When 18-year-old Emma (name changed) decided to travel by herself to Mumbai for a six-month-long stay, her friends and acquaintances assured her that she would be out of harm's way in the city that is touted to be the safest in the country.
Good Samaritan: Pankaj Sakpal
Resident of Om building in Goregaon came to the rescue of the teenager
when he heard her cries for help
But the nightmarish ordeal that the Dutch girl experienced on Christmas night came as a rude awakening, making her desperate to leave this land. On a solitary auto ride back to her Mulund residence from Dahisar at around 1 am last Sunday, two auto drivers abducted and allegedly raped her brutally in the forests near Aarey Milk Colony. While one of the accused in the case has been nabbed, another still lurks free.
"I am traumatised even at the sight of an auto rickshaw," she says, a catch in her voice. A week has passed since the brutish act, and Emma is now staying at a Juhu-based hotel, from where she spoke to MiD DAY over the phone. Her voice is laced with fear, as she admits that the horrific incidents of that fateful night have scarred her to her very core, instilling an all-pervading fear in her that she cannot easily shake off.
Her trauma is compounded by the fact that she cannot leave the country without her passport, and each day is spent recollecting the horrors of the night. "I just need my passport, and I will go far away from this country that has caused me so much pain. I have made bookings to leave on January 6," she said, choking.
Emma's trip to India began on a promising note. After completing a smooth-sailing first leg of her tour in Delhi, she came to Mumbai in September. Here, she met up with an Andheri-based boy she had befriended when he was staying as a paying guest at her aunt's house in the Netherlands.
It's not just her peace of mind that she lost in that harrowing night. As she was fleeing from her assailants, she left behind her purse that had her expensive phone and Rs 8,000 in cash, all of which have been recovered by the cops, who have retained them as evidence. But what she misses most is her personal diary. "I want back the diary that was in my purse. It contains all the memories from my childhood."
Emma has learnt the hard way that Mumbai, touted as the safest city for women in the nation, conceals a dirty and seamy underbelly. "I had heard that Mumbai is safe for women, and so dared to travel alone. The city has disappointed me," said Emma. "I am grateful to the good Samaritans who came to my rescue, and saved my life, especially Sakpal and his friends. But I will never forget the pain this city has caused me," she signed off.
MiD DAY also contacted Emma's friend, who had accompanied her part of the way back to her Mulund residence, after a dinner at Mira Road. He said he had dropped her off at the Dahisar check post, from where Emma flagged a rickshaw. Tired, she dosed off in the back seat. Swooping in on the opportunity, the rickshaw driver picked up an accomplice, and ignoring her repeated instructions to take the JVLR route, took a detour into the forests of Aarey and brutalised her. "I had asked the rickshaw driver to drop her at Mulund, giving him her address and settling the fare that she would have to pay," he said.
The man who emerged as a saviour for the distraught girl was Pankaj Sakpal, a resident of Om building in Goregaon (East). "I was lounging in my house when I heard noises from the forested area. I peeped out of the window and yelled out into the darkness. I heard a faint voice saying, 'Somebody help me'. Sensing that something had gone terribly wrong, I screamed back, and rushed down to the ground floor. I saw a dark shadow running towards the building, and helped her over the boundary wall."
"After rescuing her, I took her to the Vanrai police station, but couldn't find any lady constables on duty. I called up a friend, who reached the police station and helped the cops record the girl's statement. Emma was then taken to the Jogeshwari maternity hospital for a medical test, and she was shoved into a maternity ward. Seeing the ward scared the traumatised girl even further, and she refused to go through with the test," said Sakpal.
Sakpal added that the entry point of Aarey is usually closed after midnight. "However, when we visited the road, we saw that this rickshaw had entered the forest by removing a barricade to one side."