In a little eatery somewhere in the south, a young man wields a ladle. He learnt how to cook during his stay in an observation home in Delhi. He is the fifth person who was involved in the gangrape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern in December 2016. He was a juvenile then, and served time in a remand home.
“He has turned over a new leaf. He has also taken up a new name,” said an official from an NGO entrusted with his aftercare. Often portrayed, without any substantial evidence, as the “most brutal” face of that fateful night’s violence, he is said to be oblivious of the latest developments in the case, one which numbed an entire nation and brought the young to the streets.
“We had to send him far away from the national capital so that people could not trace him, so that he could start a new life,” the official said, adding that he was working as a cook somewhere in the southern coast. His employer does not know his actual name, and is not aware of his past.
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“We have been shifting him from one place to another so that he doesn’t come into anybody’s notice,” the NGO official, who did not wish to be named, said. The official, who was present during the proceedings at the Juvenile Justice Board that tried him, held the media responsible for projecting a bestial image of the then teenager without any basis.
“It is true that the juvenile has been found to be involved in the present case, but there is no evidence on record to show that he was the most brutal or that he had caused the maximum damage,” a Juvenile Justice Board report had reportedly observed in 2013.
Enakshi Ganguly, who runs the HAQ Centre for Child Rights, which counsels juvenile offenders on the invitation of courts and juvenile justice boards, said even the Investigating Officer in the case had recorded that there was no evidence to suggest the convict was the most brutal and vicious in the assault.
The NGO official said he landed up by “mere chance” in the moving bus in which the woman was raped.
“Actually he had worked for Ram singh (a convict who allegedly committed suicide in his cell in 2013) for some time and the latter owed him Rs 8000. And the boy was consistently asking for his money back. That fateful night he had gone there to collect his money and became a part of the crime,” he said. Weighed down by poverty, the juvenile had come to Delhi from his village in Uttar Pradesh after fleeing home as a small boy.