The parents of Ayesha Meera, a 19-year-old pharmacy student who was raped and murdered in a hostel near Vijayawada 14 years ago, have written an open letter to Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, seeking justice for their daughter. After Satyam Babu, a Dalit man with a neurological disorder was falsely convicted and later acquitted by the Telangana High Court, the state government constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to conduct a fresh probe. The High Court, which was unhappy with the SIT’s probe, had handed over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in November 2018.
“It has been 14 years, and there has been no progress in the case. The hostel management and police together have tampered with the evidence. As a result, the real culprits are walking free even today,” Ayesha Meera’s parents wrote in their letter to the CJI. “We are both teachers. Instead of keeping our daughter confined to the home in a burkha, we wanted education and progress for her and sent her away. In return, we got her body. Since then, for 14 years, we have continued our uncompromised fight for justice with faith in the systems. We are living a fearful life while the culprits walk free. We don't have the energy left to fight. We’re unable to control our sorrow. Our final wish is, if you give your seal of approval that this system cannot give us justice, we will stop waiting for justice and continue to live in silence as mute creatures,” the letter went on to say.
Ayesha had been living in a private women's hostel in Ibrahimpatnam near Vijayawada, when her blood-stained body was found in the hostel bathroom with multiple stab injuries on the night of December 27, 2007. Since then, Koneru Sateesh, the grandson of the then Municipal Administration minister and former Deputy Chief Minister Koneru Ranga Rao, has been suspected to be involved.
In 2008, police had claimed that a Dalit man named Satyam Babu, who had been arrested in a cell phone robbery case, confessed to the victim's murder. The Mahila Court in Vijayawada, on September 10, 2010, convicted and sentenced him to life imprisonment. In 2017, the Telangana High Court acquitted him and also ordered action against the police officials who investigated the case.
In October 2018, the SIT probing the case had informed the Hyderabad High Court that the case records had been destroyed in the trial court. Ayesha’s parents had filed a petition saying the material objects which were part of the evidence in the case, which were kept in the trial court in Vijayawada, were destroyed when the appeal against the trial court's verdict was being heard in the High Court. Following this, the High Court had ordered a CBI investigation into the case and directed the CBI to file a fresh FIR and begin the process of re-investigating the case.
However, Ayesha’s parents have expressed dissatisfaction over the way the CBI probe has been carried out. In 2019, the CBI had sought permission to exhume Ayesha’s body and conduct a re-post-mortem more than 11 years after her death. “They said exhuming her body could help make headway. Although religious leaders objected, we allowed it, hoping for justice. It’s been a year since the CBI told us that samples exhumed will be returned soon. They have not given any response about the reports, nor have they returned our daughter’s remains. We have received no reply on why the investigation has been stalled,” they said in their letter.
They recalled the 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape and murder incident in Delhi, and the 2019 Disha gang rape and murder case in Hyderabad, and noted the way the death penalty for the convicts in the former, and the encounter killings of the accused in the latter, were celebrated. “Hasty encounter killings have been posited as a fair solution to crimes against women. Andhra Pradesh even passed the Disha Act overnight to ensure speedy trial in cases of crimes against women. But in Ayesha’s case, why is there a delay in providing justice?” they wrote.
They alleged that the CBI has been delaying the probe. Only after recent criticism from CJI Ramana over delay in cases involving MPs and MLAs by the CBI, the parents said that the CBI had hastily filed a petition, seeking permission for a narco analysis test of the suspects, the hostel warden, and Ayesha's classmates. With a court in Vijayawada rejecting the petition, the case is now back to square one, the parents lamented.
“We are writing to you with the hope that by holding up our case as an example, you will be able to give an invigorating message to the weak and unfortunate that no matter how many years pass, if victims stand fearlessly without giving in to intimidation or bribes, they will get justice,” her parents wrote to the CJI.