The busy Madras Port Trust road (MPT) in North Chennai's New Washermanpet neighbourhood looked nothing out of the ordinary on Wednesday evening. Located two streets away from the local H5 police station, a shocking murder unfolded here just two days ago.
On Monday, the body of a 59-year-old man - 'Amman' Sekar - a camphor vendor, was found lying on the side of this road. His throat had been slit and his eyes glued shut. Less than 24 hours after the deceased was identified, the police arrested his alleged murderer - 23-year-old Vrindha*, his daughter's close friend.
TNM spoke to police officers from the H5 police station who had made the arrest within 48 hours. According to the Inspector, who investigated the case, Vrindha had allegedly been sexually abused and threatened by Sekar for years - which led her to murder him to end the harassment.
"Her statement says that the two of them had met 5 years ago when Vrindha visited his house, to meet his daughter who was her friend from college. In the following years, Sekar used to visit her house even when her parents were there and compel her to invite him home when she was alone. He used to buy her gifts and clothes, and also force her to come to his house. Both their families knew but never alerted the cops," Saravanan, the Inspector of H5 PS told TNM.
According to Vrindha*, she wished to escape from the toxic relationship when he began threatening her. As per her statement to the police, the deceased had threatened to leak photos and videos of the two of them to force her to continue meeting him.
The deceased 'Amman' Sekar
"This was when she decided to kill him to put an end to the harassment, threats and sexual abuse. Around 9:55 pm on Monday night, the two of them met on MPT road. The deceased, Sekar, was turning 60 the next day. Vrindha told him to shut his eyes promising a birthday surprise. She then glued his eyes shut with an adhesive and slit his throat," the Inspector added.
According to the police, an injured Sekar tried to get back on his two wheeler and ride away from the accused. However, he drove a 100 mts and then collapsed to death.
"The accused left the murder weapon and the two wheeler on the street and took an auto back home. The next day we arrested her from Royapuram," the Inspector said.
Can the accused's right to private defence be exercised?
In many ways, Vrindha's alleged motives for committing the murder are linked to protecting herself from Sekar. She was subjected to 5 years of sexual abuse and harassment, she alleged. With the intent to protect herself from his threats and safeguard her dignity as a woman, she committed the murder, her statement says.
However, it is the 'pre-meditated' nature of this crime that does not sit well with the clauses of Section 100 in the Indian Penal Code - one's right to private defence.
The Indian Penal Code defines Section 100 as "the right of private defence of the body extends to the voluntary causing of death or of any other harm to the assailant."
This law comes as legal recourse to anybody who has exercised the right to protect oneself from an assault which could have led to death, grievous hurt, rape, kidnapping or abduction, wrongful confinement.
In Vrindha's case, however, experts believe that this section cannot apply as there was a lack of imminent threat.
"Had there been even 5-10 minutes of a struggle before the crime had taken place, the accused could have availed this right. Instead of perpetuating the crime, she should have alerted the police of the abuse she faced. Right now it is only section 302 (murder) which has been registered in the FIR," the Inspector of the H5 station stated.
Speaking to TNM, lawyer and human rights activist Sudha Ramalingam stated that section 99 and 100 - right to private defence - is only proportionate to the threat caused to body, property or to another person.
"The law will apply when you are trying to protect your body, your property or to save another person from imminent danger. In this case, when the threat is not imminent and the action is pre-meditated, the section cannot be applied. However, one must take into account the plight of the woman here. There have been examples in the past where human rights activists have rallied for the release of women who have killed their abusers. The 1992 case of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, the Indian woman, who burnt her husband to death in London is one such example. While she had not faced imminent threat on the day of the crime, Ahluwalia had claimed that her action had been in response to 10 years of physical, psychological and sexual abuse," Sudha says.
Usha Rani's case
In 2012, Tamil Nadu witnessed such a case when a 44-year-old Madurai woman, Usha Rani, bludgeoned her ex-husband to death. Usha was not charged with homicide as she had acted to save her daughter who was in immediate danger of being sexually assaulted by her father.
In September 2017, a 65-year-old woman in Tamil Nadu's Sivagangai district picked up a sickle and hacked her own son to death while trying to save her granddaughter from being abused by him. The 65-year-old was later released as she had perpetrated the crime to protect her granddaughter who was assaulted with a wooden log by her own father for refusing his advances.
In Vrindha's case, however, experts believe that right to private defence cannot apply due to a lack of imminent threat.
*Name changed to protect identity