For 19-year-old Girija* who hails from Sakkavayal village in Sivaganga district, Wednesday night was like any other. She was waiting anxiously for her alcoholic father to return. Several times in the past, he had attempted to sexually harass her within their home and the only shield against this abuse was her 65-year-old grandmother Devi*.
That night however, matters escalated further than ever before.
When 47-year-old Veerasamy came home he allegedly attempted to sexually abuse the young woman. When Devi* attempted to intervene once again, she was pushed away by her inebriated son. Veerasamy, then proceeded to attack his daughter with a wooden log for resisting him and then continued to make advances.
"My grandmother was unable to watch the assault any longer," says Girija. "She didn't know what to do. So she picked up a sickle and hacked my father to death. We really did not know what else to do," she laments.
Soon after the incident, Devi* was picked up by officers from the local station and slapped with murder charges under section 304 of the Indian Penal code for killing her own son.
As this elderly woman remains confined in jail, her granddaughter asks, "What wrong did my grandmother do? All she wanted was to protect me."
'Can't listen to our hearts'
The investigating officials at the Sakkavayal police station however claim they are simply doing their duty.
"Yes, we may feel that this situation warrants for the accused to be let off. But the police can't be emotional," says one official. "We have do what the law demands," he adds.
But as it turns out, in the neighbouring district of Madurai, it was this very same 'law' that came to the rescue of 43-year-old Usha Rani who murdered her husband, after he attempted to rape their daughter.
On February 9, 2012, Usha came back home from work to witness her estranged husband Jothibasu molesting their teenage daughter. Overcome by rage, the mother of four children grabbed a cricket bat and bludgeoned the drunk man to death.
She then surrendered to the police and confessed that the crime was committed in a desperate attempt to save her daughter. She was arrested immediately and would have been forced to face a long trial, if not for the timely intervention of the then Madurai's Superintendent of Police.
TNM spoke to former SP Asra Garg, who revealed how he ensured that justice and fairness was maintained in this case. "Usha, in that scenario was helpless. She could have either watched as her daughter got raped or called the police who may have arrived too late," says Garg. "Had we remanded her then, she would have had to fight the case in court for 15 years at least. She had four children she had to provide for. Common sense had to prevail in this situation," he observes.
When 'Private Defence' comes into play
In Usha Raniās case, the SP invoked section 100 of the Indian Penal Code and released her. As per the section, if a death is caused in the process of 'Private defenceā (to prevent or escape rape or murder), the person need not be tried for murder.
"A team was there to help us fight the case and it required to be followed up," explains the officer. "As was expected, there were smear campaigns led by the husband's family. They attempted to paint the woman as characterless but the court ignored it all and ensured justice was done," he adds.
Will āPrivate Defenceā apply in Devi's case?
"I cannot comment on this case as I do not know the particulars of it. In Usha Rani's case, I remember starkly that she had left her husband before due to this unacceptable behaviour. There was even a panchayat hearing and a mediation that followed," explains Garg. There were also complaints against Jothibasu in many police stations stating that he harassed the family members.
But as it turns out Veerasamy's family too has a list of allegations and proof of his sexual advances.
"In 2015 we filed a complaint against my father for the sexual harassment and he went to jail," admits Girija, nervously. "But we later brought him out on bail," she adds. The police official too confirmed that Veerasamy had been jailed briefly over a year back.
And that was not all. "My father has been harassing me for the last seven years. He is a drunk and has taken loans from all over the village. Even now, we are in a relative's house because money lenders are outside ours. We are surviving on my grandmother's widow pension. Now, she is in jail and we just don't know what we will do," cries the 19-year-old, whose mother had left the family, many years ago.
Mechanical response by police?
In Devi's case the police have, in the Madras High Court's words, conducted themselves in a 'mechanical fashion'.
In the case of Ms.Anuj Jermi vs State By Inspector Of Police on 1 August, 2012, the court made it clear that there was no reason to even arrest the accused. A 19-year-old girl had stabbed her father thrice, when he attempted to rape her in Kanyakumari district. According to the verdict, the father was in an inebriated condition and attempted to harm her with a knife when she resisted his sexual advances.
The court praised the investigating official for his foresight to slap Section 100 in the case but also said - 'During the course of investigation, the petitioner need not have been arrested by the investigating officer. Going by the facts of the case, the age of the petitioner and all other attending circumstances, the investigating officer should have avoided to arrest her...The Hon'ble Supreme Court has held that because it is lawful to arrest, it should not be resorted to in a mechanical fashion. '
Why not use Section 100 for Devi?
Legal experts believe that there is enough evidence against Veerasamy to ensure the murder is proved as an act of 'Private defence'.
"She should not be jailed when all she was doing was protecting her granddaughter from rape. She should be released immediately," says senior lawyer Sudha Ramalingam.
But when TNM contacted the Sivagangai SP T Jayachandran, he claimed the police had done their enquiries before slapping the murder charges against Devi.
"Investigations in the matter have been conducted thoroughly before she was arrested," he said. When asked why Section 100 was not invoked, the SP merely said, "further discussion with legal experts will be required."
The investigating official meanwhile, offered what he deemed to be consolation - "She is old, perhaps the court will see that and reduce punishment."
Girija and her seven-year-old brother are terrified. Their future now uncertain with the woman who had protected them, no longer at their side.