DSP Vishnupriya’s death, caste-tinderbox in TN, and the horrors of being a lady officer

Beyond the conspiracy theories and speculation, the case is an illustration of what it really means to be a young lady police officer from a lower caste in Tamil Nadu.
DSP Vishnupriya’s death, caste-tinderbox in TN, and the horrors of being a lady officer
DSP Vishnupriya’s death, caste-tinderbox in TN, and the horrors of being a lady officer
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Till the very end, she discharged her duties as a dedicated police officer. It wasn’t an easy day, even going by the intensity of a police officer’s daily duties. A group of teachers had got together to protest on the streets of Thiruchengode blocking an arterial road after a traffic policeman allegedly beat up a teacher. She dealt with the teachers, got them to disperse, went back home by late -afternoon and reportedly even asked her driver to come pick her up at 5 30PM.

What happened next is now subject to investigation and much controversy – but she seems to have written a seven-page suicide note and then hanged herself to death. On not receiving any response from her on the phone, a police constable who came to check on her at her official residence is said to have found her hanging in the bedroom. She was 27-years old and single.

What’s added heat to the tragedy is the fact that she was an investigating officer in a sensitive, sensational murder case. A Dalit youngster named Gokulraj was kidnapped and murdered in June this year, for allegedly being friendly with a woman from a higher caste. His body was found by the railway tracks in Namakkal. He was last seen being picked up some men at the Thiruchengode temple, the epicentre of the controversy over writer Perumal Murugan’s book Madhorubagan. For the past few months, the districts of West TN have been a tinderbox of caste division, grappling with the tensions between Dalits and Kongu Vellalars. The main accused in the case, Yuvaraj, president of the caste-outfit Dheeran Chinnamalai Peravai, has still not been arrested.

Vishnupriya, a Dalit by birth, has left a 7-page suicide note. Written in English and Tamil but in the Roman script, she apologises to her parents, and states, importantly, that her decision has nothing to do with the ‘sensitive case’.

She is thankful to her parents, but shows guilt for taking the drastic decision. One by one, she addresses her relatives, and tells them she loves them and that she will miss them. She says her parents should not be blamed for this, it was her decision.

She says that she likes her job, it is like ‘god’, but she feels she is not suitable for the job. “MADE A MISTAKE,” she writes, “that guilt is troubling me a lot.”

She writes, “Don’t give the police any trouble... don’t go to any political party... take my body and leave silently.” Don’t seek compensation, she pleads. “Nobody has done anything to me, you know they cannot,” she writes, and adds a smiley.

Most importantly, written in bold and underlined is this – “I am the IO of a sensitive case. Please don’t relate my death to the case. It would be bullshit.” She asks the media not to ‘create stories’.

But in spite of the letter, that’s exactly what’s happening today.

Her batch-mate, close friend and fellow police officer in another district, Maheshwari – perhaps the ‘Mahesh akka’ she mentions in her letter - is livid. Speaking to the media, she says that it is indeed the Gokulraj murder case because of which she took her life.

“She was a bold and honest officer. The Gokulraj case was not investigated properly at all. The case is the cause for her suicide. I know I might lose my job because of this, but I don’t care anymore,” said Maheshwari, adding that “The SPs and DSPs in the case were pressurizing her to put Goondas Act on those unrelated to the murder since their remand period was coming to an end.” There have been source-based media reports too, which state that before she was found hanging, officers were trying to reach her regarding a Goondas act case.

Activists and politicians have stepped in too.

Stalin Rajangam, a social activist who was a part of a fact-finding mission in the Gokulraj case, had met DSP Vishnupriya a week after the murder. “She was hesitant in sharing information with us, she told us that officers higher up will not like it if she shares all details.” He agrees that there is no proof yet linking the suicide with the murder, but there was pressure on her over the investigation, he says.

Gokulraj’s mother, Chitra, too says that the murder investigation could have led to her suicide. “She was helping us, she was standing strong with us,” she told TV channels.

Dalit-based party VCK’s chief Thol. Thirumavalavan minces no words in stating that the suicide is not an open and shut case. “Her father was a police officer. She was well educated, and knew what it meant to be in the police force. It is not easy to believe that she took her life because of the general work-pressure on her,” he says, speaking to The News Minute. The VCK has released a statement seeking a CBI enquiry into the suicide.

But beyond the conspiracy theories and speculation, the case is an illustration of what it really means to be a young lady police officer from a lower caste in Tamil Nadu.

Maheshwari says that as lady officers, the pressure on them is immense. “They don’t speak to us properly, they misbehave with us. We do fear as to what they can do to us, and they are capable of doing it,” says Maheshwari.

“The larger issue here is the condition of Dalit women in the police force. Most officers are from upper casts, and they don’t treat lady officers from SC groups properly,” says Thirumavalavan, “there have been several cases of Dalit women leaving the force at police-constable level itself.”

“I have seen several cases in my career where policewomen have been harassed and assaulted, and they speak of this only with the caveat that I cannot speak about it to anyone else. One constable once told me how they fear even asking for help for themselves. Higher officers have so much clout, and they are rude and inhuman to woman officers, especially those down the order,” says Sudha Ramalingam, an advocate based in Chennai.

Former DGP Letika Saran however says that women officers are given training to withstand pressure during their service, “The grievance-redressal mechanism is there in the force. Women officers can complain and there is always someone higher up to listen to them and address their woes. The doors are always open.”

“We need to move beyond the denial and ensure transparency in the system,” says Ramalingam.

Update: The investigation into the murder of Gokulraj and the suicide of Vishnupriya have been handed over to the TN CBCID.

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