It is not just negligent, indifferent police officials and an inefficient public prosecutor who alone should take the blame for the shocking deaths of two minor girls at Walayar in Kerala's Palakkad district. Those closest to the children – parents, relatives and teachers – are equally culpable.
They either suppressed or chose to ignore the telltale signs that the elder girl in Walayar was going through hell. The parents have now stated that they knew that their children were being abused. Yet, even after the first death, they chose family honour above the suffering of their child.
The prime accused, M Madhu and V Madhu, are close relatives of the victims' mother – one is the son of her elder sister and the other is her father's younger brother's son.
When Onmanorama contacted the parents, this is what the mother said: "One of them had three sisters and the marriage of two were nearly fixed and so we did not want to create any problems for the family by revealing what he did to our child." We talked to the parents on phone in the presence of M Balamurali, a local ward member and human rights activist.
The parents were poor, both of them daily wagers, with no links to power. Threats, too, could have easily bought their silence.
Suffering that did not matter
Balamurali said even the locals, including himself, had responded to the first death in a very casual manner. "Then we did not know it was an 11-year-old girl. What we heard was that a student of Kanjikode High School had committed suicide. Since we had heard of high school girls committing suicide, we took it like that," he said. Balamurali lives in Kanjikode, some five kilometres away from the house of the victims.
It was after the death of the second child that he went to the school where the elder girl studied. "The girl's class teacher told me that she had problem sitting down on the bench. She used to stand in class and still the teacher did not think it important to ask her why. She could have called the girl aside and talked to her in private. She did not. It is strange that even other teachers in the school did not consider it odd for a girl to always stand in class," Balamurali said.
We then asked the parents whether they had noticed that their elder girl had found it difficult to sit down. The mother said no. Balamurali found this difficult to explain.
However, he said the elder girl had told about her pain to an elder cousin, a woman named Sumathi. On the day the girl was found hanging, Sumathi had told the police about the severe pain the girl had while sitting. The autopsy report had revealed that the child had been subjected to brutal unnatural sex multiple times.
After death, another burial
Balamurali said at least the second girl could have been saved had the police not sat on the autopsy report of the elder girl. It was given to the parents only three or four days after the younger child died.
In fact, the parents had gone to the Walayar police station to collect the autopsy report a few days after the death of the first child. "But we were told that they were waiting for the chemical analysis," the mother told Onmanorama. It is, however, not certain whether any such analysis was carried out.
Balamurali said had the police read the autopsy report they could have understood what the girl had gone through. "Instead, they sat on it or perhaps they understood what was written and thought it profitable to bury it," he said. The police had brushed aside even a more incriminating piece of evidence.
On the day her sister died, the younger girl had told the police that she had seen two men walk out of the house with their hands covering their faces. "The police had not acted on this," Balamurali said.
He also regrets the missed chance of interrogating the main accused right after the first girl died. "Two of the accused, V Madhu and M Madhu, were taken into custody but the CPM local committee member and the branch secretary went to the police station and brought them out," Balamurali said. The then sub-inspector of police Chacko was suspended for this but by then crucial information that could have saved the younger girl was lost.
CWC in the dark
The then Child Welfare Committee, too, did not take the first death seriously. "We read about the death in the newspaper," said Kuriakose, one of the then CWC members. "Our chairman Fr Jose Paul called up the Walayar SI and asked him why the CWC was not informed. The SI told him that it was a case of suicide and that no one had any complaints. Fr Jose Paul reminded him that it was statutory for the police to still submit a copy of the FIR to the CWC," he said. This has not been done.
Kuriakose said the CWC members immediately went to the house when they heard of the death of the second girl. "We were told that it was a suicide. It felt strange because she was not even nine," the former member said. There was a younger boy in the house. "We thought that his life could be in danger if he continued in the house and so we shifted him to the CWC, gave him counselling and placed him in a welfare home," he said. The boy is still protected in this privately-run welfare institution.
Child abuse capital
Palakkad District Child Protection Officer (DCPO) Anandan, too, said he had no idea of the suffering of the girls until the younger girl was found hanging in her house. He too had gone to the house on the day the girl was found dead. "The scene looked highly mysterious. Things looked as if it had been staged," Anandan said.
The DCPO also said Walayar was where the most number of POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) cases were registered in the state. "So this is a place where we conduct regular awareness programmes during which we implore the locals to report any instance of child abuse in the area. But no one had done it in the case of these two girls," Anandan said.