As the baby’s biological mother was arrested on June 22, it left her family stunned, as no one, including her husband, knew that she had been pregnant.

Collage of Greeshma and Arya, two Kerala women who died of suicide and that of their relative Reshma, who abandoned a child and her husband Vishnu From left Greeshma, Reshma, Arya and Vishnu
news Crime Tuesday, July 06, 2021 - 19:50

It was on January 5 morning that a newborn was found on a heap of dry leaves in the compound of Sudarshanan Pillai’s house in Oozhayikottu, near Paravur, in Kollam, a southern district in Kerala. The events that took place over the last six months after the infant was discovered has resulted in two more deaths, plunging three families into grief. Though Sudarshanan Pillai, a carpenter by profession, and his son-in-law Vishnu rushed the infant to the Sree Avittom Thirunal Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram, the child could not be saved. The task then began for the police to find the mother of the infant.

Many women living in the locality were questioned, some were not informed that the infant had died and were brought to the place where the baby was found abandoned, to study their reactions. After months of investigation, the police unravelled the truth. The mother of the infant was none other than Sudarshanan Pillai’s daughter Reshma, and a DNA test proved it. In fact, it was her father Sudarshanan Pillai who had walked into the compound hearing what he thought was a kitten’s cry and even cut the umbilical cord that was still on the baby. 

When Reshma was arrested on June 22, it left her family stunned, as no one, including her husband, knew that she had been pregnant. Then began a bewildering crime story, which the investigating team has still not unravelled fully. On June 24, Reshma's relatives 23-year-old Arya and 19-year old Greeshma went missing. The next day, the bodies of the women were found from the Ithikkara river, flowing to the nearby region of Chathannur. CCTV footage established that the two women had gone to the river and died by suicide. Arya was a homemaker and mother to a five-year-old boy, while Greeshma was a Bachelor of Business Administration student. Why did Arya and Greesha die by suicide? Why did Reshma, who is mother to a three-year-old girl, abandon the infant? How did her family not know? These were the questions before the police.

"I was here on that day," Reshma’s husband Vishnu recalls. The 28-year old looks baffled, still unable to grasp what has happened. "She came with me to visit temples two days before the infant was found abandoned," Vishnu tells TNM. It was Reshma who opened the door the previous night for Vishnu when he came back from work at around 11.30 pm. Both were staying at Reshma's parents' house at the time. "She was with me when the infant was taken from the heap. I didn't have an iota of suspicion that the kid was ours. It was I who suggested the DNA test as I began getting calls from the police even when I was away for work. Also, I was preparing to leave for the Gulf," Vishnu says.

In fact, on January 5, Reshma even spoke about the baby to the media and said that her family had discovered the child. After they found that Reshma was the biological mother, the police thought they had a clear case before them. The woman, according to the investigating team, was in 'love' with a 'man' whom she had befriended on Facebook, a person she had never met. The police assumed that the young woman had abandoned the baby at the behest of the online lover.

But, there was a twist to this theory.

Among the many who were summoned by the police for questioning after Reshma’s arrest was a young woman, Reshma’s friend and relative — Arya. Arya was summoned by the police as she was using an old phone of Reshma’s and the police wanted information from the device. The day she was supposed to appear before the police, Arya and another relative, Greeshma, died, leaving behind a suicide note that they did not want to be blamed for the death of the infant. Then began the next question for the police, why did Arya and Greeshma die? How were they connected to Reshma and her infant?

Arya was Vishnu's sister-in-law, wife of Vishnu's elder brother Renjith. Greeshma was Vishnu's niece, the daughter of his stepsister. The two young women had taken their mobile phones along with them and these were never recovered. However, the police started questioning their friends and a male friend of Greeshma made a startling confession — that it was these two women who had started the Facebook account in the name of a man called Anandhu and started flirting with Reshma, perhaps in a bid to prank her, or to create marital discord. "Days before their death, both Arya and Greeshma became restless, their families told us. They shared their apprehensions with a friend of Greeshma’s as well as with Vishnu’s mother Girija Kumari,” an investigating officer says.

"They would have probably feared the punishment they would have got for impersonating and for probably abetting a crime. What we presume is that they opened a Facebook account and chatted with Reshma for fun, but things went out of control. Even they wouldn't have imagined that Reshma would go to this extent. It was Reshma's decision to abandon the child to live with the lover, fearing that she won't be accepted if had two kids," the officer says.

While Vishnu says that he was not on good terms with Reshma for the past several months, the officer says she had hidden her pregnancy by wearing loose clothes and tummy tucking belts. "The relationship had become strained after we fought over using Facebook," Vishnu says.

A couple of months ago, Reshma had gone to Varkala, a beach tourist destination 15 kilometres away, to meet ‘Anandhu’ with her daughter. Vishnu was told by friends that she was seen in Varkala. "By the time I called her, she had returned by bus to Paravur. I picked them up from there and dropped them home," Vishnu says. It is unclear what transpired in Varkala and according to the police, Reshma met no one there.

In February, Vishnu left for Abu Dhabi for work. "Even on that day, on June 22, I spoke to her over the phone 10 minutes prior to her arrest. I had work that day and I left for the workplace after talking to her," he says. It was his friends who informed Vishnu about the arrest. "Even then I didn't believe them, and I called up the police station to confirm," he says. He asserts that neither he, his mother or Reshma's parents had any clue that she was pregnant. Vishnu and Reshma had moved to her parents’ house by the end of last year as Vishnu had to sell his house.

Vishnu and his mother now live in a one-room house, with a television, a refrigerator, bed and everything else fitted into the small space. The house is built in the corner of a cow farm that Vishnu manages. Vishnu returned from Abu Dhabi soon after knowing about the arrest.  

Vishnu fell in love with Reshma when he was 21 and Reshma was a Class 10 student. While Vishnu has passed a course from an Industrial Training Institute (ITI), Reshma learnt tailoring after completing Class 12. The couple has been married for five years and have a three-year-old daughter. Greeshma and Arya were friends with Reshma from their school days and the bond became stronger after Reshma married Vishnu. The three of them studied in the same school. Vishnu had fought with Reshma over her using Facebook and had even destroyed her phone once. He had bought a new one for her before leaving for the Gulf.

"All that was needed was a word from her," says Vishnu. "Reshma could have told me the truth even after she delivered the child, then the child's life could have also been saved. Arya or Greeshma could have told us what had happened. Now we all have to suffer," he says. Reshma is now at the Women's Jail at Attakulangara in Thiruvananthapuram.

If you are aware of anyone facing mental health issues or feeling suicidal, please provide help. Here are some helpline numbers of suicide-prevention organisations that can offer emotional support to individuals and families.   

Maithri: 0484 2540530
Chaithram: 0484 2361161
Both are 24-hour helpline numbers.

Tamil Nadu
State health department's suicide helpline: 104
Sneha Suicide Prevention Centre - 044-24640050 (listed as the sole suicide prevention helpline in Tamil Nadu)

Andhra Pradesh
Life Suicide Prevention: 78930 78930
Roshni: 9166202000, 9127848584

Sahai (24-hour): 080 65000111, 080 65000222

State government's suicide prevention (tollfree): 104
Roshni: 040 66202000, 6620200
SEVA: 09441778290, 040 27504682 (between 9 am and 7 pm)

Aasara offers support to individuals and families during an emotional crisis, for those dealing with mental health issues and suicidal ideation, and to those undergoing trauma after the suicide of a loved one.   
24x7 Helpline: 9820466726
Click here for working helplines across India.

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