From February 2017, Tamil Nadu has been watching with surprise and helplessness as a 23-year-old from Chennai's suburbs repeatedly took the spotlight for horrific crimes. Dhasvanth, who resided in Mugalivakkam, earned the people's wrath when he allegedly sexually assaulted and murdered his seven-year-old neighbour Hasini. Nine months later, when he was out on bail, he allegedly murdered his own mother. His subsequent escape to Mumbai and capture have shaken the public's confidence in the police.
If there was one person who received much flak for the young man's actions, it was his father Sekhar A. The 51-year-old had appointed a senior lawyer to ensure that his son was granted bail. When the police slapped the Goondas Act against Dhasvanth, Sekhar filed a habeas corpus petition and brought his son out of prison in October. A month later, his wife was dead.
The father of two has now finally broken his silence, and tells TNM, "It (bailing him out) was the biggest mistake I had ever made in my life. And it has cost me my wife of 24 years."
Sekhar, who is a consultant with a private company in Chennai, is back to living with his parents after his 42-year-old wife Sarla was found dead at their Kundrathur residence on December 2. Seated on the sofa of a one bedroom house at his parents' residence, the widower looks defeated.
"I am 100% sure that Dhasvanth killed my wife. And if he can kill his own mother, I am sure he would have killed that child too," he says, staring at the wall in front of him with no emotion in his voice. "In fact, I suspected he killed Hasini in July itself," he admits.
Defending a 'murderer'
On February 6, the day Hasini was murdered, Sekhar and his wife had gone with their younger son for a relative's wedding. Dhasvanth was supposed to join them at the venue later.
"We got a call from him and he said that he was helping the neighbours search for their daughter and asked whether we had seen her," says Sekhar. "I said no I hadn't and kept the phone down. I didn't think anything of it then. We came back home that night at around 10pm and then he came later at 11.30pm. He even went to work the next day," he explains.
But a day later, the police arrived at their home to arrest Dhasvanth. "I initially panicked and I didn't understand why they were taking him," says the father. "The police showed me the CCTV footage of him carrying a big bag but he kept telling me, 'I didn't do it daddy'. I wanted to believe him," he adds.
According to the police, Dhasvanth had taken Hasini's body in the bag to a nearby spot and burnt the corpse to prevent it from being identified.
Sekhar, however, despite the mounting evidence, gave Dhasvanth the benefit of the doubt. "He doesn't talk much to anyone and is a loner by nature. But I always thought he was a soft person. Plus the lawyer we first hired wasn't sure if Dhasvanth had committed the crime or not," he says, defending his decision to trust his son.
But soon, any such illusions of innocence were shattered.
"After he went to Puzhal prison, he was the one who suggested we get a senior lawyer to break the Goondas Act against him. He had got advice from other inmates," he says. "He would not even ask about his mother or brother when I went to see him. All he cared about was getting out of jail. Even when I took my wife with me, he hardly spoke to her. His focus was singular," he adds.
According to Sekhar, the senior lawyer they had next hired informed the family that Dhasvanth had indeed killed the child. He did not give the family the complete details, but provided enough information to let them understand that Dhasvanth was guilty. But this information, instead of urging the father to drop the case, made him pursue the bail with more vigour.
"After advocate Vijaykumar spoke to him, I realised that if he had killed the child, he was going to go to jail anyway. So, I didn't see the harm in him coming out for a couple of months, before being convicted," reasons the 51-year-old unabashedly.
But perhaps, unconvinced by this 'explanation' himself, he adds, "Dhasvanth would cry when his grandfather and I visited him and it broke my heart. Only if you are in my position you will understand how it feels to see a son you love in jail. I thought he will change. Yes, he had made a mistake. But I thought we could change things from there on."
A family in denial
When asked if 'fatherly affection' justifies bailing out a man who had sexually assaulted a minor, Sekhar is quick to deny the charge.
"No, no, he definitely did not rape the child," says Sekhar alarmed. Dhasvanth had claimed the same after being caught by the police in Mumbai.
An officer who was part of the team that nabbed the accused, told TNM that Dhasvanth had admitted to abducting the child to demand ransom from her parents. He had allegedly said that killing her was a mistake. Sekhar too echoes the same sentiment. "I am sure there was a money motive and something went wrong, leading to her death. Nothing else," he says, shaking his head.
But the chargesheet filed by the Mangadu police, states categorically that Dhasvanth had committed penetrative sexual assault on seven-year-old Hasini. When the child began to cry out, he reportedly used a bedsheet to silence her and smothered her to death.
