Driven by remorse, an entire village in Varapuzha has now come together in penitence to make up for their cruelty to one of their own. The villagers are now building a small house for 75-year old Radha who has spent an entire lifetime working as a house-help in the village.
Widowed at a very young age, Radha took up house chores at different homes to look after her only son. Even after her son grew up and got married, she still continued as a domestic help, as her son had always suffered from quite a few physical ailments.
With the money saved over the years, Radha managed to buy two cents of land in the same village, and built a tiny house which she gladly called home and shared with her son Ganeshan (now 44), his wife and their two kids.
Attending to three to four houses sometimes in a day, Radha was happy to have at least a place of her own. Hers was the main income that sustained the entire family. But last September, Radhaâ€™s entire life turned upside down. It all seems unreal to Radha, even after four months.
While walking back home from work, Radha had sat down in front of a shop -as was her norm- to take rest. After some time, she resumed her walk, and reached home.
The next day saw a couple of policemen arrive at Radhaâ€™s house. They accused her of stealing Rs 37,000 from the shop. She felt the ground slip from beneath her feet.
â€śThe shop owner had apparently told the police that I stole the money. I have often sat on the verandah of the said shop on my way home. None had ever objected to it,â€ť Radha recalls, while speaking to The News Minute.
â€śWhile searching the house, they threatened that if I did not return the money, I would have to go to jail,â€ť tells a mortified Radha.
Both Ganeshan and Radha had to go to the police station. â€śWe were so scared. A policeman kept shouting at us about how my mother had stolen the money. I asked my mother whether it was true. She tearfully kept denying it over and over again,â€ť recounts Ganeshan, the fear still palpable in his voice.
But none believed Radha. Hounded by the locals as well as the police, she soon found it difficult to find work, with almost everyone branding her a thief. â€śEven my close relatives thought I was one,â€ť she sobs.
After spending nearly one month trying in vain to convince one and all about her innocence, the family was left with no choice but to sell the house. The money got from the sale was duly handed over to the police.
The first week of November however saw the police arrest a man for theft from Paravur, which lies about seven kilometres from Radhaâ€™s village. During interrogation, he confessed to having stolen Rs 37,000 from a shop at Varapuzha.
And suddenly, Radha was innocent.
The police were initially reluctant to admit their lapse. The family later got back the money they had handed over to the police. With the help of a few local political leaders they were able to get back their home, but had to part with a small amount to appease the person who had bought it.
Radha's new house under construction
A narrow path leads to Radhaâ€™s house -a house with neither doors nor window panes, with just two rooms and a kitchen. And she had to part with even this paltry possession, only because the villagers presumed her guilty of a crime she never committed.
Even though apologies did come her way, what could ever compensate for the mental and emotional trauma that she was subject to, for no fault of hersâ€¦.
That was when the village decided to build Radha a proper home. With the help of panchayat members and other village representatives, they started collecting funds for the new house.
The old house has been demolished, and the basement for the new one in place. As of now, Radha and her family live in a rented home, which is in a worse state compared to her old house. But she is happy.
â€śWe have gone through a lot of pain. But at least now, everyone knows that I am innocent. I was deeply hurt when people who have known me for years refused to hire me. I have never taken even a grain of rice without their permission, yetâ€¦.â€ť Her voice trails off.
â€śI am now old. I have no dreams left. All I want is that my family be allowed to live in peace,â€ť Radha smiles through her tears.
When TNM contacted the Varapuzha police station, officials were quick to blame an assistant sub-inspector who recently died of a heart attack. But the deceased policeman was not alone in targeting them, Radha and her family say.