Sixty five-year-old Ruby hasn't seen her two grandchildren – one three-and-a-half years old and the other six months old – ever since her daughter Rini died in March this year.
Rini did not die, she was killed, Ruby asserts, accusing her son-in-law Saju and his family of setting her only daughter ablaze – while the accused have claimed that Rini took her own life. Thrissur natives Saju, his mother Kali and his four sisters face charges of dowry harassment, but are out on bail.
Months after Rini's death, Ruby says that Saju's family has made sure that she gets no access to the children.
"They have sent off the younger one to Saju's sister's house in Coimbatore. When I questioned them where the child is, they verbally abused me. Saju said he will do whatever he pleases with his children and I fear for their safety. They will kill my grandchildren, just like they killed my daughter. I want them back," Ruby says, failing to stop her tears.
Rini: A troubled marriage and death
Ruby vividly remembers the day she saw her daughter fight for her life in a hospital in Thrissur. A telephone call from Saju's brother-in-law informed Ruby that her daughter had suffered 'minor' burns.
"It had not even been 15 days since I sent her back to that house after her second child was born. And then I suddenly get a call that she has suffered burns. I questioned Saju's brother-in-law, I asked him whether they had deliberately harmed my child. He hung up on me," narrates Ruby, who used to work as a cleaner in the railways.
When she reached the hospital at the end of a seven hour long train journey, Ruby was told that her daughter had suffered 70% burns.
"Saju's family claimed that Rini had poured kerosene over her and set herself ablaze. But I did not believe this. I knew my daughter was unhappy, but I am sure she wouldn't attempt to take her own life," Ruby says.
However, the Cheruthuruthy police initially registered a case of abetment to suicide, after Rini reportedly gave a statement to police that she had set herself ablaze.
But Ruby asserts that Rini had been threatened and made to say so by her husband's family.
Rini was admitted on March 5, and thirteen days later, she succumbed to her injuries. But before that, Ruby says her daughter had confided to her that her husband's family had set her on fire.
Ruby managed to capture Rini's statement on her mobile camera.
Sitting in her house in Neyyattinkara, Ruby laments about her daughter.
"If he did not want her, he should have sent her back to me. I would have taken care of her properly. Why did they have to kill her?" Ruby asks.
Rini eloped and got married to Saju four years ago and Ruby knew about their relationship only after her daughter tied the knot with Saju at a faraway temple. The harassment from Saju's family began soon after their wedding, Ruby alleges.
"Saju was a drunkard and beat her up often. Saju's mother and sisters constantly tormented my daughter. They kept telling her that if she hadn't come into Saju's life, he would have been married to someone else, who paid them dowry. They made my daughter ask me for money and gold," Ruby recounts.
Just a month after their wedding, Ruby says that her daughter understood Saju's true colors.
"She did not know what job he did. A month after their wedding, she became pregnant and came home. She cried and told me that Saju was not a good man and that she had been trapped. She made a mistake, she told me and cried for hours together. Even after their marriage, I supported my daughter financially. In her husband's house, they would never buy her anything," Ruby says.
The case was later handed over to the Crime Branch, that booked Saju, his mother and sisters under section 304 (B) for dowry death. While Saju and his mother were arrested in May and remanded to judicial custody, they secured bail after two days. The other accused were granted anticipatory bail around the same time.
Crime Branch DySP Babu Thomas, who is currently investigating the case, told TNM that they may also book Saju and his family for murder.
"As of now we have charged them for dowry harassment, since the woman died. In the course of the investigation, we may alter the sections. Investigation is going on," the senior officer said.
But for Ruby, getting the custody of her two grandchildren is of her priority.
"I have lost my sleep thinking about my grandchildren. In a house where my daughter was brutally killed, how can I assume that her children will be safe?" Ruby asks.
Ruby has now decided to approach the Chief Minister, requesting custody of her grandchildren.
(All photographs by Sreekesh Raveendran Nair)