A bru­tal crime — tan­gled up in class, gen­der con­flicts

A crime of pure bru­tal­ity — en­tan­gled in gen­der, power and class con­flicts

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - Front Page - Snigdha Poonam let­[email protected]­dus­tan­times.com

HY­DER­ABAD/NARAYAN­PET: A few days af­ter the Hy­der­abad gang rape and mur­der, HT trav­els to the scene of the crime to piece to­gether the hap­pen­ings of the in­ter­ven­ing night of Novem­ber 27 and 28.

As a city and a nation come to terms with the na­ture of the case, this bru­tal crime, just like the 2012 Delhi gang rape and mur­der, is tan­gled up in gen­der, class and power con­flicts.

HY­DER­ABAD/NARAYAN­PET: The scene changes dras­ti­cally as you drive off the Hy­der­abad-Ban­ga­lore high­way at the Chatan­pally cross­ing. The wide road leads to a nar­row path, con­crete gives way to mud, and bright lights switch to to­tal dark­ness. On this zigzagged path, an un­der­pass opens out on to the ser­vice road on the other side. In­side this un­der­pass is one of the qui­etest, dark­est, and re­motest patches of land on the 285-km route con­nect­ing two state capitals. It’s so cut off from the buzz of speed­ing cars above that it’s un­likely any­one would have no­ticed some­one be­ing set on fire in­side it — es­pe­cially in the mid­dle of the night.

And no one did on the in­ter­ven­ing night of Novem­ber 27 and 28.

At 5am on Novem­ber 28, a milk­man from Chatan­pally vil­lage took the un­der­pass on his way to the other side and saw some­thing burn­ing. He dis­missed it as a fire lit by some­one to keep warm. On his way back, at 7am, the fire was still on. Curious, he went to in­spect it and saw a hu­man hand stick­ing out of the fire. He called up the po­lice on his mo­bile phone. By then, of­fi­cers at the Shad­na­gar po­lice sta­tion were al­ready look­ing for a miss­ing per­son for a few hours.

A 26-year-old vet­eri­nary doc­tor in a south­ern sub­urb of Hy­der­abad left her house at 5.30pm the pre­vi­ous day. The last time her fam­ily heard from her was at 9. 22pm when she called her sis­ter from a toll plaza on the Ban­ga­lore-Hy­der­abad high­way, and told her that she was feel­ing scared. She said her scooter had a punc­ture and a bunch of men had of­fered to help, but she was feel­ing un­com­fort­able around them. “Keep talk­ing to me,” she told her sis­ter a few min­utes be­fore dis­con­nect­ing the call. When her sis­ter rang her back on her mo­bile phone at 9. 45pm, she found it switched off. Her sis­ter rushed to file a com­plaint at the near­est po­lice sta­tion at Rajiv Gandhi In­ter­na­tional Air­port po­lice sta­tion, but she was told by the of­fi­cers on duty that the toll plaza didn’t fall in their ju­ris­dic­tion. The fam­ily claims they were told that she may have just “eloped with a boyfriend” and also asked whether she had any “lovers or af­fairs”.

At 3.10am, the fam­ily fi­nally man­aged to reg­is­ter a miss­ing-per­son com­plaint at Shad­na­gar po­lice sta­tion. These were cru­cial hours as the po­lice would dis­cover later: be­tween 9.45 and 10.30pm, the woman was gang-raped and mur­dered a few me­tres off the Nehru-ORR toll plaza. The crimes were al­legedly plot­ted hours pre­vi­ously.

At 6pm, when the 26-year-old drove to the toll plaza from her house, 10km away, to park her scooter and hail a shared taxi farther into the city, a com­mon prac­tice for res­i­dents in the sub­urb, she didn’t no­tice four young men sit­ting in a cir­cle and sharing a bot­tle of whiskey. As the po­lice later pieced to­gether, the four men, Mo­hammed Arif (26), Jolly Shiva (20), Jollu Naveen (20) and Chenna Ke­shavalu (21), worked as driv­ers and clean­ers of a lorry that plied be­tween Ban­ga­lore and Hy­der­abad car­ry­ing con­struc­tion ma­te­rial, mainly iron nails and bricks. Some­where on the route, the po­lice said, they stopped at a scrap shop, sold off a pack of iron nails, and bought four bot­tles of liquor. They were mak­ing their way through the first bot­tle when they no­ticed the young woman park her scooter and get into a taxi headed to­wards Gachi­bowli, 20km away, where she had an ap­point­ment with a der­ma­tol­o­gist.

