It was always the tattoo that stood out. Peacock tattoo on the waist. It hurt to get it done but then, is there ever any gain without pain? Neetu Singh Solanki knew it only too well. She was a girl from Matiala, the congested suburb in West Delhi that we hear of only during elections, or when a teen has shot himself to death over a family altercation, or when a man is shot dead for marrying out of his gotra. Matiala is that kind of a place you never want to go to because you don’t expect any good to come out of the suburb, notorious for illegal factories and colonies.
It is in this milieu that Neetu Singh Solanki appears like the proverbial phoenix attempting to emerge out of darkness, unhinged, a winner of life. Everyone used the words “courageous” “smart” “bright” “vivacious” to describe her. The fact that she was pretty was a bonus. Nothing could ever pull her down, not her modest roots, not her sexist locality, not her contemptuous neighbours. One day, she said to her parents what they always expected she would: she was moving to Singapore. Trusting parents them all, they dropped her at the airport and expected her to stay in touch.
In just a few months, a sack loaded with a woman’s mutilated limbs was found lying near the New Delhi railway station. It appeared like the gruesome murder of a young woman by someone whom she knew well. Her parents identified the body, and Neetu Singh Solanki became the most controversial figure of Matiala.
I wrote a story about her in Mint right after her murder. I travelled to Matiala, met her family, spoke to the cops and tried very hard to make sense of the murder. Eight years later, her boyfriend, accused of murdering her, died of multiple organ failure in Gurgaon and the case was back in news again. What stunned people was that Raju Gehlot had lived and worked in Gurgaon all these years and faked his identity to escape the police’s eyes.
Every report today seems to be calling her the tattoo girl, and she indeed was. But she was much more – a girl trying to rise above her circumstances to do make something of her life. But we aren’t asking any questions. To the police who couldn’t trace the murderer who was in Delhi all along. To the police who never even filed a chargesheet in the case. To the police who now wants to ask the court to allow them to file a closure report in the case.
This murder was no less gruesome than others. In fact, murders can’t be less or more gruesome. Murder is the forced discontinuation of life and no one has a right to do that to anyone. In Neetu Singh Solanki’s case, who was called many names, not all of it good, by her neighbours, her murder served as an excuse for many in Matiala to deny girls their rightful place within families and society.
Never could anyone doubt the free spirit of Neetu from the pictures on the walls of her home, but what was a matter of pride for her parents, became fodder for gossip for uncaring neighbours. All they could talk about was the tattoo. The tattoo stood for something profound: the courage of a girl to make her choices and live with conviction.