| Malati at home in Bijoynagar. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Bijoynagar, May 19: Malati Giri runs no more.
A glass of poison ' pesticide, probably ' provided the young girl her final escape on the morning of May 13.
Four days later, the 14-year-old’s story appeared in this paper with the picture that is reproduced today. In print she’s alive, in reality dead.
Two years ago, Malati had run away from home and into the clutches of a trafficker who took her to Delhi. There she was put to work as a domestic help and physically abused by her employers. She jumped over the gate and ran to the police, a path that brought her back to her family and her village. Not for long.
A family fight or some other cause of despair ' it’s not quite clear what killed her.
Calcutta is only three-and-a-half hours from her village near Contai, but news travels slow ' of the death of an unknown girl.
“We don’t know why she would do this,” say her family and neighbours. “She was always such a cheerful girl.”
Perhaps, that was part of the problem. “Since she came back from Delhi, all she would do is roam around, watch TV, eat. She was very selfish. She would only think of herself.” Bitter words of Pushpa Giri about her dead stepdaughter.
Malati was fourth in a line of seven girls, the last of the four daughters of father Netai’s first wife who died. Times were hard, food was difficult to come by and things went horribly wrong.
“Amar ma raga-ragi kore morechhe (My mother died after a fight),” explains Gayatri, Netai’s second daughter. She doesn’t remember it, of course. The 17-year-old was only a child at the time; Malati was less than a year old.
There is some local gossip about how the young mother died ' some say she was beaten, others that she poisoned herself.
“She would talk back to her husband. He would hit her sometimes,” shrugs Sandhyarani, a neighbour.
The lack of sons may have been a problem before, admitted Gayatri, but not any longer. It is, however, something to talk about.
“These girls have no brothers. It is fate. No matter how bad sons are, they are good,” smiles Pushpa with Uma, her youngest girl at one-and-a-half, in the crook of her arm.
Still, they all insist, Malati was much loved. There was no fighting, though she was often scolded for apparently not doing any work. The bright, brown-eyed girl refused to go and live with her eldest sister in Calcutta, saying she wanted to go back to school, and was hoping to join Class VI.
So why would she give up' There are more rumours ' quickly hushed ' that Malati had an argument at home. Pushpa’s son by a previous husband had come to visit.
“I heard they had a fight about some achar (pickle),” reveals Shikha, Malati’s friend who has also recently returned after being trafficked to Jaipur.
On her last morning, Malati went to Shikha’s house. Her friend was alone, but for her young nephew.
“She was sitting on the bed outside while I went in to cook lunch,” Shikha explains. When she came out a few minutes later, Malati was lying down, clutching her throat. A crowd soon gathered around the body racked by seizures.
Mustard oil, tamarind and egg were forced down her dying throat, believed to be antidotes to begun gachher oshudh (pesticide for eggplant). She died on the way to hospital.
For Shikha, Malati’s death is a matter of fate, just as her own future is. “What will happen to me now has already been written in the stars,” says the 17-year-old who won’t go back to school for shame of failure.
This is what life has taught Shikha. Her elder sister Mita had a love marriage but her in-laws refused to accept her, at least for free. The demand was Rs 60,000. It was not paid. Mita died soon after.
Whether destiny stopped Malati short or the other way around, she will not be the last to go away thus ' to death or Delhi to work as a domestic help.