Glossing over the fact that caste was the reason for the murder, journalist Rajinikanth's tweet reflected the popular opinion among the dominant castes in Telangana.

Fathers love How some Telugu channels used Maruthi Raos death to defend caste killing
news Opinion Monday, March 09, 2020 - 16:47

Rajinikanth Vellalacheruvu, a popular news presenter and host from TV9 Telugu, found it appropriate to tweet these poetic lines “Keeping aside the bad things of Maruthi Rao, he has a father's love that is capable of killing and dying” when news broke on Sunday about the death of the prime accused in a brutal caste killing.

T Maruthi Rao was allegedly the mastermind behind the murder of 24-year-old Pranay Perumalla, a Dalit man who was hacked to death in broad daylight in 2018 for marrying Maruti Rao's daughter, Amrutha. Maruthi Rao, who was from the Vyshya community, couldn't accept a Mala man marrying his daughter. Pranay was hacked to death in front of his mother and his pregnant wife.

Glossing over the fact that caste was the reason for the murder, Rajinikanth's tweet reflected the popular opinion among the dominant castes in Telangana. The tweet, which is nothing short of a tribute to Maruthi Rao, found resonance among dominant caste trolls who had renewed their slut-shaming campaign against Amrutha, calling her “shameless”, “a virus more dangerous than coronavirus”, and asking “Are you happy now?” among several other insults and abuses.

While most TV channels avoided glorifying Maruthi Rao's death, TV9 Telugu followed a narrative identical to Rajinikanth's tweet.

Absolving Maruthi Rao of the murder of Pranay and erasing the latter completely from the story, the news coverage was a cringe fest that promoted the attacks against Amrutha. Ironically, the channel's motto is: “For a better society.”

Sample this: “Dear Amrutha, please go to your mother. This is Maruthi Rao's last wish. In his dying declaration, he cried ‘Amruthamma!’ and breathed his last. Unable to kill the affection towards his daughter, he killed himself. That's how much Maruthi Rao loved his daughter. He must have recalled the sin which he committed and would have been upset within. That's why, hoping that his death would melt his daughter's heart, he breathed his last. Now, as per Maruthi Rao's last wish: Will Amrutha get closer to her mother? The distance which grew due to the murder, will it be bridged due to the suicide?”

This was the dramatic and hugely insensitive narration given by the channel while broadcasting a news segment about Rao's death.  Even in their live coverage at Rao's funeral which was held on Monday at Miryalaguda, the channel stuck to this narrative, and asked the ones who’d gathered for the funeral how much Rao loved his daughter.  

The channel also ran headlines like “Maruthi Rao negotiated with Amrutha asking for a compromise on the case and as Amrutha didn't listen, he slipped into depression”.

In his suicide note, which was found next to him, Maruthi Rao allegedly wrote: “Girija forgive me. Amrutha, come to mother.” This note has been sent to forensics for examination. 

Even if the note proves to be authentic, it can, in no way, negate the horrific crime that Maruthi Rao was accused of committing – killing a man for his caste, and depriving his pregnant daughter of her partner. How can such acts be called love by any stretch of imagination?

However, faulting TV9 alone would be unfair. 10TV- another Telugu news channel, gave legitimacy to Maruthi Rao’s actions and tried to whitewash the murder of Pranay by interviewing Abdul Kareem, a local Congress leader. The channel called Kareem as Rao's "friend" but did not disclose that he is one of the accused in the murder of Pranay. Kareem is accused of facilitating Rao’s deal with contract killers who eventually murdered Pranay. 

Kareem, in his interview, suggested that Rao could have killed himself over “love” for his daughter, and claimed that he possibly would have been under depression since “his Amrutha” did not reciprocate his “love” and return home. This patriarchal narrative of “father's love” completely denies Amrutha her agency and rights. Ironically, on International Women’s Day, which is observed to bring to attention the lack of gender equality in society, Amrutha was hounded online, and she was forced to remain silent. Probably learning from the past, Amrutha avoided media interactions fearing a backlash, as anything she said wouldn't be palatable to the patriarchal society.

Previously, while grieving her husband's death, she had said, “Parents don't give birth to children out of love, but their urge to have sexual pleasure leads to the birth of children.” This had caused massive outrage among Telugu society and she eventually took back her statement.

The Nalgonda police, who had filed a chargesheet against Maruthi Rao, strongly suspect that Rao had taken the extreme step out of fear that he would be awarded the death sentence, considering the strength of the case. This aspect was overlooked by the channels which tried to inject misplaced sentimentalism in the name of “father’s love”.

The channels either absolved Maruthi Rao of the crime or mentioned Pranay’s shocking murder only in passing, without even acknowledging that it was a caste killing. Maruthi Rao was accused of making an elaborate, cold-blooded plan. He’s said to have hired contract killers by paying Rs 1 crore to eliminate Pranay. The deliberate erasure of Pranay and the injustice that was meted out to him from the news coverage, reflects the caste biases within media houses and the section of viewers that they wish to represent and cater to in their presentation.