Hope, and caution in tale of murder of a role model | Latest News Delhi - Hindustan Times
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Hope, and caution in tale of murder of a role model

Feb 14, 2024 06:20 AM IST

Nikki Yadav was killed by her partner in Delhi last year. Her story highlights the challenges faced by women in pursuing their dreams.

Nikki Yadav and her infinite dreams were always an inspiration for the girls of Kheri village in Haryana’s Jhajjar. She wanted to crack the medical entrance test, pivoted towards becoming a college lecturer, enrolled in UPSC coaching classes – and lived an independent life in Delhi’s Uttam Nagar.

Sahil Gehlot and Nikki Yadav. (File) PREMIUM
Sahil Gehlot and Nikki Yadav. (File)

“She wanted to create opportunities for other girls in the village. Nikki was their role model. Other girls too wanted to score well, get in to college in Delhi, work outside the village, and dream big... Like her,” said Nikki’s father, Sunil Yadav (46).

But the 22-year-old met a cruel end on February 10 last year when she was strangled in a car inside the parking lot of Nigambodh Ghat in Delhi, and her body was stuffed inside a fridge at a roadside dhaba in southwest Delhi’s Mitraon village, allegedly by her partner, Sahil Gehlot.

Hours after she was killed, Sahil got married – a photo of which surfaced on social media, post his arrest by the Delhi police on February 14. Three days later, his father, two cousins, and two friends were also arrested under sections pertaining to criminal conspiracy, destruction of evidence, and harbouring a criminal.

Days after Nikki’s body was recovered, however, police found out that Nikki and Sahil – who had been together since 2018 – secretly got married in 2020 in Greater Noida.

“Sahil was under family’s pressure to marry the woman they had picked for him. His family did not approve of his relationship with Nikki, as she belonged to another caste. Sahil killed Nikki because she learnt about his engagement with another woman and threatened to make their relationship and secret wedding public,” said a Delhi Police crime branch officer aware of the investigation.

A year later, Sahil and his five accomplices remain lodged in Tihar jail, Nikki’s family battles grief and anger, and the girls of Kheri village wonder why their parents won’t let them dream like Nikki, who was an inspiration to them.

Born in a modest household in Kheri village, Nikki was the eldest of Sunil and Sunita Yadav’s two children. Till Class 6, she studied in Saraswati Public School in the village, approximately 60km away from Delhi, and shifted to MRV Public School in Delhi’s Dwarka, after her father moved there for work.

“She scored 94.2% in Class 12 but didn’t crack the medical entrance test,” said her father. It was in 2018, while preparing for the exam in Uttam Nagar in Delhi that Nikki met Sahil, who was studying to clear the Staff Selection Commission (SSC) exam.

A senior crime branch officer, who asked not to be named, told HT, “They both travelled in the same bus, became friends and soon got into a relationship. The same year, they took admission in a private university in Greater Noida and started living together in a rented flat near college. They moved back to their respective homes in 2020 when there was a Covid-19 lockdown. In October 2020, they secretly got married and moved to a rented flat in Dwarka sector 23, and finally to a flat in Uttam Nagar.”

Police said that their families did not know that they were married. “Sahil’s father pressured him to marry another woman, and he agreed to do that. The wedding functions were on February 9 and 10, and Nikki had no idea about this,” a second officer said.

On the day of the engagement, as Nikki packed her bags for a solo trip to Goa, she found out about Sahil’s plans. Her first few calls to him went unanswered, said another investigator, after which she texted Sahil that if he didn’t call back, she would show up at his house.

The crime branch officers in their charge sheet of the case, running into nearly 500 pages and filed before the court in May last year, claimed that Sahil panicked, informed his friends Lokesh Yadav (26) and Ashish Gehlot (22), who in turn advised him to turn to his father, Virender Singh (50).

“Sahil’s father feared his image in society will get spoilt and told his son to get rid of Nikki by killing her. While their guests were busy at the engagement ceremony, Sahil’s father called a meeting at the venue with Sahil, his two friends, and his two nephews, Naveen Kumar (32) and Amar Gehlot (27),” said a third crime branch officer.

Police claimed that their interrogation revealed that the men reached the consensus of killing Nikki as soon as possible, so that Sahil’s wedding celebrations don’t get thwarted. “It was at this meeting that Sahil told his family about secretly getting married to Nikki. It was decided that he will return home only after killing her,” said the second crime branch officer.

