It’s been three days since Chennai woke up to the horrific murder of 24-year-old Swathi at the Nungambakkam railway station, located in the very heart of the city. The daylight killing of the techie has not only exposed public apathy to a crime which took place in plain sight but has also shaken the belief that Chennai is one of the safest places in India. And while many residents have voiced their anger and disbelief at the brutal hacking of this young woman, the state government has, however, chosen to maintain a stoic silence, even as Swathi’s killer continues to remain at large.
Journalist Kavitha Muralidharan says, “Tamil Nadu government should have reacted to Friday’s murder given the spate of such daylight killings in the city.” She argues that with Chief Minister Jayalalithaa at the helm, the state should have issued a clarification or at least offered a statement of condolence to Swathi’s family. After all, the AIADMK supremo has patted herself on the back when it comes to women’s safety. “She was the first Chief Minister to launch all women’s police station to handle crimes against women. Jayalalithaa had also unveiled a series of women’s safety initiatives following the Nirbhaya case in Delhi,” points out Kavitha.
Madras High Court advocate Sudha Ramalingam, however, believes the state government need not issue a statement after every crime. “This is not a law and order issue. This is a crime situation. The state is not the aggressor here. It hasn’t caused a human rights violation,” says Sudha. But she adds that if the government had offered its condolences to the grieving family, “it would show its humaneness and sensitivity towards the vulnerable.”
While Kavitha observes that the Chief Minister may have been advised to keep mum on the issue as it would in some ways be “an admission of guilt” with regard to law and order, Sudha is dismissive of this argument. “It would not be an admission of guilt if the state government issues a statement. It would only be an assurance to the family that the culprit would be punished and justice would be delivered,” notes Sudha.
Like Sudha Ramalingam, advocate Ajitha also argues that the government need not issue a statement to every murder. “It is not incumbent on the state government to issue statements. It is incumbent on them to do their job properly,” she says. The advocate points out, “Four other women were murdered in Chennai on the same day as Swathi. They were murdered in their house. In such cases, the government should come forward and say they will take swift action. It will instil confidence in the public that women are safe.”
Voicing her anger at the Tamil Nadu government, Ajitha says even in cases like the Udumalpet honour killing, the state has offered no statement. “It shows the total apathy and insensitivity of the state government to a blatant and casteist crime,” she says.
Friday’s daylight murder comes a month after Assembly Elections in Tamil Nadu. “If the murder had taken place during the elections, people would have taken notice,” Sudha Ramalingam dryly observes.
DMK Treasurer and opposition leader MK Stalin on Monday visited Swathi’s family at their residence in Chennai. Speaking to the media after offering his condolences to the family, Stalin highlighted the increase in such murders in Chennai following the AIADMK taking charge for a second consecutive time. “When I raised this in Assembly, I got answers like ‘everything is perfect’,” he says.
Meanwhile, Swathi’s family continues to hope that her killer will be arrested at the earliest. Her sister Nithya says, “We don’t want her murder to become political.” Justice is all they pray for.