MUMBAI: Nearly a month after a masked man flung acid on Preeti Rathi (25) in the busy Bandra Terminus, the Delhi girl succumbed to her injuries at Bombay Hospital on Saturday. The GRP will now slap murder charges against the suspect, now in judicial custody.
Despite suffering deep internal burns due to ingestion of the chemical, Preeti initially showed signs of recovery by scribbling notes and communicating with her family at the Masina Hospital in Byculla. But that stopped about two weeks ago, when she developed pneumonia. Her last words to her family were that of concern about how they would bear the expenses if she was shifted to Bombay Hospital in Marine Lines.
The bleeding from the food pipe could not be stopped as doctors had to treat fresh bleeding from other organs with every passing day. Her condition deteriorated on Saturday morning when her blood pressure started fluctuating. Her heart stopped at 4pm and all attempts to revive her failed.
“She died of cardio respiratory arrest. Several of her organs had stopped working,” said Dr Ashok Gupta, consultant plastic surgeon, Bombay Hospital. He said that in the past two weeks she was administered platelets, proteins, antibiotics but nothing seemed to work till the end.
“The infection only worsened and our hopes of operating on her never materialized,” he said. Doctors at the Bombay Hospital refused to comment on whether there was negligence on the part of Masina Hospital in treating Rathi as was alleged by her family. “She came to us in a critical condition. She never gained consciousness even once and was sedated most of the time,” Gupta said.
Rathi’s parents were inconsolable. Her father Amarsingh never anticipated such an end and had even visited the Army Medical College in Colaba to ask for an extension of her joining date. The girl had come to the city to join as a nurse in the medical college. “All we want now is justice. The culprit should not go scot free,” said her cousin Shamsher Singh.
The death also dealt a heavy blow to the GRP’s investigation. Officers had been banking heavily on her recovery so that they could get more leads from her. “She had a lot of difficulty communicating with us and would only scribble on paper as she couldn’t talk. It was like a jigsaw puzzle for us. Her notes will now be treated as her dying declaration,” said GRP commissioner Prabhat Kumar.
The police had arrested a BTech student from Haryana Pawan Gehlaun on May 10 after the victim stated that she had seen him at Delhi station before boarding the Garib Rath. The police also claimed that Gehlaun matched the identity sketch prepared according to descriptions provided by the victim’s uncle, Vinod Dahiya. The charges against Gehlaun will now be upped from ‘attempt to commit murder’ to ‘murder’ under Section 302 of IPC.
But, the GRP has been unable to find any strong evidence showing Gehlaun’s involvement. He also refused to give consent for a lie-detector test. The probe was also hit when the victim’s father filed an affidavit before court stating that Gehlaun wasn’t the attacker and that the investigation should be transferred to the CBI or CID.
Subsequently, the probe was transferred to the railway crime branch. “We will prepare an inquest panchnama and send the victim’s body for an autopsy to the JJ Hospital, before handing it to her family for conducting last rites,” said NS Shaikh, senior inspector of the railway crime branch. The family is taking the body to Delhi for the final rites. “The investigation hasn’t concluded yet,” said Kumar, adding that there was a possibility of teams being sent to Delhi once again.
Preeti Rathi: A life cruelly cut short
Attacked on arrival
On May 2, Preeti Rathi got off Garib Rath Express at Bandra terminus in Mumbai with her father, aunt and uncle. Moments later a masked man threw acid at her, inflicting severe burn injuries.
From Narela, northwest of Delhi, it was Preeti’s maiden visit to Mumbai, where she was to join the Army Medical College in Colaba as a nurse.
Police probe and holes
The Bandra GRP studied CCTV footage from Bandra terminus and prepared identity sketches of the attacker according to the description provided by the victim’s uncle, Vinod Dahiya. An army man, Dahiya had seen a youth carrying a plastic can in the train as it passed Surat.
Police teams sent to Delhi quizzed the victim’s family and neighbours.
On May 10, the police arrested a BTech student hailing from Rohtak, Pawankumar Gehlaun (24). The victim had spotted him at Delhi station before boarding the train.
Another suspect, Satyam, was detained by the police but released in a few days when CCTV images showed he was at the Delhi University on May 2.
GRP officials claimed Gehlaun matched the sketch and his gait was similar to that of the attacker, but could not gather strong evidence against him; his mobile location did not indicate his presence in the city on May 2.
The victim’s father filed an affidavit before a railway court claiming Gehlaun was not the attacker and sought transfer of the case to the CID or CBI.
Gehlaun refused consent for a lie-detector test. He is currently in judicial custody.
The investigation has been transferred to the railway crime branch.
The battle in hospital
After the attack, Preeti was taken to Masina Hospital with severe burn injuries on her face, chest and arms. Her right eye was damaged beyond repair.
Ingestion of acid damaged her food pipe and windpipe.
She developed fistula that infected her lungs and gave way to pneumonitis.
On May 18, she was shifted to Bombay Hospital in a critical condition.
An infection in her lungs spread to both her kidneys.
All this while, the bleeding from her food pipe could not be controlled.
Her blood pressure dipped abnormally and continued to fluctuate as her condition deteriorated.
Her heart stopped functioning around 4pm on Saturday.
Innocent or guilty?
After the death of the acid attack victim, Preeti Rathi, the railway police will be booking the accused Pawan Gehlaun (24) for murder. Earlier, Gehlaun had been booked in an attempt-to-murder case.
“We would be preparing an inquest panchnama of the body after which it will be handed over to her family,” a railway crime branch officer said. Gehlaun is in judicial custody. He was arrested after the victim told the police that she had spotted him at Delhi railway station before boarding the train. The police had also arrested another suspect, Satyam, who was released when CCTV footage confirmed that he was at work on the day of the incident. The railway police do not have much evidence against Gehlaun who has refused to undergo a lie-detector test. The victim’s father had filed an affidavit in the court stating that Gehlaun was not the attacker. However, with Preeti’s death, the police who were banking on her to identify whether Gehlaun was her attacker, it would be hard for them to prove their case against him.