That night, Sahil called Nikki, and told her he was on his way to their Uttam Nagar home, and ready to elope. Around 1.30 am, in a white Verna car, he reached their rented flat, where the two fought.

“He managed to convince her that he only wanted a future with her and agreed to take the train to Goa in the morning. When they didn’t get an extra ticket, they decided to leave for Himachal Pradesh, and finally reached Kashmere Gate,” said a third crime branch officer, as he quoted Sahil’s disclosures.

Police said that around 7.30am, Sahil’s family called him incessantly and asked him to return home soon. “The couple got into another argument and in a bid to avoid their arguments being noticed by the public, he drove the car to the Nigam Bodh Ghat parking lot. The argument got ugly, and Sahil picked up a data cable, tied it around Nikki’s neck and strangled her inside the car,” the third officer said.

He was then asked to bring the body to the family dhaba in Mitraon village, which had been temporarily shut due to the wedding.

“Sahil put the seat belt around Nikki’s body on the front passenger seat, switched off her mobile phone, and then drove over 40km to reach the dhaba. He was constantly in touch with the five co-conspirators who met him midway, on an isolated stretch near a luxury hotel in west Delhi’s Paschim Vihar. They all checked Nikki’s body for a heartbeat... Just to be sure that she was dead,” said the fourth crime branch officer.

While Sahil’s father and his cousin left for home, he drove to the dhaba with the other three. “They were confused about where to hide the body, as the dhaba did not have a strong gate. So, they let the body in the car at the dhaba, and returned a day after – once the wedding was done,” said the fourth crime branch officer.

He claimed that Sahil suggested the fridge as the hiding spot. “They positioned the refrigerator with its door facing a wall to ensure it did not open. For the next three days, Sahil visited the dhaba at least four times to check on the body, and to ensure that it’s not emanating a foul stench,” said at least two of the four officers, who quoted the disclosures of the arrested men.

The matter only reached the police after a guest at Sahil’s wedding followed him to the dhaba after he suspected that something was up. “The guest’s suspicion was that Sahil was secretly meeting a girlfriend... Instead, the guest found him looking at a body there. The next day, on February 14, the guest informed his friend, an assistant sub-inspector (ASI) with the Delhi Police posted at the crime branch’s western range office in Rajouri Garden, about this,” a crime branch officer told HT.

Sahil was arrested that day from Mitraon village, and a case under sections 302 (murder) and 201 (destruction of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was filed against him.

Two months ago, Sahil’s father’s bail application was rejected by a Delhi court on the grounds that he might influence private witnesses of the case or abscond.

Back in Kheri village, a 13-year-old girl, who was home tutored by Nikki, said that since the murder, she has lost hope that her parents will ever let her leave the village.

“Didi used to guide us, motivate us. She took our unit tests seriously, unlike our families who want us to focus more on household chores. My parents and other elders of the village feel that studying outside the village will result in a similar fate,” said the Class 7 student, who did not wish to be named.

Roshni Devi (44), who lives 300 metres away from Nikki’s home in Kheri, said that Nikki was a kohinoor, and is dearly missed. “But we no longer feel safe sending our girls outside the village. We won’t encourage them to stay in Delhi, take up rented accommodation or even a hostel. Look at what happened to Nikki... It’s scary, we can’t get over it,” she said.

From being an inspiration to many, Nikki’s story became a cautionary tale in the village after she was killed. “The tradition of getting daughters married early was right. Giving exposure and freedom to girls leads to such incidents,” said Ramswarup Singh, a resident of Kheri village.

Meanwhile, Nikki’s father is on a mission to spread awareness among girls in Kheri: “Don’t trust boys easily.” He now awaits justice.

“Sahil didn’t just kill our daughter; he ended the hopes of scores of girls who hoped to leave this village behind to study in Delhi like their Nikki didi or become doctors and engineers. This incident has not only changed our lives, but has also impacted the village,” said Sunil.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Karn Pratap Singh has been writing on crime, policing, and issues of safety in Delhi for almost a decade. He covers high-intensity spot news, including terror strikes, serial blasts and security threats in the national capital.

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Leena Dhankhar has worked with Hindustan Times for five years. She has covered crime, traffic and excise. She now reports on civic issues and grievances of residents.

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