For the last week, relatives of 20-year-old Sathyapriya from Ramanathapuram district's Perungulam village have been gearing up for celebrations. 'Priya' as they called her, was nine months pregnant and was set to deliver her first child next week. Her in-laws had adorned the residence with flowers and trays of fruits and colourful bangles filled the modest home to conduct the young woman's valaikappu (bangle ceremony).
But what was meant to be a joyous time for the family turned into a terrible tragedy on Sunday, when Sathyapriya and her mother-in-law Valli were knocked down by a speeding SUV while trying to cross the Ramanathapuram-Rameswaram highway. While Sathyapriya died due to her injuries on the way to the Madurai Government hospital for treatment, her mother-in-law is still in a critical condition. And her husband 26-year-old Maheshwaran, who was to arrive on Friday for her bangle ceremony was forced to rush home five days earlier, only to conduct the last rites of his wife and the unborn child.
"Priya and her mother-in-law were coming back home from a doctor's appointment and were just informed that the due date would be November 25, that is next week. But she died before she could even deliver this news," laments Karthik, the victim's brother-in-law. "We learnt it was a boy, after the post-mortem. He was 2.5 kgs and died without even experiencing all the love we wanted to give him. The police cannot allow the people responsible for this to walk away scot-free," he adds, his voice choking.
Karthik's appeal comes following allegations from the family that there is an effort underway to protect the driver responsible for Sathyapriya's death. The SUV which crashed into the two victims belongs to former Ramanathapuram Collector K Veera Raghava Rao's relative. A search run on the license board of the Innova car that hit them reveals that the vehicle is registered under the name of JS Chandra Mouli, Rao's brother-in-law. Three days after the accident, however, the Ramanathapuram police claim that they are yet to determine who was behind the wheel. The SP confirmed to TNM that Chandra Mouli and his family were present in the vehicle.
Vehicle that slammed into Sathyapriya and Valli
"According to eyewitnesses who were at the spot, the vehicle was coming at a speed over 150 km/hour," says Karthik. "And even after hitting the two women, the driver didn't stop, the car kept accelerating and they sped from the spot," he adds.
Another relative, who didn't want to be named, alleges that the police are trying to present an unrelated man as the driver of the vehicle.
"But we know that it is the brother-in-law who must have been driving. If he had an actual conscience, he would admit to what happened," he alleges. "We are poor people and our lives have no value in this system. This is just another example of that. In fact we are dependent on the family that ran her over to pay for medical expenses for Valli, the mother-in-law, so we cannot even protest against what has happened. We don't have the strength to do anything but grieve now," says the relative.
Relatives further allege that they were even let down by hospital staff. Karthik who was amongst the first to reach the Ramanathapuram government hospital alleges the two victims were not given any treatment for close to three hours.
"The accident took place at 7pm and they were in the hospital by 7.30 pm. The staff there conducted tests till 10pm and told us that the mother and child were both safe and had to be shifted to the Madurai hospital for treatment. But within half an hour of leaving the local government hospital, Priya stopped breathing," says Karthik. "Now, we are only hoping that Valli survives or Maheshwaran will have no one to turn to," he adds, heavily.
The 26-year-old, according to relatives, has barely eaten or slept in the last three days and is unable to handle the grief. "They got married only in January and really loved each other. They became very close during the lockdown as he was in Ramanathapuram for six months. Priya was so affectionate and Maheswaran didn't even want her to leave her hometown, Pondicherry even when she was pregnant," says Karthik.
The couple hadn't even celebrated a year of their marriage before this tragedy fell. Describing Sathyapriya as a lively girl with a friendly disposition, Karthik says that despite having been in their family for just 10 months, her ability to freely mingle with residents had left the entire village in grief over her death.