A young couple who first met at a bus stand, a love that bloomed over the next two years and then tragedy strikes.

This is a fight for Kevin Neenu bares her heart about their love and his murder
news Crime Thursday, June 07, 2018 - 10:20

“You don’t worry, Ponni. What can your family say? At the most they will hit me once, but then they will accept us. Wake me up at 5.45 am tomorrow morning.” These were the last words Kevin said to Neenu.

21-year-old Neenu had just finished an interview with a TV channel. There had been a steady stream of journalists to the house that day. Everyone wanted to know how she was reacting to her father Chacko's petition in court. Chacko, who is currently in judicial custody, has asked the court to send his daughter to a shelter home.

He had claimed in his petition that his daughter was being treated for mental health issues by Dr Vrinda of Ananthapuri Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram and she needed to be shifted out of the "stranger’s house" she was currently living in.

Neenu says she has become used to bad news, but this latest betrayal from her father has still come as a shock.

Last Monday, the dead body of 23-year-old Kevin, the man she had dreamt a future with, had been found floating in a canal at Chaliyekkara in Kollam district.

Her brother Shanu Chacko had kidnapped Kevin from his maternal grandparent’s house in the wee hours of May 27. Both Shanu and Chacko have been arrested on charges of conspiracy and murder.

“How can my father say I am mentally unwell? I never expected this. They took me to a counsellor called Vrinda when I was in 12th standard. After listening to me she said that it was my family that needed counselling, and not me.”

But why did Chacko and his wife Rehna take their teenage daughter to a counsellor? Neenu says that for many years her house had witnessed constant confrontations between her father and mother. “They used to get angry all the time. They used to hurt me severely. I used to be hit badly with a stick. After a point of time, I started objecting to it and would raise my voice. This is when they took me to the counsellor.”

Neenu remembers a happy childhood at her grandparent’s house in Kollam. While her mother and father, like several other couples in Kerala, were working in the Middle East, Neenu and her brother Shanu lived with their grandparents.

“We had such a good time. They loved us immensely and gave us all the freedom. My grandparents treated us like their own children. I was even close to my brother then,” she reminisces.

But things changed drastically when her mother came back to India when Neenu was in the 5th standard. The children were then shifted out of the grandparent’s house, to the house newly built by her father.

“Initially, it was just my mother, brother and me. My father would come home for holidays. I don’t exactly remember when the violence started, but it was mostly always over boys in the locality,” she says.

Neenu says a boy 'proposed' to her first when she was in 9th standard. Amused and worried at the same time, she told her parents about him. Later she came to know that he had been thrashed badly.

“This happened a few times. My family would thrash the boys and I still had to go back to school. Then I stopped telling them if anyone tried to become friendly or 'propose' to me. But they were suspicious and would keep hitting me,” she recalls.

A young Neenu grew up without an ally in her own house. Her brother Shanu too had become more of a stranger to Neenu by then. He had moved out after 10th standard to study and then work at various places. Her brother, Neenu says, did not know of her dreams or aspirations.

And this is why, she says, she chose not to tell her parents or brother about Kevin, a man she had been in love with, for two years.

Two years blissfully in love

In 2016, Neenu joined a graduation course in Geology and Water Management at the BK College in Amalagiri in Kottayam district, barely 100 km from her house.

The first time she met Kevin, a mechanic by profession, was two months after she joined the course. Neenu and her friend Anitha* had reached the KSRTC bus stand to take a bus to Kollam. Anitha’s friend had come to see her off, along with Kevin.

“We had spoken to each other once or twice over the phone. At the bus stand we didn’t speak much, but we got to know how the other looked. I left to my house,” she says.

But that meeting led to a phone call and many after that. Soon, they had become friends who would speak for hours over the phone. It was Kevin who first professed his love but Neenu was skeptical. “I knew that my family would react badly. I also know all the complications at my house. My father is a Latin Catholic and my mother a Muslim. When they got married, his church ostracised him. We used to go to an independent church in the locality. My family was always bitter,” she says.

She asked Kevin to meet her once. “When I explained to him about my family, he said it didn’t matter and he wanted to marry me.”

Neenu has bittersweet memories of the next few months. While she called Kevin 'Icha', he started calling her 'Ponni'. A deeply religious man, Kevin took Neenu to many churches and temples. Though these were unusual places for a young couple in love to be going to, Neenu says that’s how Kevin was. “He would pray every day and when I was scared or upset, he would chant prayers to me and make me repeat it.”

