It was close to 4.30 am on June 2 when 29-year-old Divya from Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu murdered her twin daughters, with bare hands. She lifted the first child which was merely 10 days old gently and breastfed her for one last time. As the child was feeding, she held her head in a firm grasp and pressed it against the chest till her limbs stopped flailing and the body went completely still. She quietly kept the child back on the bed before picking up the other child to kill her, too.
This startling crime of female infanticide from the most literate district in Tamil Nadu would have remain buried with the dead twins in the backyard of Divya's in-laws' home, if not for the District Child Protection unit. Based on an anonymous tip off, social workers were dispatched to interrogate Divya and her 39-year-old husband Kannan.
The team found the motherâ€™s claims of the children 'suffocating accidentally' while breastfeeding impractical and ordered the exhumation of the twins' bodies.
"During the post mortem, the doctor told me to question the mother carefully," says S Kumutha, the District Child Protection Officer, with disgust. "It became certain that these deaths were not natural," she adds.
On that very night, at the Kottar station, Divya was interrogated till she admitted to killing her children. It was all that the police, who were under public glare over this case, needed. The 29-year-old mother was immediately arrested and booked for murder, while her husband and his family were allowed to leave.
"Kannan was completely unaware of her murderous intentions. This woman herself did not want female children," says one investigating officer to The News Minute.
Cycle of abuse
Experts and activists who spoke to The News Minute, however, scoff at this explanation.
"Female infanticide is a complex social crime and more often than not, these women are victims of their circumstances," says Sudha Ramalingam, senior advocate and women's rights activist. "Will any mother want to kill her child? Is it not important to see what the events that led to this murder are?" she asks.
As it turns out, the police did ask Divya these questions. In her confession statement, that has appeared in multiple media reports, she has made several allegations of emotional abuse and trauma that instigated her to commit the murders. Factors that seem to have had no impact on the 'investigation' .
Divyaâ€™s confession was as follows -
â€˜My husband Kannan has 4 brothers and three of them have daughters, while one remains unmarried. My husband's family was anxious that their was no male heir. When I first became pregnant, they thought I will have a boy but I had a daughter. Due to this, my husband and I had so many fights. Even my husband's relatives displayed open hatred towards me. When I became pregnant for the second time, everyone was elated. They thought I will definitely produce a male heir.â€™
By then, Divya had been married for five years and she had a daughter who was two years old. If what Divya claims is true, this would mean that for the last 24 months, she was being punished for a biological process she could not control. When the twin girl were born, at this juncture, she says, her horror knew no bounds.
The preference for a son, which Divya says was strong within the family, is not new to Tamil Nadu or the country. It is evident in our shameful statistics. Child sex ratio for the age group 0-6 stood at 918 girls per 1000 boys in India, down from 927 in 2001. According to Scroll, the numbers are the lowest in 50 years. A closer look at the data shows that urban India, where child sex ratio is 905 girls per 1000 fares worse than rural India is 923 per 1000.
"The level of violence against women in our society is responsible for female foeticide and infanticide. Women who deliver female children are threatened with physical and mental abuse. They fear for their lives and that of their remaining children," opines Sabu George, a girls rights activist. "We live in an aggressively patriarchal society and if the man in the house decides that female child will not die, do you think the mother will even think about it?" he asks.
In Divya's case, her husband's silence was the final push she needed, she says. "My husband didn't talk to me properly after the twins were born. I began to doubt whether he will even continue to live with me anymore. So, I had to turn my heart to stone and suffocate my children to death," she claimed in her statement.
"The husband too needs to be named in this case," demands advocate Sudha Ramalingam. "This woman must now be under pressure to not name anybody else. But is it not clear that is the environment and years of imbibing patriarchal views that led to this crime?" she asks.
Back at Kottar police station, the investigating officer doesn't seem to think so. "The husband earns close to Rs.40,000 a month. He has enough money to pay for dowry if the girls were alive," says the sub-inspector. "He hadn't even be to his wife's house after the children were born," he claims.
TNM tried to contact Kannan, the father, but was unable to do so despite several attempts.