In the father’s absence, it was the daughter whom both parents trusted most.
“She was the head of the family in the real sense,” he said. “Now that she is gone I can’t even see tomorrow clearly. I have no idea about the future.”
It was a responsibility she took seriously. By the time she was in the ninth grade she was already working — tutoring younger children in her neighborhood — to help pay her school fees.
She also watched over her brothers to make sure they weren’t falling behind in class.
“She gave us direction. She would ask us about our studies. We would ask her for help,” said the brother who gave up his place in an engineering college.
The father had big dreams for her, but her dreams were bigger.
“She wanted to become a doctor. A really good doctor,” he said.
Maybe that dream would have come true eventually. However, she chose a less expensive route. Four years ago, she enrolled in a physiotherapy course at a school in Dehradun, a tiny town in the Himalayan foothills. She got an overnight job working at a call center to help pay for rent and school fees.
On most days she slept only a few hours in her rented room.
“We would have to call her every morning to make sure she got to class,” the brother said.
Relatives in their home village, not used to a family giving a girl so much freedom, pestered the father to get her married. Such things are wrong, they told him. She was not behaving as a woman, as a daughter, is expected to behave.
He ignored them.
“College cannot be in your home. If you have to go out then you do,” he said.
With a job as a hospital physiotherapist, her salary would have started at 12,000 to 15,000 rupees a month, already more than her father’s pay.
By December, she was nearly finished. She was back in New Delhi, living at home and awaiting the results of her final exams.
On Dec. 16, everything changed. As they did every Sunday, the parents washed everyone’s clothes. The daughter cooked a family meal of kidney bean curry and lentil fritters soaked in spicy yogurt.
“Everything was so normal,” her brother said.
Later, she went to a mall to see a movie with a male friend.
Ordinarily she rarely came home after 8pm, and always called if she was late. However, that night the family heard nothing. When they called, her cellphone was switched off. By 8:30pm her brother had called all her friends.
At 11:10pm the police called. They were told their daughter had been in an accident.
The truth was much worse.
The woman and her friend had gotten on a bus after the movie, looking for a way back to her home. However, the bus turned out to be driven by six men out for a joy ride, according to police documents. For nearly an hour, they were driven through the city. He was beaten. She was gang raped, and penetrated with metal rods, causing such severe internal injuries that doctors found parts of her intestines floating inside her abdomen.
Eventually, the two were dumped, naked and bleeding, by a busy road on the cold December night.
“Imagine how much she must have suffered,” her brother said. “We would fight, you know. Brothers and sisters fight too. And if I pushed her too hard she felt pain.”
However, still, she fought to live.
“For almost 10 days her brain was alert,” said her mother, a slim woman wrapped in a sari, her eyes red from weeks of weeping.