Crime
A 5-member committee under the Collector clearly pointed to sexual assault and murder – and yet, the police chose to drop those charges, and instead called it abetment to suicide.

"Every parent thinks that school is a safe place for children, but how inhuman is it to rape a child and kill her under the disguise of providing an education?" asks Sugali Raju Naik (35) in a revulsive tone. For Raju and his wife, Parvathi Devi, not a single day has gone by in the last two years, without thinking of their 15-year-old daughter Geeta (name changed), who was allegedly raped before she was killed in Andhra Pradesh's Kurnool.

On August 19, 2017, Geeta, a Class 10 student, was found dead at 11am under mysterious conditions in her hostel room in Cattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy Residential High School in the outskirts of Kurnool town. The parents received a call that day, informing them that their daughter was unwell, asking them to come to school and take her to the hospital. Upon reaching the school, Raju was shocked to see his daughter’s lifeless body. 

Two years later, their fight for justice continues – and despite evidence of sexual assault of the minor girl, the investigators and several others involved seem intent on diverting the proceedings into untenable territory. 

The first folly: Why was evidence not collected from the crime scene?

When Raju reached the school on August 19, the police were already there. The school told him that his daughter was on her period, and had excused herself from class, before she was found hanging in her hostel room. The management claimed that she was depressed and had killed herself. But Raju refused to buy this claim. 

Geeta had complained to her parents earlier about harassment by two men – the sons of the school Correspondent Vallapureddy Janardhan Reddy. She had told them that Harshavardhan Reddy (43), and Diwakar Reddy (41) would trouble her in the night, because of which she didn’t want to stay in the hostel. The parents were planning to approach the management on August 20 regarding the issue – but their daughter was dead on August 19. 

"Based on the crime scene and visible injuries on her body, it was apparent that she was sexually assaulted before she was killed, and later it was made to look like a suicide," Raju says. The parents allege that the body was rushed to Kurnool Government General Hospital (GGH) mortuary, without following the requisite procedures such as collection of evidence from the crime scene.

On the parents’ complaint, Kurnool police registered a case against Janardhan Reddy and his two sons under IPC Sections 302 (murder), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence) r/w 34 (acts done by several persons); Section 3(2)(v) of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act (Geeta is from an ST community); and, Section 10 of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012.  

But despite the initial case of sexual assault, the case was derailed, although forensic evidence showed that sperms were present in the victim’s private parts. 

The post-mortem puzzle

The day after Geeta’s death, a post-mortem was performed by Dr Shankar, Associate Professor, Forensic Medicine in Kurnool GGH. He was assigned to the post-mortem after Geeta’s family objected to the HoD of the department, Laxminarayana, performing the post-mortem as there were allegations of corruption against him. 

Dr Shankar ascertained that the cause of Geeta’s death was asphyxia – that she died by hanging or strangulation. He also suspected that the girl was sexually assaulted, and therefore, sent swabs from her private parts for further tests. When the results of a microscope examination came back, Dr Shankar’s suspicion was confirmed: there were sperm found in the samples.

On October 17, 2017 – two months after Geeta’s death – Dr Shankar gave his final opinion on the post-mortem: Geeta died by asphyxia, and there was recent sexual intercourse prior to her death. Considering Geeta was 15 years old, any sexual ‘intercourse’ should be interpreted as assault, as per POCSO. 

Meanwhile, a Serology (blood serum) report by the Kurnool GGH found six complete DNA samples in Geeta’s swabs. Of the six DNA samples, the lab decided to random test only two, and found no semen on them. 

A report by the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) depended on this Serology report to conclude that no semen was found on the DNA samples.

Geeta’s mother Parvathi alleges, “The police deliberately delayed sending the samples to the Forensic Science Laboratory, by which time, crucial material evidence could have been damaged or contaminated."

Important probe by Collector-appointed team ignored

A five-member committee was formed immediately after Geeta’s death in August 2017. The committee was appointed by the Kurnool District Collector, and was headed by the Revenue Divisional Officer Kurnool. The committee submitted its report on September 13, 2017, said that there were several discrepancies in the case. 

