A mother's story of the teenager India wants to hang after gang-rape that shocked a nation

To India he’s a monster, the juvenile who committed a horrific crime. But to his mother he’s still Bhura, the boy she was forced to abandon at 11 years old

Uttar Pradesh

His mother lies shrunken and despairing, shrouded in blankets on a straw mattress. For her, the young man who went by the nick-name “Bhura”, or “brown”, was her first-born joy, a flash of happiness in a hard-edged world until she was forced to send him away to work in Delhi at the age of 11. For several years afterwards she had no idea he was alive or dead.

But to the world, gripped by the recent rape and murder of a Delhi  student, the 17-year-old bus attendant from Uttar Pradesh represents little less than the essence of evil. In  briefings to the media, police have suggested this teenager was among the most savage of the six attackers, luring the student and her male companion aboard a bus with his “sing-song” call before twice raping her and internally assaulting her with an iron bar.

Indeed, his alleged viciousness was so bad that the family of the murdered student has said he ought not to be treated as a juvenile as demanded by law, but, if convicted, should instead face the death penalty. “He is well aware of what is right and wrong,” the student’s brother told reporters.

In the days since the attack on 16 December, much has been written about how the 23-year-old physiotherapy student embodied the “new India”. Her family’s decision to sell a plot of land in eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP) to allow them to move to Delhi, and for her to be educated, underscored the opportunities newly available in this rapidly developing nation.

If that is true, then Bhura’s story equally represents the story of old India, of lives enveloped by poverty and hardship and of chances limited by the centuries-old constraints of caste, religion and bad luck. He too  migrated to Delhi for economic reasons but unlike the family of the student, he was unable to make the leap.

The teenager belongs to a Muslim caste that in India has traditionally been associated with the pressing of vegetable oils. The family home near the town of Islam Nagar in western UP is among the poorest in the village and consists of two rooms, covered in thatch and plastic sheeting.

When The Independent visited earlier this week, the teenager’s mother was lying on a bed under a lean-to, and said she had not had a meal since the previous day. She  said the family did not always eat every day and at one point she fainted, apparently from hunger. Her husband was lying on a cot a few feet away.  She said he had mental health  problems. A tethered buffalo stood in the yard. The woman said she had a total of five children, two younger sons and two girls aged 11 and 13. With her  husband unable to work and with Bhura no longer at home, her two daughters were the only source of income, each earning 50 rupees a day (55p) as labourers in the fields.

She said her first-born son had been a quiet, docile boy who never created problems. For a year-and-a-half he attended the village school but dropped out after he was beaten by a teacher. At the age of 11, a family member arranged a job for him, working in a rough-and-ready eatery in the east of Delhi.

“I felt good when he was born,” said his mother, her sunken eyes all but  covered behind a green shawl. “At the age of 11, I had to put him in the eatery to work. I did not want to but I put him there to work.”

She said for the first few years he was in Delhi, Bhura sent home much-needed money. Then he stopped. They  tried to contact him but were unable to. “For the last [few] years we thought he was dead. Then the Delhi police came here and started asking about him,” she said.

The eatery where Bhura was employed cleaning plates and serving food is located in the east of the city, an area dominated by roads and fly-overs. The skyline is dominated by a huge, mountainous rubbish dump where a thousand birds of prey hover in the breeze.

While its proper name is Bharkat’s, it is known locally as Mullah-ji’s and serves “Muslim” food, such as minced lamb and stewed brains.

“He was very loyal and hard-working. He worked here for two years. When he said he was leaving, I offered him more money but he decided he did not want to work in an eatery,” said the owner, Islam Uddin.

It appears that Bhura’s family may have been tipped-off about an  opening for a young boy by another young man from the same village who left for Delhi several years earlier and who works in a recycling shop next door. Subash Gupta said that Bhura worked seven days a week, from 8am to 11pm with just two days holiday, when he was allowed to mark the Eid festival. He was paid R2,500 (£28) plus food, and was allowed to sleep in the restaurant.

“He was a very good worker. There are no jobs in the village so people come to the city to earn,” said Mr Gupta. “It’s a poor man’s village. If his family had money he would not have home here.”

Mr Gupta said he had not seen the slightly-built Bhura for 18 months after he left the eatery, yet he said he could not believe the teenager was involved in the rape. “He did what he was supposed to do. I do not think it is at all possible,” he said.

Reports in the Indian media suggest after leaving Mullah-ji’s, Bhura got a job washing buses, and later as a bus driver’s assistant, not far from the Anand Vihar inter-state bus terminal. Reports say it was while working there that he got to know Ram Singh, another of the accused, who worked driving a private bus. He had got to know him so well that at some point he had leant the older man R8,000 (£90). A few days before the attack on the student, Bhura had gone to Mr Singh’s shack in the poor Ravi Das colony area in south Delhi to collect it and had slept in his bus.

According to several reports, on 16 December, when Mr Singh, Bhura and four others set out for a drunken joy-ride, it was Bhura who called out to the medical student and her male companion as they made their way home from watching a film, encouraging them to board the bus.

Two days after the attack, the teenager was arrested at the Anand Vihar bus terminal, apparently trying to leave the city.

Reports containing gruesome details have portrayed Bhura as one of the most brutal of the assailants. Yet, according to someone who has seen the official charge-sheet relating to the five adults, the boy is not mentioned. It is likely police will file a separate charge-sheet at a juvenile court hearing that has been arranged for 15 January. A spokesman for the Delhi police, Rajan Bhagat, declined to comment.

Reports said the teenager has been attacked several times by other juvenile inmates while in custody, twice having to be moved. This week, he was taken to Delhi’s Lok Nayak Jaiprakash Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery for appendicitis. It is not clear whether his condition is linked to alleged abuse he suffered while awaiting his hearing. A hospital employee yesterday confirmed the operation had been completed.

The arrest of the juvenile has triggered fierce debate within India about what punishment might be appropriate if he is found guilty. Some have called for the authorities to lower the age at which a defendant is considered a juvenile to 16. The maximum punishment available for a juvenile is three years in custody.

Meanwhile, the authorities are still seeking confirmation of the teenager’s age. If he is found to be 18, he will be tried as an adult and could face the death penalty. As part of this, they have ordered tests of the teenager’s bones and have summoned the principal of the village school.

The teacher, Yatindra Mohan, said he already provided the school-log and would attend the hearing next Tuesday to provide further details. He said: “I have to appear again.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: HR Assistant

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a keen...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this multi-ac...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Specialist

£21000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an e...

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat