Around 4 pm on March 24, residents of Kittur village in Belagavi district of Karnataka found the body of a 15-year-old girl who was reported missing on March 20. Her partially-burnt body was battered, with a hand chopped off, according to the first information report (FIR) in the case. On Tuesday, the police arrested one person in connection with the case on the charges of murder and destruction of evidence.
The girl, who belongs to the Scheduled Caste community, was a resident of Nargund in Gadag district, which is around 35 kilometres away from Kittur. A close family friend of the victim told TNM that the girl went out for some agricultural work, which she did every weekend when she did not have school, to help her family. Her father works as a cashier in a hotel. â€śOn March 20 (Saturday), when her father returned home from a break and tried to call her, he realised that her phone was switched off. He panicked and went to the police,â€ť he said.
According to the girlâ€™s family friend, the police allegedly did not register a missing person complaint immediately when her father went to the Nargund police station. â€śIt was after many of us went to the police station and pressured them that the police finally accepted and started searching for her, by 11 pm,â€ť he said.
The Ramdurg police station in Belagavi registered a first information report (FIR) based on the complaint of Sunil Irappa Halemani, a farmer who owned the property where the girlâ€™s body was found. The FIR stated that the victim was hit on her head with 'a rock or some other instrument.' It also stated that the victim's face was hit to ensure she could not be recognised and that her right hand was chopped off to destroy evidence.
According to the police, based on the information from the father, they called the accused, identified as Saddam Bettageri, for questioning. The victim and the accused were allegedly in a relationship with each other, a senior official of Belagavi police station told TNM. The accused allegedly gave a statement that he did not know the girl, the victimâ€™s family friend said.
The Ramdurg police have arrested and pressed charges against Saddam Bettageri under section 302 (punishment for murder) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
According to another senior official, who is investigating the case, â€śThe victim spoke rudely to the accused when he called her over the phone, which led to following events. Further details cannot be divulged as it is an ongoing investigation.â€ť
On Tuesday, members of Dalit Sangarsh Samiti (Ambedkarwada) held a protest in Nargund and Gadag town in the district, demanding a compensation of Rs 50 lakh for the family of the victim, who is from the Scheduled Caste community.
Meanwhile, a video containing the girl's photos, including the gruesome images of her dead body, were circulated widely on social media. Many social media posts also claimed the incident is a case of 'love jihad' â€” a term propagated by right-wing groups, which claim that Muslim men target Hindu women and convert them through marriage.