One of them punc­tured her scooter’s tyre shortly af­ter she left. Then they re­sumed the drinking, and waited for her to re­turn. At 9. 20pm, when she came back and dis­cov­ered the flat tyre, the leader of the group, Arif, ap­proached her and of­fered help. Arif walked with her to the toll booth and asked the op­er­a­tor to point them in the di­rec­tion of a bike re­pair shop, as the op­er­a­tor, Shonu, told the po­lice. He gave them directions to a re­pair shop a short dis­tance away, but on the side road lead­ing off the high­way. As the vet dragged the scooter with the group of men off the high­way, Arif sug­gested that one of his men pro­ceed to the re­pair shop while the oth­ers wait with her near toll plaza. The re­main­ing three men per­suaded her to walk into a dark com­pound hous­ing an aban­doned worker’s room sur­rounded by over­grown bushes to the left of the plaza. This is when she pan­icked and called up her sis­ter, but be­tween the time she hung up and her sis­ter called her back, the fourth man had re­turned, and one of them had seized her mo­bile phone and turned it off. Then the group was tak­ing turns to rape her, af­ter forc­ing her to con­sume some liquor, ac­cord­ing to the po­lice report. “They forcibly com­mit­ted gang rape against her will and con­sent, robbed her of her be­long­ings, and mur­dered her by smoth­er­ing,” said the re­mand report of the Shad­na­gar po­lice.

By 11pm, the four men al­legedly tossed her dead body into their lorry and planned its dis­posal. While two of them, with Arif at the wheel, drove the lorry to­wards Ban­ga­lore, the other two fol­lowed them on the vet’s scooter. They then de­cided to burn the body.

“Shiva and Naveen went to a petrol bunk to pur­chase petrol but the worker there re­fused to give petrol,” the report said. It was he who later gave the in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cers their first break­through. On Novem­ber 29, a worker at an Es­sar petrol bunk near Nandigama vil­lage, called the Shad­na­gar po­lice af­ter watch­ing the news, and told them that on the midnight of 27/28 Novem­ber, two men aged around 20 came in on a red Hero Mae­stro scooter and asked for petrol to be filled in a plas­tic bot­tle. “They went to an­other bunk and pur­chased petrol to set fire to the body. On the way, near Ashiyana Ho­tel, they found a bridge and de­cided to dis­pose of the body un­der the bridge,” the report added. “Chenna Ke­shavulu turned the lorry to­wards Hy­der­abad and they took the dead body un­der the bridge. Arif poured petrol on the body, Naveen poured diesel, and Shiva lit the fire with a match box. Sim card, hand­bag of the de­ceased were thrown in the flames … Arif and Ke­shavulu left the spot in lorry, Shiva and Naveen fol­lowed on the scooty. On the way, near Kothur bus stop, Shiva and Naveen parked the scooty and boarded the lorry.” They re­moved the num­ber plate of the scooter be­fore leav­ing it be­hind. Then they went to their vil­lages, changed their clothes, and went to bed. At 7am on Novem­ber 28, the po­lice sta­tion in Shad­na­gar re­ceived in­for­ma­tion about the burn­ing body. A po­lice team ar­rived shortly with the fa­ther of the miss­ing doc­tor who took one look at the re­mains and iden­ti­fied his daugh­ter.

SHOCK, ANGER

Based on in­for­ma­tion from the CCTV cam­eras on the high­way and leads from the toll-booth op­er­a­tor, the scooter re­pair me­chanic, the petrol pump work­ers and the owner of the lorry fleet, the po­lice ar­rested the four sus­pects from the neigh­bour­ing Narayan­pet district hours af­ter the dis­cov­ery of the dead body. They are cur­rently in a 14-day po­lice re­mand in Cher­la­palli jail just out­side Hy­der­abad.

As news trav­elled, peo­ple across In­dia re­acted in ou­trage to the bru­tal rape and mur­der of the 26-year-old vet­eri­nar­ian. Many were re­minded of the Delhi gang rape in 2012, when a 24-year-old phys­io­ther­apy stu­dent was raped and mur­dered in a mov­ing bus by a group of six men, a crime that drove a na­tion­wide move­ment for women’s rights and a re­vi­sion of rape laws. In com­mon with the 2012 case, this too was tan­gled up in gen­der and class bat­tles; while the vic­tim was a mid­dle­class pro­fes­sional from the city, the perpetrato­rs are blue-col­lar work­ers from vil­lages. Protests took place widely, from out­side the po­lice sta­tion and jail, where the sus­pects were pro­duced to cam­puses and streets, from Hy­der­abad’s Charmi­nar to Delhi’s Jan­tar Man­tar. Near the toll booth where the vet­eri­nar­ian was raped and mur­dered, 26-year-old pro­tes­tor Swati De­varakonda, a soft­ware de­vel­oper, said, “When they said on TV that it was just a few me­tres away from the toll booth, I couldn’t be­lieve, given that it is busy round-the-clock. Which is why I came to see for my­self. She was the same age as me and must have had sim­i­lar dreams and am­bi­tions. I carry a pep­per spray but if four men at­tack one girl, how can any­body de­fend them­selves? . We should make an ex­am­ple of cul­prits.”

