On Saturday, 45-year-old Tamizharasi, a widow, welcomed five men dressed into her house with folded hands. She lived by herself at her residence in Manali new town and had been experiencing excruciating body pain for some days. And when these 'holy men' came to her doorstep, she was convinced they would have an answer to her ailments.
The five of them sported ash on their foreheads and strands of beads across their necks. They sat down to study her palm and informed her immediately that her pain was a result of an evil spirit that was sent by someone to bring ill upon her. She was convinced that a 'puja' was to be done immediately to remove this curse and restore her health. She asked them how much it would cost but they generously maintained that the fee was based on her own good will.
But as it turns out, these 'holy men' already had a fee in mind - her jewellery.
"As part of the puja, they made her remove her gold earrings and rings and keep it on a plate, which they covered with a cloth," an investigating official told TNM. Reports suggest that the gold jewellery was worth at least Rs 2.3 lakh. "They then closed it and made a show of removing the evil spirit from the house," he adds.
Tamizharasi remained unsuspicious till then.
"She then began to get doubts after it was over. They told her that they were going to take the plate with the gold to the graveyard where bodies were burnt. And that she will get it back after 11 days. She protested but they took it and left," says the officer.
Immediately, the woman called her son-in-law for help and a police case was filed.
"We caught five of them even as they were going to approach their next target, another woman who lived alone," says the investigator. The arrested were identified as Karthik, 20, Muthu, 23, Arasakumar, 20, Vetrivel, 20 of Kancheepuram and Lakshmanan, 24 of Villupuram. "They are all relatives and it is like a family business to cheat people," he adds.
Police suspect that the accused could have been involved in similar crimes before this incident. "But the problem in such cases is people don't complain," says the officer. "They allow blind superstition to block out their common sense."