No surprise that fourteen-year-old Khushboo Gulati has stopped going to school for fear of the murderer. "Even if I go to school, I usually faint and face embarrassment when my parents are called to take me home," the Class VIII student admits.
Her mother, Khushboo, like others in her colony at Baljeet Nagar, has lost sleep too ever since their neighbor, Sudarshana Devi, was attacked one and a half months ago. Till recently, the neighbors had kept vigil on the streets.
"Playing cards and gossiping over cups of tea kept fear at bay. But we discontinued this nocturnal vigil when the hammerman moved to other colonies," a worried Khushboo says.
The second attack on Sudarshana on Thursday has left the neighborhood shaken. And it has brought to light six similar cases of attack on women, three of them fatal, in the past two months.
The injured have been identified as Sheila Devi, Tara Devi and Lalita Devi, who is still in a critical condition at Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, while the deceased have been identified as Seema, Rajni and Sudarshana.
The early morning attacks also bear a resonance to similar assaults that were carried out last year. The victims then (Renu and Sagina) luckily survived, making Seema who was attacked in July, the first casualty.
In correspondence with media persons Renu (22), whose courage saved her life last March, recalls "Hammerman attacked me sometime in March last year when he crept into my room and switched off the lights, before placing a heavy hand over my face. I managed to break free and slash his wrist with a knife, that I always keep tucked under my pillow, and raised an alarm. He pulled me by the hair but fled when I continued to shout. Had he not switched off the lights, I'd have identified him."
Neighbours started keeping vigil on the streets and rooftops from 11 pm to 5 am, in the days that followed.
Sagina Khatun (25), who became the assailant's second victim, was quoted: "No one believed me when I told people I'd been attacked, while sleeping in the open. But when I was struck again, this time in my room, I was taken seriously. The first time round I was hit by a blunt object, probably a hammer, on my chest. He hit my stomach the next time, damaging my intestines. This time, we approached the police but no one has been arrested."
Seema (25), who was attacked in July, when she stepped out to relieve herself around 4.30 am, was doomed to be the assailant's first casualty.
Till he is caught, the nightmare is not over for these folks.