On 20 September 2015, Hindustan Times published a news report titled, Lahore-Delhi bus delayed due to protest at Samalkha. According to the report, the Sada-e-Sarhad bus, which runs between Delhi and Lahore, had been delayed for around half an hour on 19 September due to a protest at Samalkha, near Panipat. The police, the story went on to say, “had to resort to a mild lathi charge to clear the highway.” The report noted that this protest had been prompted by the death of Dr Sunita Arora “under suspicious circumstances at her maternity home” following a raid that had been conducted at her clinic by a team of health officials on 18 September, the previous day. The story was a standard dispatch, and ordinarily, I would not have paid close attention to it. But I had not chanced upon this story; I had searched for it, because I had come to know about Sunita Arora’s death through her daughter, Ishita. Both Ishita and I had—at separate points of time—been a part of the Young India Fellowship, a post-graduate programme that I had undertaken two years ago.
A day before the Hindustan Times report was published, Ishita had put up a post on Facebook that alleged that the five government officials who conducted the raid had killed her mother. The contents of the note, as well as the nature of the tragedy, were both equally alarming.
On Sunday, 20 September, I went to visit Ishita and her family at their house. Samalkha, a nondescript town in Panipat, is known primarily for its manufacturing industries. As I made my way there, I could not help but notice the narrow lanes that made it nearly impossible for more than one car to traverse the street without causing a traffic jam. Nestled among several shops, the Aroras’ house is located on one such road, above “Sunita’s Maternity Centre.”
When I went in, the clinic was overflowing with people who had come there to pay their condolences. There were just as many people upstairs. The snatches of the conversations that I overheard were all centered on the events that had led to this untimely death. As is often the case in such situations, everyone seemed to have a firm opinion on how the Aroras should proceed. Their suggestions ranged from putting up the CCTV footage from the clinic on Facebook so that Sunita’s death could get “more attention,” to suggesting that Ishita and her brother, Ishan, conduct another rally. It was against the backdrop of this charged atmosphere that Ishita had written the Facebook post.
In fact, at 6 am that morning, Ishita and her family had also gone to meet Manohar Lal Khattar, the chief minister of Haryana, after they heard that he would be passing by Karnal. The chief minister had assured them that justice would take its due course.