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Kerala asked to reinvestigate rape-murder of Dalit sisters

Police covered up crime because of criminals' political connections, say activists including Catholics

Kerala asked to reinvestigate rape-murder of Dalit sisters

Father Augustine Vattoli is speaking at the site of a protest on Jan. 30 asking the Kerala state government to reinvestigate the alleged rape and murder of two Dalit girls in a village in the state (Photo: supplied)

Nooses of white rope were hanging from the makeshift blue polyethylene-covered shed. Two white petticoats, stained with fake blood and dangled in two of the nooses, fluttered in the morning breeze. 

Inside the shed some 15-20 rights activists sat shouting slogans, seeking justice for two Dalit sisters who were raped and murdered three years ago. The activists included a Catholic priest and a nun.

They set up the tent near Kerala's legislative house in state capital Thiruvananthapuram after walking 230 kilometers along the state’s main highway.

Inside it one of them is on a 24-hour fast. Each of them takes turns to fast for a day in the “relay fast” they began on Jan. 21 after they arrived in the state capital.

The walk and the continuing fast are to press Kerala's government to reinvestigate the rape-murder case involving two young girls in a village near Valayar in the southern Indian state’s Palghat district.

The body of a 13-year-old girl was found hanging inside her house on Jan. 13, 2017. Her nine-year-old sister was found hanging in the same room on March 4.

A police probe concluded that the sisters were raped and murdered. Four suspects were eventually arrested. However, a court on Oct. 25, 2019, acquitted three of all crimes for want of proof. Police had already released the fourth suspect.

“Police have erred in the investigation. Caste and financial backwardness have contributed to denying justice to two minor girls,” said activist nun Rose Anto, who started the relay fast.  

Support of thousands  

Father Augustine Vattoli of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, a leader of the Justice for Valayar Kids Forum that spearheads the struggle, said the campaign has the “support of thousands."

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Catholics, including priests and nuns, are among those seeking justice for the Dailt (former untouchables) girls, the priest told UCA News on Jan. 30.

“We are on an indefinite satyagraha (peaceful resistance). It will continue until the government agrees to reinvestigate the case," he said.

Their march, which started on Jan. 4 in Kochi, saw 4,000 people urging the government to punish those behind the rape and murder of the sisters.

Soon after the death of the elder one, her younger sister told police that she saw two masked men leaving the house. Within two months, her body was also found hanging.  

‘Sabotaged’ police probe

Activists are now seeking a reinvestigation and action against police officials who they say “sabotaged” the case involving influential people.

“The state government is still silent on a probe even after admitting in court that its officials failed in their duty,” said Father Vattoli.

In November 2019, the victims’ mother moved court seeking a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation, the federal police agency. But the government has not ordered such an investigation.

More than a federal probe, Dalit activists like Father Vattoli want "a court-monitored probe.” 

He cited the fate of what came to be known as the “Sister Abaya case” in which the body of a 19-year-old Kerala nun was found inside the well of her convent in 1992. An investigation established murder but even after 27 years, and several federal probes, the case drags on in court.

“It is a shame on the Kerala government to remain silent on the tears of the mother of two girls from a vulnerable section of society,” lamented the priest.

Sister Anto said that “except for the government and its officials, everyone knew how the sisters were sexually exploited and killed.” 

The nun, who now works independently, said they want the government to ensure justice for the family of the murdered children.

‘The cover-up’ 

Sister Anto said media reports suggest that the accused were linked to the ruling Communist Party in Kerala. 

All the suspects are known to the family of the victims. Two of them are the girls’ close relatives.

Police booked the suspects on charges of abetment to suicide and rape. However, no murder charges were made against them.

“This is a case that proves might is right in present-day Kerala,” said Sister Anto, a former member of the Holy Family congregation. 

The state’s opposition Congress party regularly accuses the communist government of influencing police investigations when party workers are involved in crimes.

“The government will have to file a case against the police officials who sabotaged the case,” said V.M. Marsen, a Dalit activist.

“There is no alternative to justice,” he asserted as the blood-stained petticoats fluttered in the breeze.

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