In Model Town, a Nishad mother fights police repression for investigation in daughter's death

Drupadi Bansal’s home in Model Town. On 4 October, the body of a 17-year-old domestic worker was discovered here. The teenager’s family, which belongs to the Nishad community, have alleged foul play in her death. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan
21 October, 2020

“Aunty has gone downstairs and locked her door. She asked me to sleep in the driver’s room. I don’t want to go there. I sat on stairs instead for two hours. Please take me with you, I don’t like it here.” These were the last words a 17-year-old domestic worker said to her foster mother, on 4 October at around 4.30 pm. The daughter was calling from her employer’s landline. It had been hardly a week since Kusum, the foster mother, had arranged work for her foster daughter, at a two-storey house in Delhi’s posh Model Town locality. The employer was Drupadi Bansal, a senior citizen. Kusum, who is her in thirties, had been working as a maid in the area for a long time. Her foster daughter was responsible for taking care of the old lady.

A few hours after the call, Kusum arrived at Drupadi’s home, only to find it overrun with police personnel. She was led to a room where Drupadi’s driver stayed. There, she found her foster daughter’s body hanging from the ceiling. When she examined the body, Kusum noticed boils on the teenager’s hands, and injuries on her back. 

In the weeks since, Kusum and her family, who suspect foul play in the death, have been fighting for a formal police investigation. But not only has the Delhi Police refused to file a first information report on the death, it ruled the death a suicide without waiting for the results of the forensic examination. The family said the police pressured them into quickly cremating the body. When the family members and Kusum’s neighbours protested to demand an FIR, police officials at Delhi’s Model Town police station brutally beat them up and threatened them. The police has denied all allegations of impropriety. 

Dinesh Kumar, the station house officer of the Model Town station, which has jurisdiction over the area, said the incident was a “simple suicide.” Dinesh backed his argument on the results of a postmortem report. The opinion of the panel of doctors, as written in the report, said: “asphyxia”— inability to breathe—“as a result of ante-mortem hanging.” By any reasonable standards, this would not rule out any foul play in the teenager’s death. Kusum believes that her foster daughter was raped and murdered. The results of the forensic examination were still pending when we spoke to Dinesh. “Somebody has to tell me what happened to my daughter an hour after I spoke to her. The Bansals are lying,” Kusum said.  

The 17-year-old had been employed by Drupadi, who lives on the top floor of her upmarket home in Model Town, on 25 September. Her driver, Subhash, also lived in the same home, in a room next to a staircase that led to the top floor. Drupadi’s children, Atul Bansal and Renu Mittal, lived separately but visited her regularly. It was Renu who had hired Kusum’s foster daughter to work and stay full-time in Drupadi’s home. Bansals and Mittals are historically trading communities. They are part of a powerful caste group, placed third in the Hindu social pyramid.

Kusum had visited the house before sending her foster daughter there, with Renu. “We had agreed that my daughter would sleep in Drupadi’s dining room, which is on the same floor as her bedroom. It even has a CCTV camera,” Kusum told us. She next visited her foster daughter on 1 October, but was not allowed to speak to her in private. “She looked okay then, although Drupadi never left us alone,” Kusum said.

Three days later, Kusum received the distressing call from her foster daughter. “Before she kept the phone, I heard someone call her name in the background,” Kusum told us. She promised her daughter that she would bring her home as soon as possible but at that moment she had to go to attend to a job somewhere. At around six, Kusum returned home from work and learnt from her mother-in-law that Mittal had called for her. She called Mittal back, who told her, “Come to the nallah”—drain—“in five minutes. I’ll pick you up in my car. Your daughter has locked herself up in a room and isn’t coming out.”

