Since October 2019, a year after Kollam native Sooraj S Kumar got married to Uthra, his phone’s Google and YouTube show frequent searches for venomous snakes and snake rescuers in Kerala. Sooraj had already started preparing to “get rid of” his wife, a 25-year-old woman with disability. And his plan was to murder her brutally using a venomous snake. For months, he researched various deadly snakes in the state. After a ‘failed’ attempt in March 2020 using a russell viper, he achieved his aim by murdering Uthra in May 2020 by getting a deadly cobra to bite her multiple times.
In the cold-blooded crime that shook Kerala, the Additional Sessions Court of Kollam on Wednesday, October 13 sentenced the criminal to 17 years’ imprisonment and a dual life sentence. In its judgement that has been published now, the court details how Sooraj ruthlessly planned over months and executed the murder, in order to get rid of his wife and acquire her wealth.
It was on March 25, 2018 that Sooraj got married to Uthra, taking 90 sovereigns of gold, a Baleno car and Rs 5 lakh cash as dowry from her family (though his family’s demand was 100 sovereigns of gold, an Innova and Rs 6 lakh cash). Even after the wedding, Sooraj continued to take money monthly from Uthra’s family. As per the judgement, after the couple had a child, Sooraj was “dissatisfied with the mental and physical disability of Uthra” and planned to get rid of her by murdering her discreetly. However, he wanted to continue receiving money from Uthra’s family and keep her gold ornaments, therefore he did not want a divorce.
On March 2, 2020, Sooraj made his first attempt to murder Uthra by getting her bitten by a deadly viper after sedating her. However, she had a narrow escape – she woke up due to the intense pain in her leg and was eventually hospitalised. His research was so meticulous that a day after the failed attempt with a viper, Sooraj had again started searching about more venomous snakes to continue his attempts to murder Uthra. On various days from March 4 to May 2, even while sitting as Uthra’s caretaker in the hospital, Sooraj searched online about cobras and how their venom is extracted.
Just days after she was discharged from the hospital two months later, Sooraj was back, this time with a more deadly snake, a cobra. After sedating her similarly, Sooraj got the cobra to bite her multiple times on her hand. This time, Uthra succumbed to his devilish attempt. Sooraj termed all the instances of snakebite as a ‘serpentine curse’ on Uthra.
The judgement said that his plans to murder Uthra started long back – in 2019.
According to the judgement, the police found that since October 2019 there were frequent searches on Sooraj’s phone about various deadly snakes like viper, cobra and ‘Kuzhimandali’ snakes in the state. An analysis of the internet activity on his phone showed that from October 2019 to March 2020 his online searches were about vipers. Sooraj also searched for Chavarukavu Suresh, a local snake rescuer from whom he purchased both the snakes he used on Uthra, and episodes of ‘Snake Master’, a programme on Vava Suresh, another famous snake rescuer in Kerala.
Sooraj’s plan next was to get hold of a poisonous snake. According to the judgement, in February 2020 he got acquainted with Suresh Kumar, a snake rescuer from Kollam, posing as his admirer. Sooraj told Suresh that he became an admirer of the latter and Vava Suresh after watching their YouTube videos. In his statement to the police, Suresh Kumar, now an approver in the case, said Sooraj requested him to send videos of snakes that he had rescued. “By interacting with him (Suresh), the accused used to clear his doubts regarding the manner of rescuing snakes, the sensation of touching snakes, the position of the venom glands in the body of the snakes, etc.,” the judgement stated.
On February 26, 2020, five days before the first murder attempt, Sooraj bought a viper illegally from Suresh for Rs 10,000 saying that there was a rat menace at his house. “The accused requested him (Suresh) to bring a highly venomous snake and promised to pay Rs 10,000,” the court said. However, after getting hold of the viper, Suresh said that Sooraj stopped responding to his messages, which was unusual. It was only after Sooraj’s failed murder attempt with the viper that he started to contact Suresh again, this time for a more poisonous snake.
On February 29, 2020, Sooraj tried to get the viper to bite Uthra. In the statement given by Uthra’s father Vijayasenan, he recalls how Uthra told him that on February 29, she saw a snake inside the house on the staircase when she was going up to her bedroom on the first floor to get Sooraj’s mobile phone for him. However, on seeing the snake, Uthra raised an alarm and Sooraj caught the snake and took it away in a sack. Two days later – on March 2, 2020 – Sooraj sedated Uthra by giving her some sweet porridge with sedatives, and made the viper bite her on the leg.
The judgement said that though Uthra cried out loud after being bitten by the snake, Sooraj discouraged her from going to the hospital. “In the night she felt something biting her leg and she cried out. The accused told her that it must be a delusion and she should go to sleep. Only after she cried aloud due to the extreme pain in her leg that she was taken to the hospital,” her mother Manimeghala said in her statement.
In April 2020, Sooraj again contacted snake rescuer Suresh asking for a big cobra and promised to pay him. On April 24, 2020, Sooraj illegally bought a 5-foot-long female cobra from Suresh for Rs 7,000. The judgement said that for days, Sooraj kept the snake ‘hungry’ in his house.
After 52 days of intensive treatment at the Pushpagiri Medical College Hospital, Uthra was discharged and brought to her parents’ house. On May 6, 2020, Sooraj arrived at Uthra’s house with a bag, inside which was the cobra. That night, after sedating her using some juice, Sooraj made the snake bite her thrice in the arm, making sure she lost her life.
“Diabolic, ghastly, brutal and heinous,” is how the court described the crime while sentencing Sooraj. It indeed was so.
In January 2020, months before Uthra was murdered, her parents had tried to take her home from her in-law’s house as they couldn’t bear to see the harassment she was facing. However, they couldn’t. When Uthra’s father mentioned divorce and asked Sooraj to return all the assets he had received from them, Sooraj said there won’t be any further problems.
“…as cruelty towards Uthra meted out to an unbearable extent and they asked Sooraj to return all assets he had received on account of the marriage. Hearing this demand, the accused interfered and redeemed the confidence of Uthra and her parents and managed to keep her in his home,” the judgement stated.
The court also noted that prior to the first murder attempt, Sooraj had opened Uthra’s bank locker and the next month, in April 2020, he had pledged her gold ornaments for a loan of about Rs 1 lakh.
The judgement also said how Sooraj had once disclosed to one of Uthra’s relatives that he doesn't want her to live with him. “…Though a child was born in the wedlock he could not take Uthra to any outing due to shame. ‘Even if you (the relative) are showered with gold, can you tolerate a disabled woman?’ Sooraj had asked the relative when the relative ‘advised the accused to behave with love and affection to Uthra’.”