Re­turn of a DARK RITE?

A sleepy vil­lage in Pudukot­tai district is rocked by a pur­ported case of hu­man sac­ri­fice. The po­lice pin the mur­der of a four-year-old girl on a sooth­sayer look­ing to in­crease her oc­cult pow­ers. While that re­mains to be proved, what is clear is that the S

The Hindu - - TAMIL NADU - R. Kr­ish­namoor­thy

A sense of be­wil­der­ment is pal­pa­ble among res­i­dents of Ku­rumpatti, a sleepy vil­lage near Ilup­pur in Pudukot­tai district. A fort­night ago, a sprightly four-year-old girl was found mur­dered, and it is now be­lieved to be a case of hu­man sac­ri­fice, af­ter the ar­rest of a woman sooth­sayer for the mur­der.

The vil­lage is still strug­gling to come to terms with what hap­pened. The girl, who had gone to a shop at the end of a lane where she lived to buy snacks at around 3.30 p.m. on Oc­to­ber 25, did not re­turn home. Her par­ents Vel­laisamy, 32, and Mu­ru­gayi, 27, were busy mak­ing ar­range­ments for a mar­riage in the fam­ily, and did not no­tice her ab­sence. Half an hour later, a neigh­bour who was re­turn­ing af­ter graz­ing goats, found Shalini ly­ing dead in the vicin­ity of a tree, which the villagers re­fer to as a lo­cal ref­er­ence to its ‘evil’ na­ture. She in­formed the par­ents.

Left to bleed

Shalini was killed us­ing a com­mon shav­ing blade. She was left to bleed at the spot, ob­scured by an over­growth of shrubs. The blade with blood stains was found near the girl's body, along­side un­opened pack­ets of snacks and the cho­co­late Shalini had bought from the shop. The splat­ter of blood in the area told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that her body had been dragged for some dis­tance.

Is it truly a case of hu­man sac­ri­fice, a prac­tice un­heard of in the vil­lage, as the Ilup­pur po­lice is try­ing to es­tab­lish?

The semi-lit­er­ate par­ents, in a state of shock, had taken the body home with­out wait­ing for the po­lice. And that, ap­par­ently, com­pli­cated the course of in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Vi­tal clue al­inja maram,

The blade with blood stains was what pro­vided a vi­tal clue to the po­lice later. The post-mortem con­ducted at the district head­quar­ters Govern­ment Hospi­tal at Pudukot­tai ruled out sex­ual as­sault, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors said. But there was more shock in store for the villagers. Chin­napil­lai, the woman the Ilup­pur po­lice picked up on sus­pi­cion, was none other than a long-time neigh­bour of the be­reaved cou­ple.

Was there any con­nec­tion be­tween the girl’s death and the body be­ing found near the tree? The in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­gan their task from this an­gle, and started piec­ing to­gether ev­i­dence. “It was only af­ter rul­ing out rape and mur­der for gain did we start piec­ing to­gether ev­i­dence that im­plied the girl had been of­fered as hu­man sac­ri­fice,” In­spec­tor of Ilup­pur po­lice sta­tion Man­ga­yarkarasi said.

Zero­ing in on sus­pect

It did not take long for the po­lice team to fo­cus their at­ten­tion on Chin­napil­lai. The po­lice claimed they had learnt from the peo­ple in vil­lage that Chin­napil­lai who had been a sooth­sayer for long, and of late was into ex­or­cis­ing ghosts. She was also a fre­quent vis­i­tor to grave­yards in the dead of night.

The sus­pi­cion of the po­lice was that Chin­napil­lai had killed the girl to pro­pi­ti­ate Sem­muni, the vil­lage de­ity for whom an­ces­tors of the res­i­dents had built a tem­ple at the lo­ca­tion where the

now stands. Ac­cord­ing to a sec­tion of the villagers, the cred­i­bil­ity of Chin­napil­lai took a beat­ing a few months ago af­ter the death of Samikannu. Af­ter ap­proach­ing her, he had re­port­edly fallen ill and was bed-rid­den for long, be­fore dy­ing.

Chin­napil­lai is said to have been anx­ious to re­gain the faith that the villagers had re­posed in her. The po­lice team sur­mised that the pur­pose of the hu­man sac­ri­fice could have been her at­tempt to en­hance her oc­cult pow­ers.

maram Breach of faith al­inja

The girl’s par­ents, who have now shifted to Vel­laisamy's na­tive vil­lage Nerun­galakudi, a few kilo­me­tres from Ku­rumpatti, are will­ing to con­cede that the crime could have been com­mit­ted only by a per­son known to the fam­ily. But they find it dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that Chin­napil­lai, a long-time well-wisher, could com­mit such a crime. It was, in fact, Chin­napil­lai, who had fixed up the mar­riage of Mu­ru­gayi's niece with a boy she knew, they said.

“Nev­er­the­less, the crim­i­nal, who­ever it is, must be pun­ished se­verely," a dis­traught Vel­laisamy said.