Neenu says she and Kevin were like any other ordinary couple otherwise. Long phone calls, trips to the movies or to the mall, but there was always the underlying tension of how her family would react.

“I was always scared. Many times for our peace of mind, we would go to Kumarakom and sit near the backwaters. This is where we talked about our dreams and our future,” she says.

Kevin was a man of surprises. Though he had shifted to Dubai for a job, he would send her gifts. In February 2018, he had planned a big surprise. He had booked tickets back to Kerala without telling Neenu. On February 14, the couple had a late night phone call. “We had a small argument and he said in jest, ‘Wait, I am there tomorrow and will teach you a lesson’”. Though he had inadvertently given away the surprise, Neenu pretended like she hadn’t heard and welcomed him two days later.

Tensions escalated in May. Neenu's parents had by then put her profile on a matrimonial website and agreed to an alliance. 

The young couple decided that they would no longer live apart and that they would get married. On May 24, Neenu left her hostel with Kevin. That night she stayed at Kevin’s friend’s house. But before going to bed, she had called her home to tell her parents about her decision. Her father received the call and she told him that she was going to get married. “I did not give him a chance to react, I was scared. I cut the call,” she says.

Till then, both Kevin and Neenu’s families had no idea about their relationship. Kevin’s parents had not heard of Neenu, till their son was kidnapped.

The kidnapping and Kevin’s death

On May 25, the couple filled the form to register their marriage online and then got the form notarized. Neenu went back to her hostel. Kevin was certain that his family would accept his bride and told her that they would live with his parents after marriage.

There was much drama on May 26 as her parents went to the Gandhinagar police station to file a complaint that she was missing. "They created a scene and the police were not helpful. After we begged a lot, police took a written assurance from Kevin chetan and let me go with him," Neenu says. 

On the night of May 26, they spoke to each other on the phone.

“I was worried about how my family would react. But he told me not to worry. He had to get some letter for our registration. ‘You don’t worry, Ponni. What can your family say? At the most they will hit me once, but then they will accept us. Wake me up at 5.45 am tomorrow morning,' he told me,” she says.

But Kevin never picked up her call at 5.45 am. Hours later she came to know that he had been kidnapped. “I wish someone had told me earlier. I would have fallen at my family's feet and asked them to release him,” she says.

It was outside the police station that Rajan alias Joseph, Kevin's father, saw Neenu for the first time. 

As she stood outside the Gandhinagar police station with Rajan, Kevin’s friend Aneesh who had been kidnapped along with him, asked her to call her cousin Niyas. “I called him. I told him I will go back home. I begged him not to harm Kevin. But he only laughed strangely,” she says.

The police made them wait for hours and said that they could not look for Kevin as police teams were busy providing security to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan who was visiting the district that day.

Soon, Neenu’s worst fears came true. Her premonition that her family would never accept someone as poor as Kevin was proved right.

Class and caste

Kevin’s father is a Cheramar Christian, a Dalit Christian. But perhaps more than caste, it was the difference in their status that Neenu believed her parents would vehemently object to. 

Neenu, strangely is unsure what her dad’s profession was. “I am not sure of what he did, he was away in the Gulf for many years. My father has two houses and lots of property in Kottayam. He also owned two stationary shops, while my mother managed a tailoring shop. We had money and they were adamant that I should get married to a rich man,” she says.

Despite all these differences, just a month ago, Kevin and Neenu had been dreaming about their life together, and today Neenu is getting ready for a battle.

'I will fight for my Icha'

Neenu is unsure what the future holds for her. Still in mourning, she is unable to decide if she wants to go back to college. But if she is sure of one thing, it is that she will fight for justice. She will fight against those who shattered her dreams and killed a young man for no reason. “I no longer see them as my parents, that doesn’t matter to me. This is a fight for my Kevin chetan and I will fight as long as I can.”

She says that she feels safe in Kevin’s house and his parents have welcomed her with an open heart. As I tell her the story of Kausalya and Shankar, a young couple who had been torn apart by her family, Neenu listens patiently. Shankar was hacked to death in broad daylight and Kausalya fought to get him justice. Her father was sentenced to death a few months ago by a court in Tiruppur and Kausalya has taken it as her mission to speak against caste prejudices.

Neenu repeats. “I will also fight.” 

Living to defy caste: Kausalya's incredible journey since her husband was hacked for 'honour'

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