The arrest of alleged serial rapist Sunil Rastogi last week did not come as a surprise to those who knew him — be it his wife who remembers his obsession with Crime Patrol, or his sister who says she tried everything to stop him.
When the Rastogi family shifted from NCR to the Uttar Pradesh town of Bilaspur in 2015, they hoped for a fresh start. Sunil Rastogi, a 38-year-old tailor, took a Rs 10,000 loan to buy two new sewing machines, and the family of seven rented a two-room house for Rs 3,000 a month. All they hoped now was that Sunil would change too.
Sunil’s sister, who stayed with her husband less than a kilometre away, was ready to help him. She let him use a part of her home to set up the sewing machines and stitch clothes. Soon enough, customers started coming, and business was steady. The family had reasons to believe Sunil had turned over a new leaf.
Except, he hadn’t.
On January 14 this year, Sunil was arrested for allegedly raping a minor girl. During interrogation, he told police that he would routinely take the train from Rudrapur in Uttarakhand — which is 2 km from Bilaspur — to Delhi-NCR to allegedly target unattended minor girls. Often, he would tell them he knew their father, and would lead them to isolated spots. Some girls got away, others weren’t so lucky. He also claimed to have targeted about 600 girls, though police are yet to verify this figure.
For his wife, though, these revelations are not new. The family moved to Bilaspur after Sunil was accused of sexually assaulting girls in Noida’s Buddh Vihar. While the victims’ families never pressed charges, those in the locality made sure the Rastogis left.
“Everything can change, but I understand now that a person’s habits can’t,” said Sunil’s 32-year-old wife, sitting on a wooden plank.
Sixteen years ago, when they got married, Sunil, then 22, was “an excellent tailor, popularly called master ji”. He stitched at least four trousers and a shirt each day. “If anyone wore his clothes, they would come back to get more stitched. He was gifted, but his mind was never in his work,” she said.
Ever since Sunil’s arrest, she and their five children — three daughters and two sons — have been staying at her sister-in-law’s home.
“When police came to arrest him, they said they had spent many sleepless nights because of him. I was afraid he had again done something bad to little girls. Then the officer showed us the video,” she said. The video she referred to is footage from CCTVs installed in New Ashok Nagar, where Sunil was found allegedly stalking girls and pretending to speak to their fathers on the phone.
While arresting him, police asked his wife to fetch a red striped sweater he would often wear while allegedly committing the crimes. In fact, such was his belief in superstition that he would wear the same clothes and shoes, and take the same train every time he would go to Delhi, police said.
His wife said his obsession with minor girls was a “routine affair” ever since they got married, but this is the first time it has got “media attention”. “Kya chance hai uska bahar nikalne ka (What are the chances of him getting out),” she asked. Sunil is the only breadwinner, and his wife is disabled, barely able to walk.
All she took to her sister-in-law’s home are a few utensils, clothes and an empty 5 kg gas cylinder. “He could have made so much money for us, but he never tried and left me in debt. Sometimes, I sleep on an empty stomach,” she said.
Sunil’s daughter recently started working as a domestic help for Rs 700 a month, while his son works as a salesman in Delhi. Most of his salary goes in repaying the loan. “The kind of crimes my husband committed, I fear what if people do the same to my daughter,” his wife said.
She said that when Sunil was confronted in the past, he swore on his children never to do it again. “He said he will resist the temptation, but I could never understand him… He would stop stitching and go into deep thinking. He used to leave home abruptly and come a day later. I could never get through to him,” she said. Once, he took the sewing machines and threw them on the ground, saying he didn’t want to be a tailor anymore.
When he was at home, he would only watch two television shows — Savdhaan India and Crime Patrol. Both feature crime stories inspired by real life events, and detail how police caught the culprit. “He paid so much attention, like he was taking ideas,” she said.
She said she has contemplated suicide, but the thought of her children kept her going.