“If our women and chil­dren are not safe, what is the use of po­lice and gov­ern­ment. Like in Arab coun­tries, pub­licly be­head cul­prits. This has noth­ing to do with re­li­gion. We should not al­low any­body to di­vide us. If the po­lice, courts can’t han­dle the cul­prits, hand them to the pub­lic, we will take care,” said Maq­doom Pasha, a fruit seller, who had come to the spot with his wife.

Many politi­cians and min­is­ters in Te­lan­gana have vis­ited and con­soled the vic­tim’s fam­ily. In a se­ries of tweets, KT Rama Rao, min­is­ter in state cabi­net and son of chief min­is­ter K Chan­drashekara Rao, pleaded with the Prime Min­is­ter: “Hon’ble PM @naren­ramodi ji, 7 years af­ter Nirb­haya’s ghastly rape and mur­der, the con­victs are not hung…”

On Sun­day, KCR said that fast track court would en­sure speedy jus­tice in the case and that the gov­ern­ment would ex­tend all as­sis­tance re­quired to the vic­tim’s fam­ily. “Ev­ery­body comes and tell us jus­tice will be done. What is the use? Will our smil­ing daugh­ter come­back? Af­ter Nirb­haya case too, noth­ing has changed. That is the tragedy of the coun­try,” said the de­ceased’s un­cle at her build­ing com­plex.

‘HOW CAN MY SON DO THIS?’

Nearly 150km away, in Narayan­pet district, the vil­lages are eerily quiet. All four sus­pects in the case be­long to this district. Three of them, Naveen, Shiva and Ke­shavulu, are from the Gudi­gandla vil­lage, and the main sus­pect, Arif, from Jaku­laire vil­lage. Although the district is close and well con­nected to the IT hubs of Hy­der­abad, most peo­ple in the vil­lages ei­ther work in the farms or pick up odd jobs around the city. The three sus­pects from Gudi­gandla are school drop-outs who, when they weren’t picked up from the vil­lage by lorry driv­ers, spent their time loaf­ing or sleep­ing, ac­cord­ing to their fam­i­lies and neigh­bours.

“For last six months, he hadn’t worked. He had left for the lorry clean­ing job three days ago,” said Lak­shmi, mother of Jolly Naveen. Since her hus­band died in 2006, she works in other peo­ple’s farms. She did not have the time to track her son’s habits and move­ments. “I have my job. I have my daugh­ter,” she said. “When he left he didn’t say where he was go­ing. His work was load­ing and un­load­ing boxes. He made ~5,000 a month from it. When he came back, he used to be grimy from head to toe. When he came early morn­ing on Thurs­day, he fol­lowed his rou­tine -- had a bath, had food, and slept. Some time later, he got a call from his cousin Chenna Ke­shavulu and left for his house. He didn’t come back,” she said.

Naveen was ar­rested from the house of Chenna Ke­shavulu, where the po­lice was wait­ing for him. Lak­shmi found out why he had not re­turned af­ter watch­ing the news on tele­vi­sion and from neigh­bours. She has been an­gry ever since. “He is my only son, so I nat­u­rally love him, but if they did what is be­ing al­leged, then they all de­serve to be hanged.”

At the house of Jollu Shiva, his fa­ther, Jollu Ra­jaih, says he wasn’t even around when his son left or when he came back, be­cause he was away at a dis­tant farm where he lives and works. He has been to the po­lice sta­tion since, he says, but he wasn’t al­lowed to talk to his son. “I wanted to ask him how and why all of this hap­pened. He never drank, he never spoke to any girl in the vil­lage, never trou­bled any­one,” said Ra­jaih. The fa­ther said he will fol­low his prin­ci­ples, though. “He is young but he is re­spon­si­ble for his ac­tions. I have a daugh­ter. I won’t stand for any of this if its true.”

Across the road from Shiva’s house, Ke­shavulu’s mother, also a farm worker, re­fuses to be­lieve her son is ca­pa­ble of rape and mur­der. “No way he would have done any­thing. Per­haps he tagged along, stood and watched,” she said. For years, she says, his son has suf­fered from a kid­ney de­fect whose treat­ment, in­clud­ing monthly dial­y­sis, swal­lows up most of the fam­ily’s earn­ings. “We took very good care of our son, we pam­pered him. When will they re­lease him? My hus­band is very an­gry, he wants to drink him­self to death. I don’t have the will to live,” she said.

A short drive from Gandigudla is Jaku­laire, Arif’s vil­lage, where his par­ents, too, are deal­ing with shock. “When he came back that morn­ing, he didn’t eat, he even re­fused wa­ter. He said while he was driv­ing the lorry one girl drove in the op­po­site di­rec­tion on her scooter and he hit her by mis­take, and she died. This is all I know,” said his mother, Moole Bi. She re­ceived in­for­ma­tion about his al­leged ac­tions since, but she would rather not be­lieve it. “How can my son do this?”

REUTERS

■ Peo­ple protest against the rape and mur­der of the 26-year-old vet­eri­nary doc­tor in Hy­der­abad on Mon­day.

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