The committee said that Geeta’s death was suspicious on various accounts – and also suspected the time of death. It pointed out that there were discrepancies in the statements made by staff members; it also pointed out that the marks on her neck were not in consonance with the hanging by a sari, and that the wing of the fan from which she was found hanging had not changed its shape – indicating that this was a murder and not a suicide. 

They also noted that there was no sanitary pad on her body, and pertinently – while the CCTV footage shows Geeta entering her room, the footage post that has mysteriously disappeared. 

The committee asked for blood samples of all male staff members to be taken and sent for DNA testing. 

The committee stated that it was a case of "sexual intercourse before the death" – indicating that Geeta had been sexually assaulted. Despite this, the police chose to drop charges of sexual assault and murder. 

‘Potency’, not post-mortem

The man investigating the case was Vinod Kumar, the DySP of the Kurnool (SC/ST) Cell. Despite Dr Shankar’s final opinion that there was sexual intercourse before death, Vinod Kumar held the opinion that the post-mortem was ‘contradictory’. 

The DySP wrote to the Directorate of Medical Education on November 29, 2017, stating that the findings of post-mortem by Dr Shankar was ‘inconsistent’ and sought an 'expert opinion', instead of seeking a fresh post-mortem. 

Further, he questioned the doctor’s integrity on the basis of caste. The DySP in his letter cast doubts over Dr Shankar’s report as he belonged to the same community as the victim. 

On February 6, 2018, Vinod Kumar told the VI Additional Sessions Judge, Kurnool that there was no point in conducting a DNA test on the accused. Instead, he argued for a ‘potency test’ – an argument used by several accused in cases of sexual assault, that experts have for long held is problematic.

Speaking to TNM, Balasundaram M, a Dalit rights activist who has been working with Geeta’s family to get justice, says, "The concerned investigation officials have throughout tried to hamper the case or reduce its gravity. In several cases, it is proven that post-mortem report is the crucial document to file a chargesheet, but still, the investigation officer felt that it was important to discredit it, and decided to go with the Forensic Science Laboratory report alone."

Armchair forensics?

DySP Vinod Kumar’s letter triggered the Director of Medical Education to form a three-member committee – two experts from Anantapur Medical College (AMC), and B Lakshminarayana, Head of Department, Forensic Medicine, Kurnool Medical College, who would coordinate the probe. Despite the reason for the formation of the committee being the different test results from FSL and the post-mortem, the committee did not conduct any fresh tests. Instead, they decided to form an ‘opinion’ based on photographs and documents that were available. 

Noting that pubic hair and nail clippings were not preserved for further examination – as is essential in cases of alleged sexual assault – the committee said that they could not give an opinion on the possibility of sexual assault based on the available material. 

And on the basis of this, the police decided to dilute the case, Geeta’s family alleges. After taking legal opinion, the police decided to withdraw the charges for murder, destruction of evidence, and child sexual assault. Instead, the accused were charged with abetment of suicide, and under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 2015.  

Fresh investigation begins

Recently, with the parents of the victim meeting actor-politician and Jana Sena chief Pawan Kalyan, the issue shot into the news again. The parents of the victim also gave a representation alleging lapses in the investigation to Andhra Home Minister M Sucharitha, and state police authorities.

Following this, the government has now initiated a fresh probe and appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by Additional SP Ramadevi. The investigation is happening with the permission of the court, and the police may seek to file a fresh chargesheet after due process.

Speaking to TNM, Andhra Pradesh Director General of Police (DGP) Gautam Sawang said, "A Special Investigation Team (SIT) was formed in the wake of some anomalies which have been pointed out and some complaints which were received. If anything comes out, we will submit it to the court."

"We have taken care that a lady officer investigates the case, with other women officers in the team. We are also ensuring sensitivity in the investigation process, as the victim is a minor girl," he added, making sure that all concerns raised by the family and activists, will be addressed.

He also said that the due process of law will be followed.

"Since my daughter's death, they have been continuously investigating the case. How can I be sure that this time, it will be different? We can only wait and see," Raju says.