Balaswami, Pranay Perumalla's father, is devastated. His 24-year-old son was brutally murdered in broad daylight on Friday, in what is allegedly a caste killing. As a steady stream of relatives, neighbours and people from Miryalaguda town pour into the two storey house at Mutthireddy Kunta for Pranay's funeral, the family cannot contain their grief.
"Why kill my son? You should have taken your daughter away. You have deceived and killed him," his father can be heard muttering. Pranay's mother, Premalatha, rests her head over the glass case which contains her son's lifeless body. Though the family had initially not accepted Amrutha as Pranay's bride, photographs from their wedding reception adorn the walls of the house. Pranay belonged to a Dalit family, which is of the Mala caste, while Amrutha is of the Vaishya caste (a caste group categorised as Forward).
The family has not eaten anything or slept since the body arrived late on Friday night after Pranay was hacked to death by an unknown assailant. The incident happened outside Jyothi Hospital in Miryalaguda, where the couple had gone to get Amrutha examined by a gynecologist. Preliminary investigation by the police suggests that this is a caste killing.
The family is waiting for Pranay's younger brother, a medical student, to arrive from Russia to proceed with the cremation. While Balaswami is a higher grade assistant with LIC, Premalatha is a homemaker. The second floor of their modest duplex home has been rented out.
"Amrutha is still at the hospital, she fell unconscious and is in shock," says Siddharth, Pranay's cousin. The young woman, who is said to be 21 years old, is five months pregnant. She was alone at the hospital till Saturday afternoon, when Pranay's maternal uncle visited her. It is only today that the police informed her about her husband's death. The doctors had refrained from telling her the news because her blood pressure had been too high.
Pranay was in Class 9 when he first met Amrutha, his junior, at Kakathiaya Concept School in Miryalaguda. They started seeing each other more in Hyderabad, the metro city freeing them of the constraints of the small town from which they both hailed. While Pranay did his engineering at Sri Nidhi Institute of Science and Technology, Amrutha did an undergraduate course at the International Institute of Fashion Design in Hyderabad.
However, in 2017, Amrutha's family learnt of their relationship.
"She was beaten up by her uncle, her father's brother, and was under house arrest for six months," Siddharth says. Realising that their marriage would never be approved, the couple eloped and got married at the Arya Samaj in Hyderabad in January 2018.
Outside the house, the crowd of Dalit activists and local political leaders is swelling. In unison, they chant, "Pranay Amar rahe, Maruti Rao down, down. Long live Dalit unity!" and other slogans.
Maruti Rao is Amrutha's father, a real estate developer and businessman. Their house is just two streets away from Pranay's. Maruti Rao has converted the two floors of his house into a school named after his daughter. 'Amrutha Genius School', the lettering reads. And it's not just this school, several properties owned by Maruti Rao are named after his only daughter.
Amrutha's father is a well-known and influential man in the town. His easily recognisable white Ford Fortuna car was allegedly last seen heading to Hyderabad on Friday noon, an hour before the murder took place a little after 1 pm.
Jyothi, Pranay's aunt, says, "Both the families had initially rejected the marriage. If Amrutha comes here again, there is a threat to the family. It will be better if she doesn't come. Her family is of high caste and owns a lot of industry."
Jyothi alleges that Amrutha's family had sent men to threaten Pranay's family when the couple eloped in January this year.
"Her father had filed a kidnapping case against him. They were against the marriage as we are Mala caste and they are Vaishya caste Hindus," she adds.
Pranay's parents, too, were in the dark about the couple getting married. However, they accepted the marriage later when Amrutha said that she couldn't live without him and that she'd rather die.
"We held a wedding reception for them on August 17, once we came to know that she was pregnant. No one from her family attended the function," says Jyothi.
"There was a threat made by Maruti Rao through mutual acquaintances that his murder video should get more hits than the one Amrutha had uploaded. Three days after the reception on August 17, a man had visited Pranay's house, asking if the car, which has a commercial license plate, can be given out for rent. It was a strange request as the person came only to Pranay's house and knew only Hindi," she adds.
The family has CCTV screengrabs of the person and has submitted the footage to the police.
A group of 100 youth on motorcycles, led by the TRS youth wing, hopes to impose a bandh in the town, and is planning to take out a rally. On Friday, this quiet town shut down sooner than usual. On Saturday morning, the residents could be seen reading newspapers, trying to make sense of what has happened.
"Nothing like this has ever happened here before. This is the first time. We hope Pranay gets justice," says Dinesh, the vice president of the TRS Youth Wing, who is organising the bike rally across the town.