Three girls from Konni and their deaths: A year of questions and trauma

Families say things don’t add up, there are loopholes in the investigation into their daughters’ deaths.
Three girls from Konni and their deaths: A year of questions and trauma
Three girls from Konni and their deaths: A year of questions and trauma
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The smell of incense sticks and burnt camphor still lingers in the three-room house in Manjakadambu village, a day after Athira’s family held a puja so that she could rest in peace. It has been a year since her death.

Ramachandran Nair stares blankly at the puja flowers that have lost their fragrance and the remnants of the rangoli on the living room floor of his house in Pathanamthitta district. “We refuse to accept that our daughter committed suicide, because we know she would have never done so. Why would she?” he says before staring out the door.

Athira R Nair (17) and S Raji (16), were found dead on the railway tracks near Palakkad in July 2015. Arya Suresh (16), was found in a critical condition some distance away from them, and died at the hospital a few days later. All three were Class 12 students of Government Higher Secondary School in Konni town, Pathanamthitta district.

Their injured and mutilated bodies were found on July 13, but had gone missing on July 9, and their parents had lodged missing complaints with the police.

A year later, their families continue to reject the police version that the girls committed suicide. “They died because of the irresponsibility of the Kerala police. They had five days to trace them; what took them so long? Why are the police not able to find any lead after all these months?” 58-year-old Ramachandran says.

The police have so far pieced together that the three girls boarded a Delhi-bound train from Chengannur in the neighbouring Alapuzha district. But they realised that they were heading in the wrong direction – Delhi to Kerala – and disembarked at Mavelikkara in the same district. They asked if they could get a refund, but threw the tickets away when they realised they couldn’t. They then boarded a bus to Ernakulam, which is adjacent to Alapuzha, and took a train to Bengaluru. They visited a park in Bengaluru twice, and took a train back to Kerala.

But this knowledge holds no answers as to what happened to their daughters or why they did this. Lalitha Kumari says that her daughter Athira skipped her tuition classes on the morning of July 9. “She said she had to prepare for an examination. They must have planned to go away. Probably that’s why she did not attend tuition before going to school,” Lalitha sighs.

Neither she nor her husband Ramachandran remember anything unusual in her behaviour. 

“The police say all the girls were disturbed by family issues, but I fail to understand what issues my daughter had. The police say that they discussed taking their own lives in their Facebook chats because Arya had some issues at home. But why would all the three girls decide to die?” Ramachandran says, with helpless incomprehension.

Athira's parents Ramachandran Nair and Lalitha Kumari

Almost as if to indicate the love with which Athira was brought up, Ramachandran hurriedly takes out the trophies she had won for academic and extra-circular activities.

Athira’s family refuses to believe the suicide theory also because she and her 27-year-old sister Ashwathy were “two bodies and one soul”. If Athira faced any trouble, she would have told her sister, they believe.  

Raji’s family raised an alarm on July 9 itself, when her mother Sujatha S could not find her after school.

Sitting in the living room of her brother’s house in Peringamala, 14 kms from Konni town (where she lives), Sujata says that Raji had left home as usual at 6.30 that morning for tuition class, located opposite her school. She was there until 8.30 am.

Raji's mother Sujata

Sujata works at a shop less than 100 meters from her daughter’s school. Raji would stop by during intervals and the longer lunch breaks every day. Sujatha and Raji would have lunch together, chatting about the day’s affairs. 

On July 9, she noticed that school closed at around 11.30am, after a political strike was suddenly declared. “I was waiting for Raji to walk into my shop, but even after many children walked past, Raji did not arrive. When I stopped a student to enquire about her, the student told me that Raji hadn’t attended school.” 

As she headed towards the school, brushing past departing students, she hoped that someone would inform her that they’d seen Raji. But teachers too said Raji hadn’t attended classes.

Raji’s uncle Prasad says that when the family filed a missing complaint later that day, the Konni police did not take them seriously, saying that the girls would have bunked school to watch cinema.

A teacher who accompanied Sujatha to the police station said that Athira and Arya had also been absent. It was then that Sujata remembered that Arya had called her to ask for Raji while she was trying to find her daughter. 

Arya's house in Iravon, a kilometer from Manjakadambu 

Raji’s family asserts that she was not used to going anywhere without her mother and that she was not close to either of the other two girls. “She used to be a quiet girl, was friendly but not too close to anyone in particular,” says Praseetha Rajesh, Raji’s cousin. “In fact it is only a week or so before they went away that Raji began to hang out with the other girls.”

They suspect that Raji was threatened by the other girls to tag along with them. “It is Raji’s gold chain that they sold off at a jewellery store before leaving. This is the same jewellery store where Arya had sold off a gold coin in the past without her parents’ knowledge,” says Prasad, a taxi driver.

Raji’s family too feels that the police could have done more to find the girls. “How can they justify not being able to trace the girls when they had information that people had seen them at a number of railway stations? The police made repeated enquiries at our homes and in the neighbourhood, instead of tracing the girls,” says Prasad, Raji’s uncle.  

Referring to the elaborate travel route that the girls took, Sujatha simply does not believe that the girls were acting on their own.

“How can 17-year-olds plan such things with such clarity? There was a fourth person who was constantly instructing them about what their next move should be,” Sujata says. 

Ramachandran points out something that did not add up to what he knows: the police claimed that Athira used a mobile phone. “We never bought her one. How did she have the phone then?” he asks.

Raji and Athira’s families plan to submit a joint petition to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan pointing out their dissatisfaction with multiple investigation teams that concluded that the girls had committed suicide. 

“Konni girls, people call them. Many people speak ill of our daughters, that they’d gone wayward, but the police found nothing in their post-mortem reports,” Sujata says, rubbishing the town gossip about “the girls’ immoral characters”. 

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