The grief is palpable outside the mortuary of Hyderabad's state-run Gandhi Hospital as a group of people are huddled at the entrance.
At the centre of the group sits N Savithri, weeping inconsolably. Her youngest daughter, 22-year-old Sandhya Rani, had died a few hours ago. The young woman had been set on fire by a stalker and she had succumbed to her injuries.
The attacker, identified as Karthik, is suspected to have known Sandhya, and has been arrested by the police. The man attacked Sandhya in full public view, dashing away on his motorcycle after the cowardly criminal act.
Thursday (December 21) had been a day that the family wanted to celebrate. It was Sandhya’s brother, N Kiran’s birthday.
"It was Kiran's birthday yesterday; he works at a KFC outlet. Sandhya had insisted to her mother, that they should do something special. Even though Kiran dismissed the idea, Sandhya gave Rs 500 to her mom, to buy biryani and semiya kheer for all," Shoba Rani, Sandhya’s neighbor tells TNM.
Kiran (dressed in a pink shirt), sat next to his mother, grieving; he just wept, not speaking a word even to his mother.
Sandhya was returning home on Thursday evening when the accused came on a motorcycle and accosted her at the Lalaguda area of Hyderabad. The two, according to eyewitnesses, spoke for a few minutes.
During a heated argument, the attacker threw petrol on her, set her on fire and escaped before people could raise an alarm. According to the police, Karthik wanted Sandhya to quit her job, but she wasn't willing to do so for the sake of her family.
Later, he surrendered to the police.
Sandhya was admitted to the Gandhi Hospital with 80% burns, and breathed her last on Friday morning.
According to the police, in her dying declaration Sandhya said that Sai Karthik was her colleague at Lucky Traders. She further said that for the past year, Karthik had been harassing her, demanding that she get married to him.
He was sacked by the company, and wanted her to resign as well.
Sai Karthik has been booked for murder and for outraging the modesty of a woman. He has also been booked under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, since Sandhya belongs to the Mala community, a Dalit community.
The case is being probed by ACP of Gopalapuram.
'Our real breadwinner'
Sandhya was a resident of Shanthi Nagar in Lalapet, and was the youngest among seven siblings – three brothers and three sisters.
Sandhya worked at a steel factory nearby, and would walk from her house to work, and back, everyday. She was part of a large family; one of her sisters is married, while everyone else stays in the same house.
She had done her schooling in Gadi School in Lalapet, before joining a graduation course in Sri Chaitanya Degree College. Her father had passed away in 2011, when she was in junior college. She discontinued her graduation at some point, to help her family financially.
According to her relatives and neighbours, ever since her father’s death, Sandhya and all her siblings have been working.
"I have known them for around 20 years. They never created any problem in the neighbourhood, and they were always hospitable. Sandhya was a friendly woman, and she never got into any trouble," Shoba Rani says.
Sandhya had recently joined the steel factory, and had been working for just a year.
"Since she was more educated than us, she got the biggest income in the family. Technically, she was our breadwinner," says Sai Kumar, Sandhya's elder brother, who does fabrication work for a living.
Sai showing Sandhya's picture on his mobile.
"Despite earning the most, she would sincerely hand over her entire salary on the day that she got it, to her mother," Shoba Rani adds, as Savithri nods in agreement.
A tragic day
None of those who had gathered there knew about Karthik.
"When the police showed us a photo of the suspect, we had no idea about who he was. Sandhya never spoke about anyone like that. She either didn't want to trouble the family, or did not anticipate to what extent that boy would go," Shoba adds.