The people of Churakkulam village near Vandiperiyar of Idukki district mourned as the funeral was held for a six-year-old, the daughter of tea plantation labourers. Amongst the scores who mourned her loss was 22-year-old Arjun, a local Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) worker and the girlâ€™s neighbour. Those who were at the burial clearly recall Arjun crying loudly, telling those gathered that he loved the little girl whom he used to play with. But no one knew then, that this young man, who pretended to be a mourner â€“ would be arrested for the heinous crime of allegedly sexually assaulting the child, and then hanging her to death.
The police say Arjun, a popular face at various citizen campaigns, was sexually abusing the child since she was three years old. The final incident happened on June 30. Initially, it was assumed that the girl was strangled by mistake while playing. She was alone at home when her parents went to work early in the morning at a plantation in Churakkulam. Her elder brother reached home at 3 pm and discovered her body. Later, the police arrived and sent the body for post-mortem to Idukki Medical College, which found evidence of the sexual assault. Subsequently, people in the neighborhood were questioned.
According to the police, Arjun gave them a statement that he hadn't seen the girl for two days. He then went on to help the relatives of the girl conduct her funeral, and even brought tarpaulin to create a shed where food could be served for those visiting the family. However, his statement to the police was apparently false, as a relative told the investigators that the girl was with Arjun earlier on that day. Police say that they have more evidence to prove the case against Arjun including forensic one.
Similarities with Chennai case of child sexual assault and murder in 2017
This case has eerie similarities with the sexual assault and murder of a seven-year-old â€“ Hasini â€“ in Chennai in 2017. The accused in the case, 23-year-old Dhasvanth, was the victimâ€™s neighbour too, like Arjun and both were friendly with the parents. Dhasvanth, like Arjun, had access to Hasini, lured her, and sexually assaulted her before strangling her to death and burning her body.
The case had sent shockwaves through Chennai, not just due to the gravity of the crime itself, but because Dhasvanth had seemed to show little remorse, and like Arjun, put up a facade of concern after committing the heinous crime. In fact, in the time that Hasini was missing and her frantic parents were searching for her, not knowing she had died at Dhasvanthâ€™s hands, he joined in with the search for her.
Dhasvanthâ€™s father, Sekhar, had told TNM that Dhasvanth went as far as giving him a call to ask whether he had seen the child, during the time she was considered missing. After Dhasvanth was arrested, Sekhar bailed him out - for love - he told TNM, before he killed his own mother and stole her jewellery to split with two other prisoners he had met while in jail. This was the turning point in the case - Sekhar withdrew legal support for his son then.
Dhasvanth had tried to escape custody but was caught and brought back to Chennai for a trial. He was later found guilty by the court and given the death penalty for his crime.
Not surprisingly, people in Arjun and the victimâ€™s neighbourhood were shocked by the incident. When Arjun was brought to the quarters near the plantation for evidence collection, people swore at him, and women were seen crying. Some men also reportedly tried to assault him. Fearing further anger from the community, his family was shifted elsewhere by the police earlier itself. The girl's parents were also moved to another room when Arjun was brought for evidence collection.
A similar scene had unfolded in Chennai as the investigation in Hasiniâ€™s case unfolded and Dhasvanth was found to be accused - his family had to shift out of the neighbourhood, fearing the communityâ€™s fury towards them.
"Arjun used to volunteer for many social services here, during pandemic and even before. People here considered him as a decent boy. But this was a shock,â€ť Muthu, a person who lived nearby said.
(TNM had taken Hasini's fatherâ€™s permission to use her real name, in pursuit of justice for her.)
Editor's note: An earlier version of the article had erroneously stated that Dhasvanth had died in police custody. The error is regretted and has been corrected.