Two minor sisters belonging to the Scheduled Caste community were murdered in Walayar within two months in 2017.
The Kerala police investigation has been so shoddy that four of five accused have been acquitted. Will the juvenile accused also be acquitted on 15 November?
A 13-year-old Scheduled Caste (SC) girl was found hanging in her hut at Attapallam village near Kerala’s border town of Walayar on 13 January 2017.
Her nine-year-old sister told the police that she saw two unidentified men, wearing masks, running away from their hut, indicating that she was murdered. Her parents also told the police that their older child was murdered by the two fleeing suspects but the death was recorded as an “unnatural” one.
Police arrested a youth subsequently, but he was let off soon after interrogation.
On 4 March 2017, the nine-year-old girl was found hanging from the ceiling of the hut, adding to the outrage that had already set in after her elder sister’s death.
Taken aback by the surge of protests over the deaths, the police swung into action and arrested five persons, including a juvenile and a relative of the children’s mother.
A sixth suspect, who was called for interrogation was also found dead, hanging from a tree at a secluded spot in the village.
Post-mortem examinations of both girls revealed “multiple sexual assaults” on them. An autopsy on the nine-year-old girl even pointed to homicide.
The local police, however, failed to examine the murder angle and submitted a final report besides filing cases against four of the five suspects, accusing them of abetment to suicide, rape and unnatural sex under the Indian Penal Code and penetrative sexual assault under the Protection of Children From Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act.
On 30 September, a special POSCO court acquitted one of the accused Pradeep Kumar. On 25 October, the special court acquitted three more of the accused — Shibu, V Madhu, and M Madhu.
The juvenile court will pronounce its verdict on the minor accused on 15 November. But going by what has happened with four of the suspects, it is likely that he, too, will get away due to, what most people in Kerala feel, slip-shod investigations by the Kerala police.
The POCSO court special judge, S Muralee Krishna, didn’t hide his disappointment with the way the police have handled the case of the deaths of the minor girls.
“The prosecution has miserably failed to prove the alleged offences against the accused beyond reasonable doubt,” said the judge while acquitting Pradeep Kumar.
He pulled up the police for not producing any scientific evidence in the case. No “sperm or spermatozoa was collected” from the deceased or the suspects, the judge said, adding that “there is absolute absence of scientific evidence to connect the accused with the alleged offence.”
Police claimed the forensic surgeon, who performed the postmortem on the girls’ bodies, has said that anal injuries were detected on the bodies but they could have been due to infection.
These observations made the court rule that “no conclusive proof had been established to prove the girls were murdered or abused by the suspects”.
This has led to a furore in Kerala and on 28 October when the state assembly was convened for the post-monsoon session, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) raised a ruckus on the issue.
While the UDF-led Opposition demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the assembly that the state government would appeal against the POSCO court verdict.
Congress member of the legislative assembly, Shafi Parambil, speaking on the issue in the assembly, alleged the police had acted with “shocking indifference”.
“The mother of the girls had told the police that she had seen one of the accused abusing her child. The man was taken into custody but was bailed out by local CPI(M) (Communist Party of India-Marxist) members,” Parambil said.
Had the police acted on the mother’s complaint after the elder daughter’s death, the younger one could have been saved, he said.
More skeletons have begun to tumble out of the cupboard in this case now.
Two of the younger girl’s friends had deposed before police saying that she had told them that one of the accused had regularly abused her and she used to hide whenever she saw him. Both those friends turned hostile during the hearing.
The girls’ mother, who has met the Chief Minister demanding CBI probe, told the media that local politicians interfered with police investigations to help the accused.
She said her younger daughter was murdered since she had seen two of the suspects kill her elder daughter and run away. She alleged that the police had attributed some statements to her that she had never made.
The prosecutor, advocate Latha Jayaraj, has blamed the lapses in the police investigation for the accused being let-off. She said there were many loopholes in the chargesheet and she had not approved of it.
Police were, in fact, trying to prevent her from appearing in the case, Jayaraj alleged, adding that the police failed to investigate certain suspicions raised in the autopsy report.
Much to the chagrin of the police, the district police surgeon, Dr P B Gujaral, who conducted the autopsy on the girls’ bodies, said the police were informed that there was “clear evidence of rape on multiple occasions”.
He has also reported that there was evidence suggesting unnatural sex. The allegations against police now are that this autopsy report has been swept under the carpet.
Police have also been accused of turning a blind eye to the fact that the younger girl could not have committed suicide given the height of the ceiling and her own height.
Protests over the acquittal of the accused have unnerved the state government and it has now replaced the Palakkad Chairman of Child Welfare Committee, N Rajesh. He had appeared for one of the accused in the case.
Kerala’s Governor, Arif Mohammad Khan, has said he will seek a report from the state government and ensure that justice would be meted out to the victims’ family.
On its part, the Kerala High Court has sought a report from the POSCO court on granting bail to the accused in 2017. The High Court charged the lower court with not treating the case with seriousness.
The POSCO court has told the High Court that the bail was granted due to lapses on the part of the prosecution, which did not oppose bail.
A writ petition has been filed separately in the High Court demanding a CBI probe. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes has said that it will summon the Kerala Chief Secretary and the Director-General of Police for an explanation of the case.
With the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front government on the backfoot and the police under pressure, there could be more drama in the offing in this case.