parents did for their kids’ education. They spent all their money on educating their children and did not even think of making a proper house,” the relative said.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)