Kusum’s neighbourhood at Rajpur Gurmandi is located at the edge of a drainage canal. Most inhabitants of their locality are Dalits and lower castes. Gurmandi’s residents live in small, airless, lightless rooms, stacked one over another. Kusum herself is from the Nishad community, a lower caste that is considered an extremely backward caste in Uttar Pradesh and a backward class in Delhi. Kusum lives with her husband, three young children and her mother-in-law, in a small room of about one hundred square feet. Her foster daughter lived with them before she got a job. Kusum’s husband, Ramesh, works as a plumber in Dwarka, and cycles about sixty kilometres to and fro every day. He earns close to Rs 400 a day. The couple had taken the teenager into their care many years ago—the 17-year-old’s mother, Kusum’s sister, died when the child was young, and her father was estranged from the family. 

When Mittal arrived at the nallah, Kusum inquired if her foster daughter was okay. “I asked her if I should call and ask Drupadi if my daughter had come out yet. But Mittal stopped me from calling and said we were anyway be reaching home soon,” Kusum said. 

At the house, Kusum was shocked to see dozens of policemen milling about. “Mittal parked the car and told me, ‘Go meet your daughter,’ while she herself went upstairs to her mother’s room. Drupadi’s son, Atul, was also there,” Kusum said. The policemen were sipping on cold drinks, “probably given by the houseowner,” she added. When she finally entered the driver’s room, she saw her daughter. 

For a moment, Kusum thought the teenager was standing. She then realised her body was hanging from the ceiling. “I collapsed,” she told us. “But I gathered myself soon. I wanted to hold my daughter, but the policemen dragged me away and told me to stay away.”

According to Kusum, the cloth her foster daughter was hanging from did not belong to the teenager. She examined the hanging body and noticed boils and bruises on the teenager’s hands and back, as well as her armpit. “She had marks … as if somebody had tortured her,” Kusum said. “She was not supposed to be in the driver’s room,” Kusum repeated. “Drupadi had forced my daughter to sleep in the driver’s room.” 

Ramesh, Kusum’s husband, reached Bansal’s house by 8 pm. “It took me over two hours to cycle back to Model Town from Dwarka. I was helpless. By the time I reached they had taken down the body,” he told us. According to Kusum, when she asked the police not to take down her daughter’s body until all her family members had arrived, the personnel present on the scene manhandled her. They physically forced her to leave the driver’s room. When she tried to prevent the ambulance from leaving with the body, the police personnel dragged her away. 

Kusum and Ramesh were told they would be handed over the body at the police station. “We came to the police station and stayed there till 2 am that night. But they started acting ignorant, as if nothing had happened. They wouldn’t tell me where my daughter was,” Kusum said. According to the post-mortem report, the teenager was declared dead at 8.30 pm at the Babu Jagjivan Ram Hospital in north-west Delhi.

The police took Kusum’s and Ramesh’s statements that night. “We lost our daughter and still they were making us sit in the police station and give our statements. No one from Bansals’ were called on nor their statements were ever recorded,” Kusum said. After learning of the teenager’s death, relatives and neighbours from Gurmundi had all gathered and accompanied Kusum and Ramesh to the station that night. “The police told us the Bansals came and were gone after giving their statements. But our entire family was there on 4 October since evening and yet, none of us saw any of the Bansals coming to the station that day.”

For the next four days, the Delhi Police made the family run from pillar to post. “Every time we went to the police station, policemen would throw us out,” Kusum said. On 5 October, Ramesh told us, they were called back to the station. The police also asked Kusum to prove that she was the deceased’s aunt. She said the police asked, “How can we believe this?” Kusum said she showed the police family photos as proof.

The police took their statements again but still did not hand over their foster daughter’s body. After three days of frequent visits to the police station and incessant appeals for the body, Gurmandi’s residents decided to take matters into their own hands. On 7 October. Kusum’s family and neighbours went to Bansals’ house and “broke some planter pots” to demand answers from the Bansals, Kusum said.

In her conversation with us, Kusum took responsibility for this decision, but said that the family was compelled to do this. “They were not giving my daughter’s body … the Bansals wouldn’t let us in or speak to us over the phone. Nobody was even doing anything to know what happened on 4 October with my daughter at the Bansal house between 4.30 and 5.30 pm,” she said. “Renu Mittal said my daughter had locked herself up since afternoon, but I’d spoken to her in the afternoon … Are we not supposed to get angry when our daughter was gone and her body taken away from us?”

