A small tarpaulin pandal is erected outside Janardhanan’s small concrete house in Vellikulangara, 13 km away from Chalakudy in Thrissur district. Janardhanan sits hunched on a chair, nodding at a few people going inside the house, speaking a few words to some others.
Janardhanan’s daughter, 29-year-old Jeethu, had died at the Thrissur Medical College hospital on Tuesday morning. The Sunday before, she had been set ablaze by her husband Viraj.
Jeethu, a B.Com graduate, was 22 when she married 32-year-old Viraj. Though Viraj had not studied in college, his job in a Gulf country had prompted Janardhanan to arrange the match.
But Viraj didn’t work in the Gulf for long, and after his return, Jeethu became the main breadwinner for the family. Closely associated with Kudumbashree self-help movement in Kerala, she got a temporary job as an accountant at the Community Development Society of the Kudumbashree Mission at Puthukad.
Janardhanan does not clearly know when the couple started facing issues in their relationship; Jeethu never confided in her parents, thinking it would hurt them.
“In the beginning, my daughter didn’t share her problems with us, she always used to tell us that everything was fine. Some time ago, we realised that all was not well,” Janardhanan tells TNM.
A tumultuous relationship
When their relationship soured, the couple was advised to go for mediation. Talks were held by the Circle Inspector of the Puthukad police station and by CPI(M) leaders, as Janardhanan had ties with the party. But Jeethu was firm that she would proceed with the divorce and returned the thaali (mangalsutra) to Viraj.
Her decision irked Viraj, says Janardhanan. “He can’t survive without my daughter, how can he? He stopped working long back, my daughter ran the family. We didn’t take a single penny from her salary,” he says.
“It was not physical torture, but mental torture that made my daughter helpless. At the mediation talk in March, she gave back her thali chain. They had agreed to give back the gold and money we gave for the wedding,” the father recalls.
“How does it matter now? What worth is that gold without my daughter?” he asks.
At the centre of the marital discord, according to neighbours, was Viraj’s suspicion that Jeethu was in a relationship with someone else.
The constant suspicion and the breaking point
Apparently, Viraj often went into fits of rage accusing Jeethu of being in a relationship with another man. In March, he threatened to kill Jeethu, holding a knife to her neck, says Janardhanan’s neighbor Subin.
“He forced her to call this man to his house in Chengaloor. From what we know, he threatened the two of them to take off their clothes, and then clicked their pictures. It is after this incident that Jeethu decided divorce was her only option. No one here believed she was in a relationship with the man, though she did speak to him on the phone,” Subin said.
“She was young. She might have spoken to someone over phone, but was it a reason to kill my daughter so brutally?” Janardhan asks.
Events of April 29
On April 29, Viraj set Jeethu on fire at the Kudumbashree office in Chengaloor, Viraj’s native place.
“We were talking to the ward member and other members of Kudumbashree. Suddenly, Viraj appeared from behind a bush. He came and embraced my daughter, poured petrol on her body, and stepped back. My daughter then screamed saying that we were trapped, and ran,” Janardhanan recalls.
“Then, Viraj threw a lighter on her body. I was standing a little farther away. After she was set on fire, I tried reaching out to her. I fainted, but woke up soon. Then I saw my daughter rolling on the floor. I asked for help from the people around, and two people came forward,” he says.
But how did Viraj know Jeethu’s whereabouts?
Janardhanan believes he and his daughter were trapped.
Since March, Jeethu has been living with her parents and had quit her job at CDS. She had started working at the Irinjalakuda Municipality office.
“One day, Chengaloor ward member Geetha called my daughter and told her that she had to pay arrears of Rs 4,000 towards a loan that members of her Kudumbashree unit had taken. (Jeethu was the head of the unit) As days passed, the amount kept increasing. It became Rs 10,000, Rs 20,000 and later Rs 35,000. First, we had agreed to give the money on Saturday, but we were not able to make it. On Saturday night Geetha called again and humiliated Jeethu. She threatened that she will ensure Jeethu lost her job and she would file a case against her,” Janardhanan says.
The threats terrified Jeethu, Janardhanan says, and she somehow arranged the money and went to the ward office. And when she reached there, what awaited her was tragedy.
“As he doused her in petrol, my daughter yelled that we had been trapped. Viraj’s brother and wife were roaming near the spot where my daughter was killed. After she was set on fire, his brother asked me to pack my daughter and go. We were trapped, everything was pre-planned,” Janardhanan alleges.
Why did he decide to kill her?
Viraj was arrested on Wednesday night. But as he fled the scene of crime on Sunday, he left behind a ‘suicide note’ in which he declared that Jeethu did not have the right to live anymore.
The couple, like many others, have gone through rough patches, which eventually reached a point of divorce.
Not having children was a constant worry for Jeethu, but Viraj reportedly did not want to get medical help. “He had stopped talking to her long back. Driven by some kind of inferiority complex, he used to curse her. He was hostile to her family and even neighbours like us,” Subin recalls.
Janardhanan is left wondering why Viraj, who had drifted away from his daughter months ago, decided to kill her. He could have simply allowed her to live her life, the father says.
Jeethu’s mother Thankamani and younger sister Geethu are still in shock. Geethu is hearing impaired and her marriage has been fixed in June.
Janardhanan cannot even postpone the wedding, as it has been registered with a society for disabled people. “We can’t postpone the wedding, it is not allowed as per the society’s bye-laws. I don’t know if all this will affect her marital life, I can only hope and believe that it will not,” Janardhanan says.