"The warning signs to indicate that something was wrong with him became apparent over a year-and-a-half ago but everything we tried to do to help him failed," Sekhar confesses.
But as he narrates Dhasvanth's past, it becomes clear that the problem went far back.
A childhood without retribution
The family had to shift houses during Dhasvanth's childhood because he was forced to leave two schools due to complaints about his lack of discipline. When he was in the ninth standard, Sekhar once slapped his son for misbehaviour and Dhasvanth fell to the ground and began to bleed.
"At that point, all my relatives said I should not hit him. He got an epileptic attack when he fell," says the father. "Since then, I have never punished him for anything," admits Sekhar.
In December last year, Sekhar and his family first stepped into a police station because of Dhasvanth. "He was in love with a girl who was in the 12th standard and her parents complained to the police," says the father. Was Dhasvanth stalking her? "No, no, it was mutual. Police just warned both of them," he claims.
Following this, Dhasvanth stole a bike from a badminton court in which he was coaching. "He had a fight with that boy and brought home his bike," Sekhar defends. "They solved it within themselves," he adds.
Instead of admonishing his son for his behaviour, Sekhar admits, he bought him a new bike. "I gave him too much love instead of punishing him," he says. "But I treated both my sons the same way. The other one has turned out fine." His younger son, who is 21 years old is studying in a different district.
After he got the new bike, however, Dhasvanth met with multiple accidents due to over-speeding. "We realised that he was not all right. He became more and more withdrawn. So, we took him to a psychiatrist," claims Sekhar. "They gave him some pills and told him to come for counselling. He wouldn't eat the pills or go for the sessions. He refused to listen to anything we said," he adds.
So, did he blame Dhasvanth's behaviour on his mental health?
"No. His addiction to betting on horse races is the root cause of these problems," says Sekhar.
The gambling addiction
In August 2016, Dhasvanth was introduced to the world of horse racing. Sekhar himself worked as an assistant to bookies at the Guindy race course on weekends to earn extra money for himself. But he claims to have not indulged in gambling.
"I initially did not want him to join but he refused to listen. A lot of my relatives work there, so I told them to keep an eye on him," says Sekhar. Soon enough, Dhasvanth began betting on horses and eventually losing money. "His greed began to increase and he wanted to make quick money. He was earning Rs. 30,000 a month, working for a company in Mylapore and perhaps spending his money on betting," he adds.
When his family confronted him and asked him to stop, Dhasvanth dismissed their concerns and told them to 'mind their own business'. For the young man who had grown up without facing any consequences for his actions, his father's warnings were ineffective.
"He took advantage of my inability to say anything to him," says Sekhar. "My love for him is the reason for all my pain," he says.
Out of jail and on bail
It took exactly a day for Sekhar and his wife to realise that they had bailed out a 'hardened criminal'.
"I remember so well," says the father, who had moved to a rented house with his wife to Kundrathur. "The first thing he asked for when we came back was money. And it was almost a threat," he adds.
"Dhasvanth had always been odd. But he was soft," claims the father. "When he came back from prison however, all traces of softness were gone. My wife and I were scared," he says.
Sarla was not in support of bailing out her son, he says. Her relatives, who lived in Kundrathur as well, had also advised him against it.
"I didn't listen and I brought him out. Within days, he stole some gold rings my wife had left on the table," alleges Sekhar. "When we confronted him, he denied it and I didn't pursue the issue further," he shares.
But following this, Sekhar and his wife remained in constant communication through the day. "My second son kept telling me that Dhasvanth is a psycho and we should not keep him in the house. I was beginning to realise he was right and was scared he will do something to my wife for money," he narrates.
Sekhar's fears came true on the first Saturday of December when he left to work. His wife failed to pick up five calls before noon and Dhasvanth's phone was switched off. He immediately called his sister-in-law to check on Sarla.
"He had killed his mother, stolen jewellery, locked the doors of the house and left with Sarla's scooter," alleges Sekhar. "When I came home, I lost all hope," he adds. Sekhar says that the minute he saw his wife's still body, he decided that Dhasvanth was dead to him. "I lost my wife and son that day," he explains.
"I've admitted that I shouldn't have brought him out on bail. I've even faced the consequences for it," shrugs Sekhar, who did not lose his composure even once during the course of this interview. "I told the lawyer that we will not fight the case anymore as well," he adds. He has learned his lessons, he says, â€œ"Don't love your children blindly like I did. I don't want anyone else to face what I have faced. It is like my life is in free fall," he explains, looking at his palms.
And how has his younger son taken the shock? "He doesn't talk to me," he says, looking up with a grim smile, "He holds me responsible for his mother's death."