Hemavathi was murdered last week in Chittoor district, barely a week after she had given birth to a child. Angered by the infant born from Hemavathi's marriage to a man from a Scheduled Caste community, her family is alleged to have murdered her. Last Friday, Hemavathi was kidnapped by her father Bhaskar Naidu and his henchmen as she took her baby to a doctor. She was killed and her body dumped in a well. Hemavathi's husband Kesavulu and many human rights activists believe that she could have been saved if the police had responded to previous complaints that the desperate couple had made.
Hemavathi (23), who belonged to the upper caste Naidu (Kamma) community, and Kesavulu (27), who belongs to the Mala community, a Scheduled Caste, had been seeing each other for many years. Anticipating Hemavathiâ€™s parentsâ€™ opposition, the two of them tried to elope and get married in December 2017. According to a fact-finding report by Human Rights Forum (HRF), Hemavathiâ€™s parents filed a complaint with the Palamaner police saying their daughter had been abducted. The police allegedly sided with the parents and called the couple back, instead of defending Hemavathiâ€™s right to marry of her own will.
â€śThe first time we tried to leave, fearing her parents, the police summoned us. When we went to the police station, her parents and other elderly members from her community and mine were all there. Together, they convinced us that they would let us get married once she completed her education. We believed them and we were taken back by our families to our respective homes. That night, her family members beat her up very badly. They tried to kill her even back then. She somehow managed to escape, but we were afraid her family would hurt us,â€ť says Kesavulu.
The couple kept moving between Chittoor, Anantapur, Bengaluru and other nearby towns since Hemavathiâ€™s parents continued to try to find them. A year ago, Kesavulu says Hemavathi received a call from her younger sister. â€śMy wife had discontinued her B Tech course when we got married. Her sister called and asked her to come to Gangavaram near the college where she had been studying earlier. She said she wanted to hand over her academic certificates so that she could continue her education. When my wife and I went there along with a friend of mine, her family told us to stay afar. Then they took her away against her will,â€ť Kesavulu says.
Kesavulu and his friends tried to file a complaint with the Gangavaram police, but they allegedly refused to file an FIR, asking them to get permission from a Kamma leader from their village first. â€śThe Gangavaram police asked us to go to Palamaner because thatâ€™s where they took her. The Palamaner police asked us to go back to Gangavaram because thatâ€™s where the incident occurred. We were physically and emotionally exhausted after going back and forth for 3 days. Finally, my wife managed to escape again and came back to me,â€ť he says. This was the second instance where the police allegedly failed to take action against Hemavathiâ€™s family.
In another incident in January, Kesavuluâ€™s father was allegedly attacked by the women of Hemavathiâ€™s family. â€śMy father was working in a road construction project which was overseen by my wifeâ€™s fatherâ€™s acquaintance. When my father was working across from my wifeâ€™s parentâ€™s house, the women of her family threw objects at him and insulted him with casteist abuses,â€ť says Kesavulu. His father, who returned home without protest, was urged by his family to try approaching the police again. The police allegedly told them that the complaint must be endorsed by the contractor of the project, who was also a Naidu apart from being acquainted with Hemavathiâ€™s father.
Kesavulu feels that if the police had intervened and supported them at any of these points, Hemavathi could have been saved. A statement by HRF says, â€śHRF believes that Hemavathiâ€™s killing was not a murder committed in a fit of anger or the spur of the moment. The police, who could have prevented this killing if they had acted upon the complaints they received earlier, refused to do so. The SC/ST (POA) Act empowers the police to initiate preventive action if they perceived any danger from a non-SC/ST person to a SC/ST person.â€ť
The six members of Hemavathiâ€™s family accused of her murder, including her father Bhaskar Naidu, her mother Varalakshmi, her sister, her two brothers and her grandfather, have been taken into police custody under charges including abduction and murder. Two of the siblings who are minors were reportedly sent to a juvenile home, while the other four have been sent to judicial custody for 15 days.
Activists believe that more people are responsible for the murder, including a few Naidu men from the village who encouraged the family, and the police officers who failed to act on previous complaints. They have demanded that the police must be booked under section 4 of the SC ST Prevention of Atrocities Act for neglecting their duties.