Thalavaipatti, a small village in the outskirts of Salem, witnessed a gruesome crime on Monday. Fourteen-year-old Rajalakshmi was murdered right in front of her mother by their neighbour Dinesh Kumar on Monday evening. Dinesh chopped off Rajalakshmi’s head inside her house, and flung it on a road, away from the house.
The police arrested Dinesh soon after he committed the crime and registered an FIR under the SC/ST (Prevention of atrocities) Act. Rajalakshmi belonged to the Parayar community, a Scheduled Caste in Tamil Nadu, and Dinesh Kumar belongs to the Mudaliar community which is a dominant caste in the state. When we spoke to the police on Tuesday, they were looking at various motives for the crime, include caste hatred.
By Thursday, the police investigation had another angle to it. Dinesh may soon be charged under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The investigating officer, on Thursday told TNM, “Although there were no marks of injury on the victim’s body, provisions of POCSO act include sexual advances without necessarily establishing physical contact, using speech or gestures. The investigation now has taken that route.”
However, for Rajalakshmi’s father Samivelu, nothing makes sense anymore.
The inexplicable crime
Forty two-year-old Samivelu cannot believe that Dinesh, a boy who grew up in front of his eyes, could commit this horrific crime.
“Dinesh’s grandfather came to Thalavaipatti from Rasipuram, Namakkal district years ago for business and stayed here since then. Dinesh was born and brought up in Thalavaipatti,” Samivelu says, “We have always had cordial relations with him. I never imagined that he would do this.”
Dinesh worked as a machine operator at a rice mill elsewhere in Salem. Four years ago, he got married to Saradha, and the couple has a son. While his family continues to live in Thalavaipatti, Dinesh only visited on weekends.
On the day of the murder, Rajalakshmi and her mother Chinnaponnu were at their house, stringing together the flowers they had plucked from Dinesh’s garden. Around 7.30 pm, Dinesh suddenly entered their house with a sickle. Seeing him angry and with a weapon in his hand, Chinnaponnu tried to block him from advancing further. He pushed her aside and beheaded Rajalakshmi in front of her mother’s eyes, say police. He then stormed out off the house with the severed head and vanished. People from the vicinity came to the house after hearing Chinnaponnu’s wails, and the police were soon alerted.
After he was taken into custody, Dinesh did not speak a word and made no confession regarding his motive, a senior police officer told TNM. However, the officer said that there were no other injuries in the victim’s body indicating that there had been no sexual offence committed just before the murder.
But with the police mulling POCSO charges suddenly, Rajalalshmi’s family is baffled. They say they are not aware of any sexual advances or any hatred that Dinesh may have harboured against them. Rajalakshmi’s uncle Lakshmanan says, "He did this cruel act and told the police that he was a psychopath. There were no sexual advances, we have never thought he is such a guy," he adds.
Mental illness, says Dinesh’s wife
Dinesh’s wife, 28-year-old Saradha, meanwhile says Dinesh has been mentally unstable for sometime now.
"My husband has been mentally affected by a business decision that went wrong. Since last month, he has been talking to himself, behaving abnormally, and he was even being violent towards our own child,” she says. She says that she took Dinesh to the government hospital near their house and that the doctor had prescribed medicines for Dinesh’s hallucinations.
Saradha claims that Dinesh had not made any sexual advances to Rajalakshmi, instead she reveals that Dinesh did not like Rajalakshmi coming to their house since she was from a lower caste.
"He didn't like that girl coming to our house because she was from a lower caste. When she came that day, I was yelling at him because he was hurting our son by holding him in a really tight grasp. I told him that the girl and her mother will tell others about his behaviour. The next thing I knew, he left with that sickle to chop her head off," she says.
The police officer, however, counters the claims of Dinesh being mentally unstable. "There is not one iota of truth in those claims. Though he was silent on the first day, he is answering questions properly, recognising people, and is very clear and coherent in his thoughts. The police's stand is that he is perfectly fine. Whoever claims otherwise is, in my opinion, trying to cover up for him,” he says.
A dream cut short
Samivelu and Chinnaponnu, and Rajalakshmi’s siblings Aruljothi (25) and Sargurunathan (21), are trying to pick up the pieces after their youngest was murdered.
Samivelu says Rajalakshmi was a calm and silent girl, who was friendly and kind. “She never spoke more than a couple of words at once. Ask her if she had eaten, she would reply with a yes. Ask her what she ate, she would say ‘rice and gravy.’ She would not go into the details of it,” he says.
The Class 8 student wanted to become an IAS officer when she grew up. “Even if we are poor, I will work hard to become a Collector,” she often used to say, recounts Samivelu.
An ardent believer in God and astrology, Samivelu had in fact suspended Rajalakshmi’s studies for a year when she was in Class 1. “The astrologer had told me that her time was not good and hence I stopped sending her to school for a year when she was about to complete Class 1. Or else, she would have been in Class 9 or Class 10 now,” he says.
This father who had made careful plans for his children says he has lost faith in everything now. “Is this the age for her to die? Everything that I believed in like astrology, God, religion have all become lies. Whatever I see, or listen to, has become a lie,” says Samivelu.