"My younger daughter wanted to become a police officer. She wanted to punish those who killed her sister," said the mother of the two girls – whose mysterious deaths have created an outcry in Kerala – sitting in a corner of her house at Walayar in Kerala's Palakkad district. The 36-year-old choked and continuously wiped her tears with the shawl wrapped around her neck.
It has been almost three years since her two daughters were found hanging from a wooden plank of their thatched hut. The elder daughter, aged 13, died on January 13, 2017. The younger one, aged 9, died 52 days later. The police had arrested five persons for rape, sexual assault and abetment of suicide and were charged under stringent provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. It was expected that the accused would get the harshest punishment.
However, the First Additional Sessions Judge (Special POCSO Court) of Palakkad district acquitted three of the accused – V Madhu, M Madhu and Shibu – for want of evidence on October 28. The court had acquitted another accused – Pradeep Kumar – on September 30. It has not pronounced the verdict on the fifth accused yet because the trial is on in a juvenile court. The verdict has exposed lapses in the investigation and cast aspersions on the government and Kerala Police.
After the verdict was out, the mother has been explaining how she raised her daughters, how much she cared for them, how unexpected was their deaths, how she sighted their bodies hanging, how darkness filled her eyes and she lost her consciousness, how her husband embraced their daughters' bodies and screamed aloud, to the mediapersons who have been making a beeline to their home next to the thatched hut where the children were found hanging. All, she said, is to ensure justice to her daughters.
The mother's primary aim is to force the government order re-investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). On Thursday, she, along with her husband, met Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The chief minster, despite remaining non-committal, assured them that his government would not object to their plea for a probe by the CBI.
With details of shoddy investigation pouring in by the day, the government, on its part, has announced a slew of face-saving measures, such as approaching the court with a re-trial request and exploring options for re-investigation.
Who scuttled the probe?
The mother had raised fingers at Vijayan's party – Communist Party of India (Marxist) – members for scuttling the police investigation.
The sleepy village of the victims on the outskirts of Walayar town is part of Puthussery gram panchayat. It has a seizable scheduled caste population. The parents and the girls belong to the Pulaya community, which comes under Scheduled Caste. People here eke out a living working as daily wage labourers in farms, construction sites, factories and manufacturing units. Migrant labourers from Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and North India also live here.
The village is a CPM stronghold. Parents of the two girls claimed they regularly voted for CPM in elections. "My relatives are party workers. Our children participated in party's election campaigns and they distributed poll pamphlets in the neighbourhood," said the mother.
She said she was disheartened after she knew about the discrepancies in the first information report and the charge sheet. "It suppressed facts. My younger daughter saw the murderers of the elder one. She had stated it before the police. Surprisingly, her statement was not included in the FIR. My statements were recorded wrongly," she said.
She alleged the police had manipulated the documents at the insistence of CPM 'because the first and second accused, M Madhu and V Madhu are active party members'. "Had the police remained non-partisan, we could have saved at least my second daughter," she said.
According to media reports, the POCSO court, while acquitting the three, had noted that the statements of the parents were not recorded after the death of elder girl and that the investigating officers ignored the police surgeon's recommendation to probe the nine-year-old's death. It also pointed out that the statements of witnesses were taken after the accused were arrested.
The CPM, however, has denied the allegations. In a release, the leadership said the party had not interfered in the investigation. It urged the government to ensure stringent punishment for the guilty.
An action committee has been formed to get justice for the Walayar sisters, with independent gram panchayat member M Balamurali as president. He said even a re-investigation cannot bring the culprits to book.
"Every investigation document is manipulated. Re-investigation will be successful only if any witness or accused retract their statements, make confessions or produce new evidence. The chances are very rare," he said.
However, a few legal experts said the High Court could order a re-investigation if it is convinced that more evidence could be collected.
Father's horrifying experience
Two of the accused – M Madhu and V Madhu – are close relatives of the children's family and had the liberty to enter the home anytime.
The third accused, Pradeep Kumar, was their neighbour and offered home tuition to the children.
The children's parents had seen them assaulting their elder daughter.
The father recounted a horrifying experience with a shiver. "That day, I was resting at home after having met with an accident. I thought the children were playing at the house under construction. I was thirsty and asked the elder girl to bring some water. She didn't turn up after repeated calls. I was not in a position to walk, so I crawled and looked at the house. I was shocked to see M Madhu sexually assaulting her. I could only shout and he ran away," he said.
"The girl came to me and embraced me tightly. Both of us cried. I asked her why didn't she call out for help. But her answer was a shocker. 'This was not the first time Madhu uncle did this. It was very painful. He threatened me to kill you if I told anyone about the pain'."
The girl's mother visited Madhu's house following the incident and the conversation turned into a brawl. However, they did not register a complaint with the police.
Even after seeing the assault, why did the girl's parents keep silence?
"We don't want to defame his family. We felt it would affect the future of Madhu's yet-to-be married sisters. My daughter would also incur a bad image if the incident became public. I thought Madhu would stay away from her with a warning," she said.
The second daughter's death was an eye-opener for the parents. And they did not hesitate to file a police complaint. But the consequences were severe. They were assaulted. Miscreants pelted stones at their house and threatened to set their house on fire. "We suffered injuries. It continued for several weeks," said the father.
Since then the couple has been facing social boycott. "No one in the neighbourhood spoke to us since then," he said.
Balamurali said political parties, community organizations and other outfits are raising hue and cry about the deaths only to serve their narrow interests. "No one asks the parents whether they have eaten meals in the past two-and-a-half years," he said.
"Leaders visit them, offer support, pose for selfies and leave. No one is really interested in ensuring justice to them," Balamurali said.
Character assassination too
The family even had to face character assassination as people in the village portray the parents in bad light.
When this correspondent visited the school where the elder girl studied, a teacher said the parents should be blamed for the twin deaths. "They are morally corrupt. Teachers cannot interfere in their family issues," she said.
This is the common refrain in the village. Ask anyone in the village, you will only hear such derogatory remarks about the parents. People appear to be interested in their personal lives rather than helping them to bring culprits to book.
People who know the children have different tales to tell.
Sija George is the counsellor at the elder girl's school. She was the first person to interact with the girl.
"We had organised an awareness class to sensitize children on sexual assaults, ways to resist them and differentiate between good and bad touch. Two days later, the girl produced a love letter and her class teacher sent her to me for counselling," Sija recounted.
"The girl told me that she received the letter from a bus employee she used to travel regularly. I was not convinced. But she did not disclose even a word about the sexual abuses she had been undergoing," she said.
In hindsight, Sija said the girl would have realized the gravity of sexual abuses after attending the counselling session. "I think the abusers killed her when she began resisting their advances," she said, and added: "The abusers would have killed the younger sister to ensure that no one in the world would know about the abuses," he said.
'We lost a brilliant student'
The teachers at the school where the younger girl studied have not yet come to terms with the incident. They still mourn the brilliant student of their school.
Her teacher Manjusha said the girl had promised to recite a poem and narrate a story in Monday's school assembly from her favourite children's magazine. "She left for home on Friday with the magazine to learn the poem and the story. She died next day. I don't think she will commit suicide. It was a murder. We lost a brilliant girl," she remembered.
It appears that the younger girl had shared her dream of becoming a police officer with her teachers too, apart from her mother. "She told me that she wanted to become a police officer. She developed this ambition after the death of her sister," her teacher Mini said. "She told me that she wanted to avenge her sister's killers."