Following this incident, police personnel from the Model Town station detained 12 of Kusum’s family members and neighbours—eight women and four men—for vandalising the Bansals’ house. “The police came and took 12 of us in a police van to the police station,” Kusum said. “They beat us to pulp. Gents police were assaulting us. They pulled us by our hair and throw us on the ground while continuously hurling abuses.”

Ramesh was among the four men who were detained that day. “In the men’s cell, the policemen beat us while drinking alcohol in front of us. They made us jump,” he said. “If we would stop jumping, they would hit us on our legs. They hit me so badly on one of my ears that my hearing has been effected,” Ramesh said. 

The police eventually released the deceased teenager’s family and neighbours, but only after warning them to not demand an FIR. Ramesh and Kusum said that the police threatened to charge them under the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 if they did so. According to Kusum, the police told them, “Tumhare makanmalik ko bol ke tumhara ghar khali karwa denge. Dilli mein nahi reh paogi. Tumhare bacchon ko padosi palenge”—We will talk to your landlords and have you evicted. You won’t be able to live in Delhi. Your neighbours will have to raise your children.

There were even young teenagers among those that the police detained and beat that day. The deceased’s 12-year-old cousin, too, was beaten up. “Police uncle maar rahe the humey,” she said. But what the police told her was more hurtful, she said. “Tumhari behen ki laash lawaris mein jalwa denge. Dekh bhi nahi paogi usko”—We will have your sister’s body declared unclaimed and cremated. You won’t even be able to see her.


Rajpur Gurmandi, where the teenager resided before being employed by the Bansals. According to a Delhi Government report, 69 percent of Rajpur Gurmandi’s residents belong to Scheduled Castes. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

The 12-year-old paused for a moment after telling us this. “Who says things like that?” she said. The relatives told us that a 60-year-old and a 70-year-old were also among the women that the police detained and beat up.

The SHO, Dinesh Kumar, claimed that the police had not handed over the body owing to the absence of a close biological relative. The body was kept in a freezer at the Babu Jagjivan Ram hospital. Dinesh said that the teenager’s biological father was supposed to arrive on 7 October. “We couldn’t have conducted post mortem without the presence of her biological father,” he said.

But Kusum contested the police’s stance. She alleged that the police was using the father’s presence as an excuse to cover-up the circumstances that led to the teenager’s death. “My foster daughter’s sister lived with one of my sisters. We told the police that but they didn’t give the body to even her biological sister,” Kusum said. The teenager’s elder sister lives at another aunt’s home. It is unclear what procedure or rules the police relied on to keep the relatives from claiming the body.

Kusum felt she had a right to her foster daughter’s body. After all, she had raised the child after her sister’s death. “Her father was an alcoholic and none of her four uncles were ready to raise a girl,” she said. “Seven years ago, we came to the city and settled in this ghetto. She stayed with us, with my children, here, before I left her at Bansals’ last month.”

According to a Delhi government report, 69 percent of the population around the drainage canal of Rajpura Gurmandi are from Scheduled Caste groups. Rajpura Gurmandi falls in Model Town tehsil. Around seven thousand workers in the tehsil are marginal workers—those who are do not work or find work for a majority of the year—while around five thousand are engaged in household industries. The tehsil’s total working population is around two lakh. 

When we asked Dinesh if he had taken the statements of the driver, Subhash, the Bansals, or Renu Mittal, he said, “That’s part of the investigation. We can’t tell you what we did and what we are doing.” We said that we only wanted to know if the statements had been taken, not their contents. He repeated that he could not reveal such details.

Dinesh denied the accounts of police brutality. “Yes, we detained them. But we didn’t assault them,” he said. He added, “Kisi ke ghar mein tod fod karenge toh detain toh karenge na”—If they vandalise someone’s home, of course they will be detained. He also denied than any women or men of the deceased teenager’s family were ever beaten under his charge, nor any children or old women. The police does not have the legal right to detain a minor and is required by law to send the minor to an observation home.  