The po­lice claimed that the in­con­sis­ten­cies in the re­sponses of Chin­napil­lai dur­ing in­ter­ro­ga­tion fur­ther strength­ened their sus­pi­cions. The ar­rested woman claimed she was in her house be­tween 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on the day Shalini died. But, when her mo­bile phone records were ver­i­fied, her visit to the scene of crime prior to the pur­ported time of mur­der was es­tab­lished, po­lice said.

“Chin­napil­lai had even done a re­con­nais­sance ear­lier, in prepa­ra­tion,” Bala­mu­ru­gan, Sub-In­spec­tor of Ilup­pursta­tion, said. There was a blood stain on the sa­ree she had worn on that day. The po­lice team worked on the ev­i­dence and found it to be fresh stain. “There was a cut on the in­ner side of Chin­napil­lai's thumb that was prob­a­bly caused by the blade when the girl strug­gled while her throat was be­ing split,” Mr. Bala­mu­ru­gan said. She could not of­fer a plau­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion.

The po­lice team sub­se­quently seized ma­te­ri­als that in­cluded a stick used to beat up peo­ple sup­pos­edly pos­sessed by evil spir­its, and a magic wand stained black with

“Since Shalini was known to keep away from strangers, we knew she would have only gone with some­one fa­mil­iar to her. She was taken to the iso­lated spot by Chin­napil­lai. We could also es­tab­lish that Chin­napil­lai had gone to Shalini's house to get be­tel leaves and nuts af­ter com­mit­ting the mur­der, in an ap­par­ent bid to de­flect sus­pi­cion,” Ms. Man­ga­yarkarasi said.

mai. Early the­o­ries

Ini­tially, the Ilup­pur po­lice sus­pected it to be a case of rape and mur­der. Their sus­pi­cion fell on a 65-year-old shop­keeper. An old po­lice case (mur­der charge), reg­is­tered against him two decades ago, only made mat­ters worse for him. The man who was sub­jected to a tough in­quiry was even­tu­ally let off as sex­ual as­sault was ruled out by the post-mortem re­port.

Since there was no pos­si­bil­ity of an out­sider com­mit­ting the crime, the po­lice rounded up some of the youth and sub­jected them to rig­or­ous in­ter­ro­ga­tion. Raju, Mookiah, Vadi­vel, Tamil­sevlam and Sel­vam, who were among those in­ter­ro­gated, said their only crime was to have been in the vil­lage on that day.

De­scrib­ing the po­lice ac­tion as hasty, a vil­lage el­der Dhar­maraj said the po­lice was prob­a­bly un­der pressure to fix the ac­cused at the ear­li­est due to the sen­si­tiv­ity of the case.

The Ilup­pur po­lice said Chin­napil­lai was ar­rested last Sun­day, af­ter ex­tract­ing a confession from her to the ef­fect that she had mur­dered Shalini. She was pro­duced be­fore the court in Tiru­mayam and re­manded in ju­di­cial cus­tody.

‘Foisted case’

Chin­napil­lai's son Subra­mani, 30, fears that she was brow­beaten into ad­mit­ting the crime. Rub­bish­ing the the­ory of witch­craft, he said his mother had only been ren­der­ing a ser­vice to the villagers who were ill and wanted moral sup­port. “The Ilup­pur po­lice have foisted the case and made her the culprit be­cause of pressure from su­pe­ri­ors,” Subra­mani al­leged.

“The en­tire vil­lage knows that my mother is pos­sessed by Pandimuni, the pre­sid­ing de­ity of Pandikovil in Madu­rai. My mother is ca­pa­ble of proph­esy­ing only when she is un­der the in­flu­ence of Pandimuni, and it has al­ways been only for a pos­i­tive pur­pose,” he said.

Dis­put­ing Subra­mani's con­tention, the in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cials said they had traced the calls Chin­napil­lai had made to her sup­posed clients over the last month. “We could es­tab­lish that there were umpteen re­quests to Chin­napil­lai from those who wanted to set­tle scores with peo­ple within their fam­i­lies through witch­craft. Clearly she was not us­ing her witch­craft just for pos­i­tive things,” In­spec­tor Man­ga­yarkarasi said.

Since Shalini was known to keep away from strangers, we knew she would have only gone with some­one fa­mil­iar to her Man­ga­yarkarasi In­spec­tor of po­lice

The en­tire vil­lage knows that my mother is pos­sessed by Pandimuni, the pre­sid­ing de­ity of Pandikovil Subra­mani son of ac­cused Chin­napil­lai

No de­ter­rent

In the ab­sence of a spe­cific law to deal with the death of Shalini, the Ilup­pur po­lice booked the offender un­der Sec­tion 302. Ac­cord­ing to po­lice sources, pro­mul­ga­tion of a spe­cial law, as in Ma­ha­rash­tra and Kar­nataka, will in­stil fear in the minds of black magic prac­ti­tion­ers.

Le­gal ex­perts say Sec­tion 508 of the IPC, the only avail­able pro­vi­sion to deal with black magic, is not a strong de­ter­rent. The pun­ish­ment is im­pris­on­ment for a term that could ex­tend to one year, or fine, or both if the in­duc­ing per­son causes the vic­tim to be­lieve that he will be ren­dered an ob­ject of di­vine dis­plea­sure if the lat­ter does not fol­low the for­mer’s in­struc­tion.

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