There is no peace for not just the family of the victims but that of the accused too, in the wake of a child’s murder
“If my father has done it, then he should meet his judgment and I won’t care even if it is death,” said Jiva*, 30 years old and employed as a software engineer.
Jiva is a troubled young man. His father Raja* and mother Rani* are both in jail, charged with the rape and murder of a 4-year-old child in Annanur, about 21 kilometres from Chennai.
The child was found dead about 45 days ago. Initially thought to be missing from her house, she was found lifeless in the bathroom of her own home two hours later.
The Thirumullavoyal police, after investigations, arrested the elderly ex-Army man Raja and his wife Rani, who lived next door. The couple was also related to the victim.
Ever since, Jiva, the son of the accused, says he is in a state of shock. He told The Lede that he is unable to digest the accusations against his strict father.
Despite the disbelief, he appears more worried about the loss to the victim’s family than the plight of his parents. “It is a terrible loss and I don’t wish to support my parents who are accused of killing a child. I am also a father of two young kids,” Jiva told The Lede.
Police officers from the Thirumullavoyal station who are investigating the case confirmed to The Lede that Jiva was not present near his parents’ home on the day of the crime and arrived there late, only after the police had reached the spot.
Jiva said that he did not live with his parents after his marriage. He used to visit them during weekends and holidays. His house is three kilometres away from his parents’ home.
Despite this, the wrath of the community has turned on Jiva.
The loss of a child is tough to bear. But when the child is raped and murdered, every parent’s nightmare comes home to roost.
It is in this tinderbox of emotions that the victim’s family and their friends in the neighbourhood view Jiva.
They doubt him, suspect he is trying to help his parents get off the hook and even have a variety of theories about him.
A week after the police arrested his parents Jiva was seen entering their house, the alleged crime scene as per police records. This raised hackles in the neighbourhood.
The victim’s father Murugan*, 35 alleges – without any proof - that Jiva was at the house to remove evidence. “I saw them riding away on two-wheelers. He (Jiva) was wearing a helmet and carried a suitcase and policemen accompanied him,” said Murugan to The Lede.
However, a police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Lede - “We needed the accused’s proof of age so we took his son to his house to retrieve it.”
The officer also noted that the house was stormed by an angry mob, a day after the couple’s arrest, and was ransacked completely.
“There were shattered broken glasses everywhere and everything was a mess. Sensing that it was a risk to stay there too long, the officer suggested we leave the place at once,” Jiva recollected.
“I had kept my property and loan documents in there. So, after finding my father’s Aadhaar card, I packed all my documents in a suitcase I found nearby and we left immediately,” added Jiva.
Murugan’s family is unable to bear the sudden loss of their young child. They are undergoing rehabilitative counselling, but peace is a far cry. Murugan is not as yet in a state where he even wants peace.
“Only after they are proved guilty in the court will I leave this house for work,” said the grief-stricken father. “Both my kids used to go there, to get their (Raja and Rani) blessings on auspicious days. It never struck me, that they would be so ruthless,” added Murugan.
Murugan’s family friend and professor Gunasekharan, who is providing moral support to the family offered The Lede a theory, again, without proof.
“This may not be their first crime possibly. I suspect him to be a potential paedophilic psychopath. There must be some trophy evidence in that house.”
When questioned about this, the police dismissed the claim as imaginary.
Gunasekharan claimed that while it was mandatory to protect the crime scene, the police left the house in Jiva’s custody. “He must have already accessed these evidences when he entered that house. He is a suspect too and has to be arrested,” he alleged.
But police do not view Jiva as a suspect.
Gunasekharan shared a letter with The Lede, which he had drafted to the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), which reiterated his observations related to the case.
“The presence of 70 biscuit pockets in his house that also on the end of the month in the hands of the diabetes patient increases the possibility of the suspicion on him that he could be a potential psychopath. The reasons for the presence of the biscuit pockets and surgical knives must be thoroughly investigated. More than that, the presence of the broken piece of the bangle, possibly of some other child raises more suspicion. Because as you know well, the psychopaths are known for collecting trophies after every crime they commit,” (sic) states the letter.
The child’s murder has shocked the neighbourhood, with people saying they feel haunted by having lived with “such a neighbour” for so long. CCTV cameras are being arranged for all corners, entrances and exits to the area.
The Lede spoke to a few residents to understand their concerns.
Their account of the ex-Army man appears distorted by the recent gory case he is accused in, yet they recall his wife as an “emotional” lady, who used to take good care of her dog.
A retired railway employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “He faced a lot of problems due to his weakness for ladies, but never did I imagine him to be so ruthless.” This railways employee detailed a local scandal that was finally settled at the Villivakkam police station. No case was filed.
A woman in the neighbourhood said, “He used to show a bossy attitude, quite intimidating. But his wife was an emotional type.”
Even the victim’s mother recalled the wife as being “over emotional”.
“Once, she cried at the top of her voice, so we rushed to their house in a hurry. An aged person and distant relative of her’s had expired. And this is how she reacted to news over a phone call.”
