An air of grim tragedy surrounds the Basha household as the distraught parents of Ayesha Meera, the 17-year-old girl from Andhra’s Tenali who was brutally raped and murdered in 2007, recount their daughter's story.
Sitting next to a shelf of awards Ayesha had won in the past, her mother, Shamshad Begum says that they have faced nothing but apathy from the investigating authorities, the government and even the girls Ayesha shared her room with.
"The hostel warden's husband, Inampudi Shivaramakrishna, called me at 6.15am on December 27, 2007. It was a Wednesday, and just the day before, I had dropped my daughter off to the hostel after her semester break. He told me that it was something serious and that it was related to my daughter. Then he demanded that we reach the Vijayawada hostel immediately and hung up," Shamshad recounts.
Shamshad called Shivaramakrishna thrice afterwards, but could not get any more details out of him.
Ayesha's father, Syed Yaqbal Basha, and Shamshad took all the money they had in their locker, and along with their relatives, rushed to Sri Durga Women's Hostel in Vijayawada, where Ayesha was staying.
"When our auto was entering the road where the hostel was located, there was a huge crowd. We panicked. When we arrived, the warden did not inform us of what had happened. I knew something bad had happened. I just did not expect my daughter to be dead. I still have the vivid image of her lying on the floor with blood flowing out of her head. Sometimes I even see it in my dreams, although not as often as I used to," Shamshad says.
Ayesha's father, Syed Basha says that when they made inquiries with Sub Inspector Srinivas and Circle Inspector Murali, who were on the scene, they were stonewalled and refused any answers about what had happened.
"Our last resort was to look for my daughter's roommates – Kavita, Sowmya and Preeti. When my wife had gone to drop Ayesha to the hostel she had even spoken to them. But they just dismissed us and said that they knew nothing,” Syed Basha says.
“Preeti said that it was not her duty to keep track of Ayesha's whereabouts. We were so shocked. How can a person respond so coldly?" he asks.
Ayesha’s parents allege that former Congress Minister Koneru Ranga Rao's grandson, Koneru Satish, frequently visited the hostel along with other relatives including Koneru Suresh, Abburi Ganesh, Chinita Pawankumar and Rakesh. They also allege that the warden, Koneru Padma, allowed them to enter the girls' hostel as they were relatives.
"These men used to frequently visit Preeti and the two other girls when Ayesha was not in the room. As the police were not doing a fine job of investigating the incident, we enquired on our own. Ayesha had seen these men that night in her room, and they were drunk. They smashed her head against the wall to silence her, as she told them she would complain about the incident," Shamshad Begum alleges.
A year later, after what many alleged to be a wild goose chase and an improper investigation, the police produced an accused – Satyam Babu.
Shamshad and Basha say that they have always maintained that Satyam Babu was innocent and that the police were trying to botch up the investigation because it involved the grandson of a powerful politician.
"When Satyam Babu was arrested, the Vijayawada Police Commissioner, Seetharamanjaneya, had taken over his questioning. The poor man was tortured and they stopped assaulting him after one of my friends informed us. When we went to the Ibrahimpatnam Police Station, where he was being held, he was unconscious. We requested the police to stop the torture and strongly told them that he was not the one who had brutalised our daughter," Syed Basha alleges.
Ayesha's parents also allege that the trial held in the Women's Sessions Court was also botched up.
"When the Public Prosecutor was supposed to question me, she put a paper in front of me and asked me to read it out. Half the things written in it were untrue, even my daughter's age. I told the Judge that I would do no such thing and recounted what I believed was the truth. Even at that time I had told the Judge that Satyam Babu was innocent," Shamshad alleges.
Ayesha’s parents grimly accept Satyam Babu's acquittal on Friday by the High Court, and say that Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu should now direct the authorities to fully and properly probe the case.
"Since Satyam Babu was arrested in 2008, we told the police, the media and even the Judge in the Sessions Court that he was not the culprit. Now that he has been acquitted, it is obvious that our daughter's killer is still out there. We will approach CM Chandrababu Naidu next week and submit an application to reopen the case. Our daughter did not end up dead just like that. Someone has killed her and he is still free. The investigators were trying to protect the killer, which is why they set up Satyam Babu," asserts Syed Basha.
"When our daughter was murdered, Chandrababu Naidu had promised us that he would ensure that the investigation was done properly, and also promised a speedy trial once he became the CM. Now he is in that position and we hope he will listen to our plea for justice," Shamshad adds.
The teacher couple have lived in Tenali for 35 years now, since Syed Basha began working as a Class 7 Mathematics teacher in Sri Aurobindo Vidhya Kendra. Shamshad Begum now works as a part-time Commerce lecturer in a college there.
The couple had quit their jobs for two years after Ayesha's death, and fought tooth and nail for justice. Even now, they refuse to give up hope that justice will be done. Their lives, though, are a shadow of what they once were.
"After Ayesha's death, it became unbearable for us to live in that house, surrounded by memories of her. I could see her in every part of the house. She was a very good Bharathanatyam dancer and was learning Indian classical music. She had also won many awards for her dancing. Now we can only remember her through pictures and those trophies," Shamshad says.
Although the family moved to a new house in Tenali two years after Ayesha's death, her photograph is still prominently visible in the new house. The living room bears displays of trophies Ayesha won, but also of more intimate memories of the child lost – a few of the toys she played with as a child, including her favourite Barbie doll.
"I gave away most of the toys while we were moving, but we couldn't part with these. They are the only things left of her," Shamshad says as she breaks into angry tears.