Swetha was fatally stabbed six times by her stalker near Chennai’s Tambaram Railway Station on the afternoon of September 23.

A collage of Swetha (L) and Ramachandran (R)
news Crime Friday, September 24, 2021 - 18:11

At 1:05 pm on Thursday, September 23, Swetha Mathialagan alighted the suburban train at the Tambaram station to go to the Madras Christian College, where she was a student. She called her mother to tell her that she had reached Tambaram. That was her last call.

On the road, a man, who was waiting for Shwetha, stabbed the 19-year-old six times until she collapsed onto the ground. Passersby watched. A couple of them caught the stabbing on their phone cameras. But it was only after the man, now disoriented, tried to take his own life that they stopped him and called the police. Swetha Mathialagan and her stalker-turned-killer Ramachandran were brought to the Tambaram General Hospital. She died within an hour.

On Friday, September 24, outside the morgue in the Tambaram GH, Chithirai, Swetha’s mother was inconsolable. Sitting on the pavement outside the building, she spoke incoherent words, sobbed and occasionally went silent while she waited for her daughter’s autopsy report. “I wish I could save you from his knife...I cannot imagine what you have endured when he stabbed you,” Chithirai cried.

“This shouldn’t happen to any other girl,” wailed the grieving mother.

“It’s a futile wish,” said Swetha’s sister-in-law Rajeshwari cynically. “Isn’t this what Swathi’s parents said when their daughter was murdered by a man? How many more women?” she asked, referring to the 2016 murder of a 24-year-old Infosys employee by her stalker in Chennai’s Nungambakkam station.

Cities, especially metropolises, have fleeting memories. What else could explain Chennai - a city of 80 lakh people - moving on from Swetha’s murder within a day of its occurrence. In 2016 when Swathi S was murdered in full public view inside the Nungambakkam railway station in Chennai, the crime created public outrage and was covered for days together. Much was written about stalking, the idea of consent and the state of women’s safety in the country. But two years later, in 2018, Chennai saw Aswini, a young college student, stalked and stabbed to death by a man in KK Nagar.

“After all these incidents and talks about consent, I cannot imagine this happening again. How dare he think that he had the right to take Swetha’s life?” said as an angry Rajeshwari.

According to the police, Swetha and Ramachandran (25) were in a relationship since 2019. Ramachandran, originally from Nagapattinam, worked and lived at Marimalainagar in Chennai, while Swetha’s family had been settled for 30 years in Bharathipuram, Chitlapakkam. The two had allegedly met each other two years ago while travelling on the suburban train. But after a ‘misunderstanding’ during lockdown this year, Ramachandran decided to accost her at the railway station.

On spotting Ramachandran, Swetha asked her friend to wait and decided to hear him out. But Ramachandran had come prepared to end both their lives.

Officials said that Ramachandran stabbed Swetha six times - in the abdomen, the heart, the neck and the left hand - until she collapsed on the station floor. There was no intervention from onlookers when she was being stabbed, said Rajeswari. According to the autopsy report, a fatal stab to the chest is what killed the 19-year-old, by inflicting a deep wound in her heart.

It was only after the attack that the onlookers restrained Ramachandran and handed him over to the police. But social media was flooded with visuals by then, Rajeswari said.

Stalker not boyfriend

After her death, a few dailies reported Swetha’s death as “murder by boyfriend/jilted lover”, unwittingly justifying the murder despite the increasing discourse on reporting stalking cases by using correct terms and without sexist overtones.

Rajeswari called the incorrect reporting of Swetha’s murder by several media houses unfortunate. “No one helped her when she was getting killed in the station. And now no one is helping tell her story right after her death,” she explained, referring to media reports calling it “murder by boyfriend, jilted lover’.

Those who knew Swetha say that she was a friendly and warm woman who never spoke about her private life. “She would never use her phone much while talking to us. She was very friendly and would often come home to play with my one-year-old son. She was also academically excellent and had a bright future,” said Swetha’s neighbour Manimaran*.

Pursuing her second year of BsC Microbiology at Bharat University, the 19-year-old decided to do a diploma course in Medical Laboratory Technology in order to qualify for jobs as a lab technician. “We weren’t looking to get her married. She was full of zest and wanted to establish herself with a good job and pay,” her sister-in-law said.

By reducing her murder to a tale of revenge by a jilted boyfriend, the media reports not only justify the crime but dilutes her story  - that of a 19-year-old who had dreams and ambitions and who was more than just her alleged relationship, Rajeswari said.

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