The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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I started calling them bhaiya: Roma

Roma Jhawar, kidnapped barely 50 metres from her Salt Lake home on the morning of February 4, breaks her silence in an interview with Devadeep Purohit. Sitting in the first-floor residence of the Jhawars at CB 68, wearing a blue salwar-kameez, the 20-year-old recounts the 20 hours she spent in captivity.

Like any other day, I was going to college with my friend on February 4. It was the birthday of my nephew Vedant and he was also with me.

Near CA island, a white Maruti Omni sped up from behind and blocked our way. I thought our driver might have made some mistake and there would be the usual altercation between the drivers. But four gun-toting men jumped out and one of them trained the gun on Vedant while the other accosted our driver Sukumar.

I wailed for help and wanted to run away, but it was not possible. Two of them forcibly took away Vedant from me and threw him in my friend's lap. I was dragged to the Omni and pushed to the back seat. I asked what was my fault and why were they doing it to me. They said: 'We are doing it for money, we just need money'

I told them to take me back home and my parents would give them money. I kept on pleading but they were in no mood to listen.

By that time it was clear to me that I was kidnapped for ransom. After around 20 minutes, one of them asked me to call up my father from my cellphone. But since papa was not picking up the phone, I tried bhabi's number. The family by then got to know about the incident and my brother took the call. I addressed him as papa as my abductors wanted me to speak to my father. I informed him about their demand and then they took the cellphone from me, talked to him and took out the SIM card.

Since I was looking down, I spotted loads of arms stacked under the seat. They also had bombs, which they were referring to as alu. While I looked at the arms, one of them, who was wearing a Nike cap, asked whether I had ever seen a gun. I mumbled 'no' and they broke into laughter. Later, they removed the arms.

I was scared but tried to remain composed holding my Hanumanji locket. I requested them to treat me as their sister and started calling them bhaiya, and later I realised that it worked.

Mujhe meri aur apne parivarwalon ki izzat ki phikar thi, isi liye mein unse sahi bartav kar rahi thi (I was concerned about my and my family's honour, that's why I was trying to behave properly with them).

Gunjan appears

The Omni, in the meantime, had stopped once in the Phoolbagan area and Gunjan got into the van. (Here I want to mention that a lot of things are being said about my relationship with Gunjan. I want to make it clear that I had never seen him before the incident.)

It was clear that Gunjan was the head of the gang. Shortly after boarding the vehicle, he brought out a syringe and said he would give me an injection. I told them that I am scared of injections and requested them not to do it. Then they wanted to blindfold me and I resisted that move as well.

All this while, the car was going around the city and abiding by the instruction, I kept my head down. But I could make out that it was taking narrow lanes and had stopped once at a petrol pump. Gunjan, sitting next to the driver, was playing the navigator's role.

Then they offered me mishti doi. I could sense that we were somewhere around Park Circus. I was quite sure that their main intention was to make me unconscious, and so I played a small trick. I told them that they would have to share the mishti doi with me, which they did. Despite having very little, I was feeling a little drowsy.

Around noon, the car stopped and I was asked to get down. There were seven persons with me and they sort of circled me to ensure no one could see me. Then I was taken inside a brick house, where I spotted a lady and a kid. Two gang members, the one in the Nike cap and the other, referred to as MBBS, stayed back.

As Gunjan had told me twice or thrice that my brother had done a wrong thing by informing police and the media about the incident, I was sure that my abduction was already in the news. So, when the lady (Sandhya Das, as reported in The Telegraph on February 10) entered the room and asked me if I wanted anything, I requested her to switch on the TV. But she told me that they did not have a cable connection, which was really surprising for me as the room had a decent sound system and a DVD player.

Sholay on DVD

The lady asked whether I wanted to see a movie. I reluctantly said 'yes', and she played Sholay for me. After some time, the kid (Digha) came into the room, and wanted to play Ludo. All this while, the man in the Nike cap was keeping an eye on me and when the lady was not around, he whispered into my ears: 'These people don't know that we have kidnapped you. So behave normally.'

After some time they asked me to have some food. I told them that I was a vegetarian and they gave me Maggi. I didn't like the taste but had it as the man in the Nike cap instructed me to eat. I did not want to antagonise them and obeyed all their orders.

Then, I went to the bathroom, which was covered by jute curtains. It was the first time that I was left alone and I wanted to make use of it. I slowly brought out the other cellphone, which I had got from a friend the day before, from my bag and called up the friend to check the location. As I was taking time, the man in the Nike cap asked me to come out and I came out after splashing water on my face.

Around 7 pm, we left the brick house in an Omni. It was dark and so I could not make out the colour of the van, but it was not the same van. It seemed like a never-ending drive and the car stopped only once when Gunjan asked for Rs 300 from me. He said he would buy a SIM card and talk to my father. They called up my father and discussed the ransom money and the place where it could be handed over to them. Then I was allowed to speak to my parents.

Around midnight, the car stopped and I was dragged out of the van and put into a taxi. The taxi was then taken inside a garage and Gunjan told me that he was going to collect the money and would be back in an hour.

Sitting in the back seat ' two of the gang members were sitting in the front ' I could feel I was getting closer to freedom. But the wait was too long. I started getting restless and I could easily make out the men in the front felt the same way.

Gunjan and the others came back after around three hours and they looked very happy. As they started discussing their shares, I requested them to let me go.

After some time, there were signs of tension. I overheard them. They were discussing how to get me out of the place before dawn. Around 4.30 am, I was taken out of the garage and driven to Phoolbagan. They told me to take a taxi from Phoolbagan Bata and go home. I was asked not to switch on my cellphone before reaching home.

Freedom, finally

The car stopped and they also got down with me and started walking towards the Bata showroom. But from a distance they spotted some policemen and ran away. I walked up to the policemen and while I was talking to them, my cousin and brother, who were going round the city searching for me, traced me and came to the spot. I broke down after seeing my brother and he took me home.

I am happy to be back home and am convinced that I could come out of the crisis only because of my faith in Hanumanji. My family members are doing their best to help me get over the trauma and I am sure that I will come out of it and again lead a normal life.

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