A court in Kollam sentenced Sooraj S Kumar, convicted of killing his wife Uthra using a snake as a murder weapon, to life imprisonment.

Manimekala Uthra's mother photo by crisManimekala, Uthra's mother
news Uthra case Thursday, October 14, 2021 - 10:15

The child is running around the room, playing with the new visitors of the house, giggling. He seems amused by shirt buttons and long hair. “Kichu,” someone calls him and he runs to them. Kichu is less than three years old and without a clue of what the day meant for him. It is October 13, 2021, the day his father got sentenced to life for murdering his mother. Sooraj S Kumar, found guilty of using a cobra as a murder weapon to kill Uthra, was given double life sentence by the Additional Sessions court in Kollam. As soon as the news came, Uthra’s mother Manimekala had spoken to the media about her disappointment. Now, a few hours later, she seems more accepting of the verdict.

“Maybe it would be worse than the death sentence we had all expected. He may end up spending his whole life in prison. But the truth is, all of us had expected him to get the maximum punishment. There was all that proof. We are truly happy with all the hard work of the police and the arguments of the prosecution. Right now Uthra’s father and brother are talking with our lawyers and others to understand the judgement better and decide on appealing to a higher court,” Manimekala tells TNM. She has not gone to the court but waited at home for the verdict.

At the court premises earlier that day hundreds had gathered to know the verdict. This was too unusual a case. A man had on two occassions used snakes to bite his wife so he could be get rid of her. Uthra had been bitten by two snakes - first a viper and then a cobra - in a span of two months - it is the second one that killed her in May, 2020. The Kollam court convicted him of the murder charges on Monday and pronounced the judgment on Wednesday. The court considered Sooraj's young age and a track of no previous criminal record to reduce the sentence to multiple life imprisonments (from the death penalty appealed for by the prosecution).

If Sooraj had perhaps stopped after the first failed attempt, the family may have never taken him to court. Despite murmurs of suspicion among the relatives Uthra's parents were more or less convinced he was innocent. But when it happened a second time, all their trust was suddenly broken. The stories their daughter shared of the harassment she faced at the marital home were still fresh in their mind. The money they doled out during and many times after the marriage was never enough.

These suspicions of the family, together with the proximity of the two snake bite incidents, fuelled the police investigation into murder charges.

Read: Unmasking the killer behind the cobra: How Kerala cops cracked the case

Up on the wall in the house is a framed picture of a smiling Uthra and below that the television screen shows the earlier outburst of Manimekala to some media. After that, she has been reluctant to talk to more reporters. There are more media with their tripods and cameras waiting in the house for her nod to shoot. But on Manimekala’s face is a resigned expression; she is nearly silent until prodded by her sister Gayathri who has come from Puthupally in Kayamkulam to be with her.

“Some of us – relatives of Uthra – had suspicions that something was not right when she was bitten by a snake the first time,” Gayathri says.

That was less than two months before the cobra attack. A viper had bitten Uthra while she was on the first floor of Sooraj’s paternal house. An unlikely feat, said experts, since a viper hardly ever climbed heights. 

Read: For months, Sooraj looked up snakes to kill Uthra, his chilling YouTube history shows

There were contradictions in their statements. First they said Uthra was bitten when she stepped out on the front yard and the snake came from the pipe. Later they said it came to the upper floor of the house through a tree,” Gayathri says.

Manimekala, a retired head mistress of the nearby Ayur school, had suspicions too but Uthra’s father Vijayasenan would hear nothing of it. “The way Sooraj called him Acha, Acha for everything, he had him floored. If I aired my doubts, Uthra’s father would shush me. But my poor child was still healing from that first snake bite when he (Sooraj) came and did this to her!” she says.

Uthra's parental house in Anchal

Sooraj would often visit Uthra at her house in Anchal, on the pretext of tending to her. The viper bite had caused her immense pain for many days. She needed 52 days of treatment at the Thiruvalla Pushpagiri hospital. Manimekala points to her lower left leg to show where the bite has been. “The wound was from here to there (she touches two spots of the leg) and you could see the flesh hanging in there. They had to take flesh from her other leg and put it there. After all this painful experience, my child had just begun to put her feet on the ground when Sooraj set another snake on her.”

In the police investigation it had become clear that Sooraj bought both the snakes from a snake catcher called Suresh, searched rigorously on the internet on vipers before the first attack and cobras before the second. He was in the room with Uthra that day in May 2020 when she would be found dead on her bed. The windows which were always closed had been opened that day. And Sooraj would later say that the cobra had come in through the open window – another claim that would be disproved by experts.

“He had left the house early that morning as if nothing happened and later when the mother discovered her daughter dead, he had put on such an act. So much of wailing on the day Uthra’s final rites were performed. He is a born criminal. There is no reformation for such men,” Gayathri says.

Also read: Uthra case verdict: Courtroom was abuzz with crowds, anxious murmurs

The family was aware of Sooraj’s family harassing Uthra for money. “You wouldn’t believe the number of times we have given them money. Forget the dowry and the gold. Every time my daughter came home she left with money – money they had asked her to get. They needed something every month. But we’d give wanting her to live well. And we didn’t have many needs ourselves. But they’d still harass her. I knew. But I am a mother and I was once a daughter-in-law. I couldn’t tell my daughter to fight with her mother in law and sister in law and come home. I’d ask her to bear with it, to forgive it, and to adjust.”

Even the last time Uthra was home – recuperating from her viper bite wounds, the idea was that she’d still go back to Sooraj’s home once everything got better.

Also read: Wanted to witness first-of-its-kind case: Kerala law students present at Uthra hearing 

Outside the house Uthra’s uncle Godavarma stands on the steps, watching the media come by to the house flanked by rubber plantations. He had come to his sister’s from his house in Sooranad, bringing his mother Rohinikutty with him. “We expected death penalty but we respect the court ruling,” says Godavarma, echoing his sister’s words. He walks in and faces the portraits in the living room, of the two sets of grandparents of Uthra and her brother Vishu. The other portrait is of Uthra, who would have been 26 now.

Godavarma’s speech breaks midway as Kichu throws a glance at his grand-uncle. He seems to decide the buttons are not funny any longer and runs back to sit on Manimekala’s lap. She is finally ready to be in front of the camera again. 

Also read: Kerala cops studied snakebite murder cases in Nagpur and Indore to get justice for Uthra

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