Dinesh’s demeanour was confrontational. He said, “If they were beaten, why didn’t any of them get a medical exam?” According to Kusum and her family, the police had threatened to frame them in false cases. Yet, Dinesh seemed to believe that they could have sought medical attention or lodged complaints at the very police station where they were beaten. 

The police finally allowed a post mortem to be conducted on the fourth day, after the teenager’s father arrived. But not only did it not allow the family to take the body, it prevented them from conducting a cremation with Hindu rituals as they wished to do. On 8 October, the police called Kusum and her husband to the station. “They said the post-mortem report has come so we can take the body. But there was no body. They made us sit in the police station from morning to noon without telling us what was happening,” Kusum said. The police then took them to the mortuary of the Babu Jagjivan Ram hospital and from there, to the Safdarjung Hospital. According to her, the police never intended to hand over the body, but kept them around to fulfil procedural requirements. “Every time they would bring the stretcher and zip down the polythene sheet from my daughter’s face to ask ‘Is this your daughter?’ When we said yes, they would take her away,” Kusum said.

The post-mortem was conducted on 8 October, between 2 and 4 pm, at Safdarjung Hospital. Even before the procedure began, Kusum said, a policemen told them, “However many of your people want to come to the cremation, take them to the cremation grounds directly, you will get the body there.” Kusum said she kept arguing with the policemen that she wanted her foster daughter’s body to be taken to the home and not to the crematorium directly. “Humare mein aurtein samshan ghat nahi jaati, sirf mard jaate hain. Humne unko kaha aap humko ghar jaane do, hum wahin jo karna hai karenge body ke sath,” Kusum told us—In our community, women don’t go to the cremation grounds, only men do. We told them to let us take the body home so we could carry out the rituals at home.

But the cops tricked her, she said. They put the body in a truck and drove it towards Gurmandi, she told us. Kusum’s home is in a small lane, hardly as wide as three feet. Unable to enter, the truck stood near the drainage canal. “The cops wanted me to call our people from home and take them in the truck and drive to the crematorium directly. I was insisting that our daughter’s body be taken down from the truck so we could take her home. I jumped from the truck to discourage them from driving, but they bolted the back of the truck and drove away with only my husband and one sister in it,” Kusum said.

According to Kusum, even before the truck had arrived, the neighbourhood had been surrounded by a huge deployment of policemen. Kusum said her relatives rushed immediately to the crematorium in autos. According to Ramesh, the police burned the body quickly. “They burnt the body within two minutes. The wooden pyre was already arranged and I could smell petrol from it,” he said. “They lit the body and it caught fire so fast. They didn’t let us do any rituals.”

The family’s ordeal did not end there. With the post mortem done, she had expected the police to register an FIR. “Pehle kehte the jab tak post mortem nahi aayegi hum FIR nahi karenge. Jab post mortem aa gayi toh kehte hain aadhi aayi hai, aadhi aani baaki hai”—They first told us that they can’t register an FIR until the post-morten report has come, but now they’re saying only one half has come, and the other half is pending, Kusum said.

Meanwhile, she continued her pursuit for justice. Kusum said she went to meet her local assembly representative, Akhilesh Tripathi, of the Aam Aadmi Party, to seek help. Tripathi has been representing Model Town since 2013. Tripathi suggested the family go to the Delhi Commission for Women. “Two people from the commission came and asked for our statement. Nothing happened after that. When we called them, they said, ‘We can’t come and meet you every day,’” Kusum said.


Kusum told us she also visited the deputy commission of police for the north-west district, Vijayanta Arya. According to her, Arya was condescending and did not even give her a proper hearing. “I started telling her what had happened to our daughter and what police did to us. But she stopped me and said, ‘Mujhe pal pal ki khabar hai’”—I have information of every minute and every second. Kusum did not hear from Arya again.