“But on that day, when my child died, she stood in a corner and did not even cry,” alleged the dead child’s mother.
A clear picture of the alleged murderers’ character is hard to come by. Most of the bits and pieces seem to be speculative in nature.
Many in the neighbourhood now feel they figured him to be a bad guy beforehand. And the ruthlessness of the crime appears to have tainted only the accused man’s image and character, but not that of his wife.
There are also tongues wagging in the neighbourhood based on fake information and pseudoscience. Another woman in the neighbourhood spoke to The Lede - “It is a genetic disorder to hurt small children like this and it could be carried to the next generation also.”
These sorts of statements could well be detrimental to the son of the accused.
The day after the death of the child, a protest was conducted in the neighbourhood. Residents demanded that the police hand over the accused to the people so that they would finish them both in broad daylight. Afflicted by the heinous crime on a child, their faith in justice seemed to have slipped.
When a child is at risk, people, in a bid to be preventive, tend to attack strangers or anyone looking “suspicious” in the neighbourhood.
Last year, misinformation spread largely via WhatsApp cautioned parents that child kidnappers were prowling the state.
A travelling family made a stop in the village of Polur, Tiruvannamalai district to ask for directions. Suspecting them to be the kidnappers, a group of villagers, in panic and anger, attacked them. A lady died and four others were seriously injured in the lynching.
The Lede has access to the call logs of the child’s parents and the photographs taken on the day of the crime.
The victim’s mother had left the house around 4.45 pm and returned home within 15 to 20 minutes. By that time, the child had been kidnapped. She made the first call to her husband around 5.20 pm.
The news spread quickly and by the end of the first hour, search parties formed to find the child had scanned the area. Witnesses in the police’s case record include some who had looked around the victim’s house during the search.
Around 6.45 pm, a neighbour found the child dead, toppled head first in a bucket in the bathroom of her house.
By this time, Murugan unaware of the news of his child’s death, was at the police station to file a missing persons complaint.
Murugan told The Lede that it was the accused who accompanied him to the police station.
Around the end of the second hour since the child went missing, the perpetrator who committed the crime seems to have left the body back in the child’s house.
Murugan was present in the house till 6.25 pm talking to the accused before leaving for the police station. There was just a small time span—a two-hour gap—from the time the child disappeared from her house to the time her body reappeared in the same house.
As it was only two hours since the crime, clues and trails were fresh, which led the police to the accused in no time. A youth in his twenties, who was present among the crowd on the day of crime keenly following the police investigation from outside the victim’s house told The Lede – “The officers were very sharp. They wrapped up the enquiry in an hour or so and asked us all to leave the place. Half an hour later, they arrested him.”
But it came as a shock to the entire neighbourhood that an old man and his wife could allegedly do this to a four-year-old child.
In a road roko (stop traffic) protest that followed next day, the mob stormed the accused’s house and ransacked everything at the alleged scene of the crime.
On the 16th day after the murder, the day of remembrance for the dead, several posters cropped up on the walls of the suburban neighbourhood.
Along with a photograph of the accused couple, the poster also bore a shocker for Jiva. The poster demanded the death sentence for all three of them. Feeling threatened, he filed a complaint with the Chennai Commissioner of Police.
Jiva felt he was being implicated in the alleged crime by his parents. He saw the posters following him wherever he went in the neighbourhood. He felt bad omens were following his children and wife too. He felt completely cut out from society.
“I think they (the accused) are now safe in jail. It is me who is living through a hell of torture and pressure. I have totally lost hope for my family and I feel guilty and ashamed to face my children,” said Jiva.
However, Jiva’s complaint to the police to safeguard his family did not go down well with the family of the victim. They feel it is making a mockery of their loss.
Citing it as proof that Jiva intends to save his accused parents, Murugan said - “My life looks bleak and I am unsure if I would be able to come out of this grief. But he files a complaint that I am threatening his life.”
The fact that the police failed to protect the scene of crime went unnoticed at first, as they already had the accused in custody.
“We had all the evidence collected from the crime scene and sent it for forensic report. The house is not relevant for the case anymore,” a police officer told The Lede.
The Goondas Act was also applied to remove any scope for bail to the accused.
“There is still one-and-a-half month’s time to ready the forensic report and file the charge-sheet. If it is not ready by then, the accused stands eligible for bail,” said Gunashekaran.
Claiming that the Forensic Sciences department at Mylapore is heavily loaded with cases, Gunashekaran said - “Forensic reports for more than 100 cases are pending and it delays the speedy trial promised in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.”
A speedy trial depends wholly on evidence backed by forensics in the charge sheet. If the charge sheet is not filed on time, within 90 days, the trial tends to take at least a year. The pace of the trial also depends on the caseload of the police department, which has to deal with and investigate new cases in addition to pending cases.
A heinous crime allegedly by two senior citizens and the terrible loss of a child to a young couple has shattered all scope of a normal life for both families.
Right now, as rage and emotions remain on the boil, only a speedy trial can assuage the victim’s family.