Regret washes over Indira every time she thinks of her 25-year-old daughter. It weighs her down, paralysing her with guilt. She had pushed Divya to return to her husband’s house despite her repeated pleas that she was being tortured and harassed.
It’s been two months since Divya, a chartered accountant from Mannargudi in Tamil Nadu was allegedly tortured and murdered by her in-laws on July 17.
Caving into repeated harassment
The dowry harassment had begun weeks before her wedding in 2013 to Elan Cheran, a doctor. While Indira says that Elan’s family demanded Rs 25 lakh, they eventually paid up Rs 15 lakh in cash, and 100 sovereigns of gold in the hope that it would secure their daughter’s future happiness. But it was never enough.
The harassment began days after the wedding. “Her mother-in-law would scold her for everything. They did not even let her eat food properly. We even tried speaking to her mother-law but nothing changed,” says Indira.
Over the course of four years, Divya returned to her family home multiple times, each time with a plea not to send her back.
“Divya used to keep coming back home and would tell us that she does not want to go back to her husband’s house. She was tortured there. How could we let her stay at home? She was young and I thought fights are common in every house. I would keep telling her respect your in-laws and do not argue with them,” recalls Indira.
Every time the chartered accountant came home with a fresh list of demands from her in-laws, her family would cave in. They coughed up Rs 7 lakh in cash, sent many gifts including a TV, beds and other household items.
Image: Divya with her husband and in-laws
Now four years later, Indira admits that her biggest regret is sending her only daughter back to her harassers. She says, “The only mistake we did was to send her back to her in-laws’ house. I want to tell all parents that they should never send their daughters back if they tell them about any dowry harassment.”
The last time Divya had come to her parents’ home was two days before she was allegedly killed. This time she had arrived with her husband Elan and son.
“One month before the murder, her husband’s family treated her very well. They pretended that everything was fine. They did not want us to have any doubts. If I had known that they will murder her, I would have never sent her back. She herself would not have gone back,” laments Indira.
On July 17, Divya’s father-in-law and two other men allegedly hit her and suffocated her to death using a pillow. The father-in-law had allegedly confessed to the crime, telling the police that his wife and him had wanted their son to get married again so they could get more dowry.
Divorce never an option
Although Divya’s family never imagined that her in-laws would murder their only daughter, they admit that divorce was never an option.
Premkumar says, "We never thought of divorce as an option as we thought everything will be alright in sometime. If we knew it will lead to my sister's death, we would have definitely thought of it."
The social stigma that comes with separation and divorce have forced many families including Divya’s to push for reconciliation, whatever the cost. With their marriage strained, Divya’s family hoped that taking the issue to the panchayat would help resolve their marital problems.
“Both the families were called, we sorted out the problems and sent my daughter back,” recounts Indira.
But the harassment persisted. Divya would very often return home only to be sent back days later. It became routine, her family admits. “Her in-laws never used to allow her to stay at our house for more than three days. They will have some demand. I will take money or get whatever they want from my son and then we will send her back,” says her mother.
‘Justice must prevail’
Following Divya’s murder, the police arrested five people in the case, including her husband Elan Cheran, his parents, and two other men - Shivakumar and Senthil. All five accused have been remanded to Trichy central prison, and a case has been filed under Section 498A (Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) and Section 302 (Punishment for murder) of the Indian Penal Code.
“Around 10.30pm that night, her mother-in-law called me and asked me to come to their house, saying that Divya is unwell. By the time, I reached their home, they had taken her to a government hospital. When I reached the hospital, I realised she was murdered by her in-laws,” Premkumar recalls.
With Divya’s face covered in marks, Premkumar filed a complaint with the Mannargudi town police station the next day.
Her story, however, is hardly the first in Tamil Nadu or in India.
In 2015, Tamil Nadu reported 65 dowry deaths while across the country 7634 women had died following dowry harassment. In other words, according to National Crime Records Bureau dowry claims at least 21 lives every day. The conviction rate, however, remains abysmally low at 34.7%.
But Premkumar hopes and prays that justice will prevail and that Divya’s killers will be brought to book. “In most of the cases, the accused are out on bail. The court must punish them, so that, no one else does the same,” he says.
Parents also need to take responsibility for standing up against the practice of dowry, in any form. Read TNM's take here: Giving dowry won’t ‘secure’ your daughter’s future, and calling it a ‘gift’ doesn’t change that