The mother and step-father of the two Dalit girls, who were killed after being sexually abused in Palakkad's Walayar, live in their newly-built house, right next to the single room house where both their daughters were killed. Their mother, Bhagyavathi, points at a window in the room and says, "It was through this window that Madhu (the main accused) escaped while he was found abusing my daughter, to which my husband is a witness." They have one son left, who stays at a children's' home in Palakkad after the murder of the girls.
It was on 13 January, 2017 that the thirteen-year-old daughter of Bhagyavathi was found hanging inside her house. In two months, her nine-year-old daughter, a witness to her sister's murder, was also found hanging from the same ceiling. Two years since, the sessions court of Palakkad announced the verdict on 25 October, 2019 where all the accused, including a minor, were acquitted. The judgment termed the deaths as a 'suicide'. The postmortem reports of both girls term the deaths as 'unnatural'. Yet, the court chose to acquit the accused.
Even with clear witness statements from family members, specifically from the younger daughter, why has the Kerala Police shielded the accused, questions Bhagyavathi. Further, she asks, "Were they acquitted because they were activists of CPI(M)?"
'They did not record eye witness account in the FIR'
Bhagyavathi and her husband Shaji have been living alone since the murder of their two girls. They have cut off from Bhagyavathi's family since her cousins are two of the accused.
Calling the judgment faulty, the couple said that it was also devoid of nuance. According to Bhagyavathi and Shaji, though they and the younger daughter are primary witnesses to the sexual abuse, their witness statements were not taken on record immediately. The younger daughter had told the police that she had seen two masked men running out of the house, this was also not recorded in the First Information Report.
Both of them said that they didn't know how to deal with the police since something like this had never happened to them before. They weren't talking to anybody who could talk them through the procedure, said Bhagyavathi. But she also wants to keep faith in the current enrage and believes all of Kerala will stand with her and the accused will get punished.
The first time the sexual assault came to the notice of the parents was in 2016. Bhagyavathi was at work, Madhu had visited their house and inquired about Shaji's health, who was unwell. After this, Madhu went to the house which was under construction. When Shaji wanted water he called out to his elder daughter, but she wasn't responding. He crawled on his hands to the window to see his elder daughter being pushed against the wall by Madhu and being sexually abused. Seeing this, Shaji shouted out immediately after which Madhu escaped through the window. Only after this did the girls speak up. When Shaji asked his elder daughter why she didn't tell this to them, she had said, "They had threatened me with death if I reveal it, I was scared." In less than a month, she was murdered.
"I didn't go to work after this incident. We used to work in the fields, we are daily wage laborers. CPI(M) activists, including panchayat vice-president and ward member, had visited us after this judgment. They told us they will take us to the minister. But we were told that if we politicise this further, it will end up in nothing again. KPMS leader Punnala Sreekumar took us to meet the chief minister. We demanded re-enquiry of the case, we also demanded CBI inquiry in the case. The chief minister just told us to approach the High Court. The entire system is prejudiced against us."
Shaji says that they believed that everything was on record but the most important details were not. "The children didn't commit suicide. There was no reason for them to commit suicide, when this happened my elder daughter was getting ready to take a bath and had kept her clothes in the bathroom. She had washed her siblings' clothes too. This is when the murder happened. Younger daughter informed the police that she had seen two people leaving the house, but still these details were not taken on record. This is why she was also killed. Even if she put two three chairs, she can't reach the ceiling. She is a short girl. It is difficult even for me to reach the ceiling from the cot," he said.
RSS started this campaign against us: CPI(M)
Speaking on the condition of anonymity a witness from the case said that the two of the accused are CPI(M)'s youth organisation DYFI's activists. "Their activities are limited to Attappallam unit. After the first girl's death, the police gave a report calling it a suicide but postmortem report indicated that the girl was subjected to sexual abuse. But the postmortem report was kept hidden from the family on the insistence of CPI(M)'s Attappallam branch secretary Babu. The family approached the police multiple times for the report but the police didn't give them with a copy."
The witness believes that one of the reasons for the acquittal of the accused is because the court didn't hear all the witnesses in the case. "There are fifty-five witnesses to the case. I was called four times but I was not heard. I raised this issue with the police. The court heard me only in the last hearing, in a haphazard manner. The public prosecutor was in a hurry to wrap up the evidence."
Former MP of Palakkad constituency and CPI(M) leader MB Rajesh denied any role of CPI(M) in fudging up the case. He said "RSS started this campaign against us, by using a photo of one of the accused taking part in an election campaign. The accused aren't important for CPI(M), they do not even have primary membership to the party. The faults are completely on the part of the police and the public prosecutor."
The prosecutor Jalaja did not hear 25 witnesses which included crucial witnesses to the case. "She didn't discuss anything with investigation officers, she didn't oppose the bail of the accused. The investigation officer approached the high court to cancel the bail, but the major fall out was from the prosecutor's side. The prosecutor didn't even speak to the the doctor who conducted the postmortem of the girls. The prosecutor didn't visit the crime scene. The trial was absolutely undermined. A judicial enquiry is needed to expose the manner in which the police operated."
This reporter reached out to the investigating officer who refused to comment on the issue.
Sathy Angamaly, a Dalit poet and an activist, had visited the children's family when the elder girl was murdered."Anyone who has read the postmortem report can understand that the girls have been sexually abused. The court can take note of this suo motu. The court didn't do it and I think caste is the main reason. There are people who are instead trying to demoralise the girls' mother. Dalit men easily get portrayed as criminals and Dalit women easily get portrayed as sexually obscene. The day after we had gone to visit their house, a CPI(M)-backed Malayalam news channel had published an opinion piece where the mother is portrayed in a bad manner. I called them and complained and then they deleted it. Earlier, two sisters of Bhagyavathi have died under mysterious circumstances before."
"When the first girl was killed, we had visited the police station. Sub-Inspector Chacko was the investigating officer. The POCSO act charges were added later. Later, DYSP Sojan took up the investigation, he was worse than Chacko. He is the one who alleged that the girls were not sexually abused rather it was consensual. No one sees Dalit children as children," says Sathy.
Uma, an advocate working at the Kerala High Court says that in sexual crimes like these, the accused with political backing always manages a way out. Citing example of the recent Jisha murder and rape case in Ernakulam's Perumbavoor, Uma said in Walayar girls' case too, evidence was tampered with. She said that this was a norm in sexual abuse crimes such as these."They cremated Jisha's body so hurriedly. In Walayar case too, bodies of both girls were cremated hurriedly, without the parents' knowledge. If the masked men that the younger daughter saw running away were their relatives, she could have identified them. There is more to this than what we see," she added.