Neither Tripathi nor Arya answered our calls or texts. At the time of publishing, the DCW had not released any statements taking cognisance of the incident.


Kumar, the SHO at Model Town, denied any foul play in the death or sexual assault even though, by his own admission, the forensic examination the samples taken from the body was due. According to the post-mortem report, the body’s viscera, nail clippings, oral, peri vaginal, low vaginal, anal and perianal swab examination had been sent for examination. Yet, Kumar appeared reassured about his judgment of the case being a “simple suicide.” When we asked when the reports would come, he said, “Ask the national science forensic lab.”

The police have given only three pages of the post mortem report to the deceased teenager’s family. The first page states that the report is a total of 26 pages, including six pictures of the crime scene. But Kumar said the 23 remaining pages were not meant for the family. “The rest of the 23 pages are meant for police work. We gave the parts in which the doctors have given their opinion,” he said. When asked, he was not able to explain what police work those pages would be used in, nor cite which procedure or law stated that the family was not supposed to get the full post mortem report.

On 16 October, Kusum and her family, with support from Delhi University students who live in the neighbourhood, staged a protest outside the Model Town station. The protesting students were also from lower castes and Scheduled Castes, and came from poor backgrounds. Feroz Alam, a student protestor, is a Pasmanda Muslim whose parents are farmers in Champaran in Bihar. “We come from struggle. We were able to make it till here,” Alam said. “How do you expect me to close my eyes when injustice happens around? All we were asking was for an investigation.”


When the teenager’s family protested, demanding an FIR into her death, police officials at the Model Town station detained and beat them brutally. According to the family, eight women and four men were detained, including two senior citizens and one minor. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

During the protest, the Delhi Police forcefully detained several protestors and beat them inside the station. Ahan Penkar, a journalist with The Caravan, was reporting the protest with a press card prominently displayed, but the police detained and assaulted him as well. Ajay Kumar, the assistant commissioner of police for Model Town, beat Penkar and the protestors in the station premises. Penkar suffer injuries on his face, shoulder, back and ankle. Alam suffered a back injury from the beating. Another student said that Kumar “pinned me down, he put his boot on my throat, he abused me ... He used such horrible abuses that I cannot even tell you over the phone.”

Following the assault, the DCP North West’s office posted a tweet calling the teenager’s death “conclusively” a suicide. The police also denied assaulting the students and the journalist. The police has since filed an FIR against nine of the protestors and the journalist. It confirmed to other media houses that the FIR has been filed under the Epidemic Diseases Act and Section 120(B) of the Indian Penal Code, which relates to conspiracy. On 18 October, one of the student protestors visited the Model Town station to ask for the FIR. The police officials said they could not give it to him because it was “sensitive.” 

We called Renu Mittal over the phone but she said she “does not deal in all this.” We visited the Bansals’ home on the evening of 18 October. The guard told us to wait at the gate, saying that Drupadi was upstairs and that he would inform her about our visit through the intercom. He subsequently came outside with a man in his late 30s, who wore a green t-shirt. The man refused to identify himself to us. He told us there was no one in the house, all the while looking into his cellphone and avoiding eye contact. When we pressed further, he retreated into the house. Before leaving the locality, we spoke to the colony guard supervisor. He confirmed that the house we visited was where Drupadi resided, and that her driver Subhash lived there too. His summary of the events of 4 October corroborated Kusum’s timeline.

Kusum has now filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission. Her neighbours and relatives are intent on securing justice. The women, in particular, feel that the case is crucial to their safety as domestic workers. An underserved class of citizens, many of whom belong to lower castes, domestic workers have little protection against sexual assault, exploitation and abuse at work. “What’s our fault? We lost our daughter,” the teenager’s aunt told us. “In this neighbourhood, most of us women work as a maid in those big houses to make our living … we are not safe in those big houses. The women there leave us alone at home and expect us to trust the men of the household. If tomorrow one of us is raped, what will we do? Where will we go to get justice?”