A burnt shoe rack outside house number three of Divyavarshini apartments at Velachery is only the beginning of the trail of a tragic disaster that took place in South Chennai on Monday.
Charred walls and the layer of ash that carpets the floor of this house, tells the tale of a murder that took the life of Induja, a 22-year-old female engineer and left two others battling for life.
It was around 8.45 pm on Monday evening when screams of ‘Ayyo, ayyo’ alerted residents of this middle class apartment, to a shocking crime on their premises. When TNM spoke to them on Tuesday, a grave narrative gradually unfolded. "We ran outside and reached the gate of the apartment to see a man casually sitting on a bike and leaving. A resident who lives on the ground floor was also shouting asking us to catch him but we did not understand anything. We did not see the face of the man leaving properly,” says Raghu, a neighbour of Induja.
Then they ran upstairs to check on the family. “We found the mother and younger daughter, we brought them down. We switched off the power and again went up because the mother told us that her other daughter was inside. The whole house was covered in smoke, we opened windows and put water to stop the fire. When we went inside to one of the bedrooms, we found the elder daughter burnt and unconscious on the ground,” says Raghu.
By then, the residents had already called the ambulance and police. “The doctors came and checked the girl and told us that she is already dead. The mother and the younger daughter were immediately taken to the Kilpauk medical college,” says Raghu.
The victim, Induja (22), her mother, Renuka (43) and her younger sister Nivedha (20) were present in the house. Induja’s father Shanmugam had left for Canada a week ago. Her younger brother Manoj was at the terrace when the incident happened.
“Manoj had told me that Aakash had come to the house with a can of petrol and had kept it near the shoe rack. And after he had an argument with the family, he came out , took the can and poured it on the girl,” says Raghu.
Not only did the accused push the can, allowing it douse the living room but he also managed to set the flammable fuel on fire before rushing away.
He adds that Renuka had a cut on her face, the younger daughter had injury on her one hand and her legs were burnt. According to relative, Induja's mother and sister rushed to help her when they saw Akash pull out a lighter. But they were too late.
A family scarred for life
The family had been living in this house for the last 8 years. “They used to often speak to us. Induja had finished training in a company after completing Bachelor’s in Engineering. She had been looking for a job. Nivedha is studying in a college and Manoj is in Class XI,” says Amravathi, another neighbour.
“I had spoken to Induja about two days ago. She would not speak too much to anyone,” she adds.
Asked if Aakash used to often visit Induja’s house, “We have not seen him recently but we have heard that he used to come home when they were both in the same school,” says Amravathi.
But irrespective of whether the accused was known to the family, he has caused grave damage to three women, leaving this family with emotional and physical scars.
Induja’s family members say he had been stalking her for a month, angry at her dejection.
The damage done
"Renuka has suffered 49% burns and Nivedha has 23% burns. They are both critical," admits Vasanta Mani, the Dean of Kilpauk Medical Hospital. "We have been continuously monitoring them. They are on ventilators due to lung injury from the smoke. We can only predict their survival after 48 hours," she adds grimly.
The Dean further admitted that psychiatric counselling will be given to the patients following their physical recovery. While the patients are conscious and lucid, they are still in pain, claims the doctor.
Shell-shocked relatives of the patients meanwhile had travelled from Salem district after watching the news. They could be easily singled out near the burns unit of the Kilpauk hospital by their worried eyes and inability to string sentences together, without breaking into tears .
'Doesn't matter if they know each other'
A cousin of Induja's who did not wish to be named, tells TNM, "They tell women to not leave the house because it is dangerous. But now, it is not safe even in the house."
Reacting aggressively to allegations that the accused and victim knew each other she says, "Yes, they did go to school together. But does that mean he can come to her house and kill her? The murderer knew that her father was not in town and that is why he chose to attack on that day" she adds.
Induja's father is currently on his way back to Chennai after hearing about the tragic incident. One of her uncles is currently handling the situation here for the family and he tells TNM that Akash did stalk the young girl. But when the family started looking for grooms for Induja, he took this drastic step.
"We should have gone to the police when he started stalking her. But thought it may affect her reputation," he says. "But now her life is gone. The family will never recover from this," he adds.
The Adambakkam police have filed an FIR and booked Akash under Section 302 (murder) of the IPC . They however refused to divulge any further information till the enquiry was complete.