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Raju Saini appears fidgety and nervous as he talks about his cousin. He speaks matter-of-factly, but there is a hint of caution in his voice, as if he is wary of what we might think about him and the place where he lives. Fifteen minutes into the conversation, he says what has been on his mind.
“We know what we are going through. Now even if people don’t say it out openly, they know we are from Ravidas camp, and eye us with suspicion whenever we go to work. This incident has given us a bad name,” said the 40-year-old man. Saini is tall and lanky with salt-and-pepper hair and a thin moustache, and was wearing grey thermals on the day we met in the slum.
Saini’s cousin is Ram Singh, probably the most hated man in the country. He is the main accused in the assault and rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in a moving bus in Delhi on Dec. 16. The woman died two weeks later after being moved to a hospital in Singapore. The assault, along with four other adults and a juvenile, shocked India and the world, and renewed public debate over the failure of authorities to stem violence against women.
Raju and his wife Asha live in a small one-room dwelling in a slum in the southern part of New Delhi. The slum, known as Ravidas camp, is where four of the six accused in the crime were living before being arrested. It is nestled between a derelict medieval tomb and a temple. Like many slums, dark, narrow lanes snake through shabby quarters, communal taps and open sewers. And like many slums in India’s cities, it squats amid a largely middle-class neighbourhood.