Sunil’s 35-year-old sister is married to a plumber in the area. Most residents in Bilaspur’s Sharda Colony are aware of the incident by now. “I have given his wife refuge, but we are very scared… Everyone has abandoned her,” his sister said.
She maintained that Sunil never did anything untoward at home. “There are four minor girls at home, including his daughters, but he never did anything to them. I don’t know what got into him outside. We tried everything at our disposal, but nothing changed him,” she said.
She held up her brother’s wallet, which had four train tickets tucked inside.
January 9 is the day she remembered most distinctly. That’s when her husband and Sunil took Sunil’s daughter to Delhi-NCR because she was “depressed and had fever”. But once they reached in the morning, Sunil stepped out, promising to return in an hour-and-a-half. However, he didn’t return that day.
“His daughter went to the hospital by herself,” Sunil’s 35-year-old brother-in-law said.
According to police, Sunil had spent the day looking for unattended girls in the area. Around the same time, he is alleged to have taken two girls, aged 10 and 11, to isolated buildings, but both managed to escape.
The cases involving the two girls, and the rape of a seven-year-old on December 13, 2016, led police to believe there was a pattern: A man would approach unattended girls, tell them he knew their father, and attempt to rape them. What started as an investigation into a few isolated cases shed light on how one man had targeted a large number of children in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.
Though his claims that he targeted about 600 girls are yet to be verified, DCP (east Delhi) Omvir Bishnoi said, “He has been doing this for about 13 years; he told police he would do it every week. We have requested the public to come forward if they have such complaints.”
Speaking to neighbours and relatives shed light on how Sunil’s obsession with minors was something of an open secret. It also raised questions on how he got away with it for so long. Originally from Rampur, Sunil stayed at Gali Number 23 in Noida’s Buddh Vihar — which borders Ghaziabad — between 2004 and 2015. During this time, he went to jail four times, twice for kidnapping minor girls.
An electronics repair shop owner, who did not wish to be named, said Sunil often borrowed money from people but never returned it. “He owes me Rs 6 lakh. Once, he was almost lynched over an incident involving a minor,” he claimed.
Manish Rastogi, a distant relative, said Sunil’s family was forced to move to Bilaspur because of his actions. He alleged that Sunil would even steal earrings from the girls he would target so he could sell them.
As per Ghaziabad and Noida police records, Sunil has landed in jail under charges such as kidnapping, wrongful restraint and drug possession but he would always get out by convincing someone to post bail for him.
People in Buddh Vihar also vividly remember him being beaten up in public by a man who alleged Sunil had tried to target his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. But no complaint was lodged because he felt Sunil had received “enough of a beating”.
In September 2012, a seven-year-old girl, barely a kilometre from her home, was allegedly lured by Sunil, who offered her a toffee and said her father had sent him. The girl’s father recalled, “He pretended he was speaking to me, but my daughter was smart enough to realise I did not have a mobile phone at the time. She raised an alarm and locals caught him.”
He said he lodged a complaint at Vijay Nagar police station in Ghaziabad, and a case was registered. “Many people gave statements against the accused. I went for several hearings, but then it became too tedious. I told police I can’t do it anymore,” he said.
Sunil, arrested in a kidnapping case at the time, was eventually released 10 months later.
About 200 km away, in Rudrapur, another father recalled something similar happening to his 10-year-old daughter on February 10, 2016. Sunil managed to take the girl to an isolated spot. However, a shopkeeper who knew her father identified her and caught hold of Sunil. The father said he was beaten up at the spot. “He was then brought to our home. He was very calm, as if the incident made no difference to him. We had to lock him in a room to save him from getting lynched,” he said.
Police had to be called to get Sunil out safely. The next day, the news was all over the local newspapers.
The SHO at the local police station, Sushil Kumar, said a case under various IPC sections and the POCSO Act was registered and Sunil was jailed for six months. “But he got bail in August last year. We are looking for people in Uttarakhand who vouched for him,” he said.