A four and a half kilometre-long stretch of dense forest was between 16-year-old Gudiya’s home and school that she passed through daily. She was never scared of the wildlife —be it leopards or bears. But her father still warned her about wild animals. He also got her younger brother admitted to the same school for her companionship.
Gudiya, a class 10 student, never knew that the real threat would not come from wild animals but from men. She was raped and murdered in Himachal Pradesh’s Shimla. She was named Gudiya posthumously.
The pain of Gudiya rape and murder case was severely felt throughout Himachal in 2017—an election year. It still waits a closure. Recalling her case now also brings chilling memories of the 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape and the rape of 19-year-old Dalit woman in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras in 2020.
Gudiya’s body was found two days after she went missing. She went missing when she was returning to home from school alone.
We are completely shattered: Gudiya’s mother
Gudiya’s mother has said the rape and death of her daughter completely shattered the family.
She said, “The family feels completely shattered. The incident has changed the course of our life completely. She is in our thoughts. She is in our tears. The moment I am reminded about the incident, I feel shivers down my spine. She must have cried for help to save herself. Even God did not help her.”
The mother recollects the ill-fated day when Gudiya went missing. It was July 4, 2017, when Gudiya was on her way to home on foot. The school had organised a sports tournament that day and her brother and some other schoolmates, who usually accompanied her, stayed back. She decided to walk her way home alone — a 75-minutes journey on foot— through the lonely forest track.
As Gudiya did not return home till late evening, a search was launched. The family lodged an FIR at Kotkhai Police Station. Two days later, the police found her body dumped in the same forest, barely a few meters away from the road. The autopsy done by a team of doctors at Indira Gandhi Medical College (IGMC), Shimla confirmed rape and murder
How Gudiya rape case shook Himachal in election year
The incident triggered massive protests, dharnas, and uproar at Kotkhai, Shimla, and other parts of Himachal because such a gruesome crime against women is rare in the state.
What happened later only aggravated the situation in Himachal, which was slated to go to the elections a few months later.
Then then-Director General of Police (DGP) Somesh Goyal set up a special investigation team (SIT) to investigate the case. Six suspects were arrested by the SIT. One of them, Suraj, a 29-year-old labourer from Nepal, died in the SIT custody due to physical torture. He was allegedly beaten mercilessly during his interrogation to get his confession in the crime.
The Kotkhai Police Station, where Suraj died in custody, was set on fire by an irate mob. The custodial death added another dimension to the crime as people began to believe that ‘real’ culprits, said to be some influential people, were being saved.
At the intervention of the Himachal Pradesh High Court, which took up the matter when a petition was filed based on media reports, a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe was ordered into the case.
The CBI investigation, rather, led to the arrest of nine police persons, including Inspector General (IG) Zahoor Zaidi, for the custodial death of the suspect Suraj. Zaidi was the head of SIT.
Nine months after the crime, the CBI arrested 28-year-old woodcutter Anil Kumar alias Neelu as the sole accused based on DNA profiling, a kind of forensic technique. He is currently serving life sentence for the crime.
Gudiya’s family’s fight continues
Five years down the line, Gudiya’s family is still fighting a relentless battle in the Himachal Pradesh High Court to bring closure to the tragedy. The family has doubts if the convict Anil acted alone.
“The family's fight for justice to Gudiya is still on. We have got a petition filed in the High Court asking for reopening the case and a fresh investigation. The CBI did arrest an accused who is convicted. But there are still suspicions about him being the lone culprit. Such a crime cannot be handiwork of single person. The opinion given by the forensic experts is also on similar lines, hinting at involvement of two or more persons,” says Vikas Thapta, who heads Madad Sewa Trust, an organisation fighting for justice to Gudiya.
The family even approached the Supreme Court, which referred the case back to Himachal Pradesh High Court for hearing.
Gudiya’s family in political cross-fire
The then-Congress government led by Virbhadra Singh had remained under attack after the case and even lost the power in the 2017 assembly elections as the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had made women safety a big election issue.
Gudiya’s family finds itself caught in the political cross-fire. They want the case to be reinvestigated afresh
Rohit Thakur, who recently got elected as fourth-time Congress MLA from Jubbal-Kotkhai, blames the BJP for using the case to drive political mileage only and doing nothing to get justice to the family during its five year term.
Newly inducted Deputy Chief Minister Mukesh Agnihotri alleges the ill-fated family of Gudiya was still running from pillar to post to get justice.
“We don't know if the person convicted was real culprit but the family is feeling let down and waits for justice,” says Agnihotri.
Vikas Thapta says his organisation has got an application filed in the court through the victim's mother asking for interventions to stop political parties from using the case as a tool to score points in the elections.
The family of the victim has also gone on record asking for a fresh probe. They have made representations to DGP Sanjay Kundu with the plea for fresh probe.
Last year, former Chief Minister Shanta Kumar also wrote to Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, asking him to get the case reinvestigated as what happened in Kotkhai in 2017 had dented the image of Himachal Pradesh Police and also the state.