Wrongly imprisoned for rape and murder for six years, this Bhatkal man finally got justice

Venkatesh Harikanthra was acquitted after 51 witnesses were examined over a period of 6 years and 8 months.
Wrongly imprisoned for rape and murder for six years, this Bhatkal man finally got justice
Wrongly imprisoned for rape and murder for six years, this Bhatkal man finally got justice
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More than six years after the brutal gang-rape of a 21-year-old girl from Bhatkal rocked Karnataka’s Uttara Kannada district on June 28 the Karwar District Court acquitted the prime accused in the case. 

Venkatesh Harikanthra was acquitted after 51 witnesses were examined over a period of 6 years and 8 months. A vindicated Venkatesh now claims that he was framed by the police. 

On October 23, 2010, Yamuna Naik, a resident of Hiredhomi located near Bhatkal taluk’s Murudeshwar area, was found raped and murdered in a shed near the residence of a man named Mohammed Sadiq.

The area, which has a history of communal violence, the body of a murdered Hindu girl found in the home of a Muslim man added to the communal tension in the region. 

“When Yamuna was found murdered in the house of Mohammed Sadiq, her father, Nagappa, had registered a complaint against Mohamed Sadiq and eight others. Communal violence broke out in Bhatkal when it was learnt that the FIR was filed against members of the Muslim community. I have always maintained that I am innocent. The police took me into custody and I confessed to the crime under duress,” Ventakesh told TNM.

Venkatesh maintains that the then Uttara Kannada SP, Raman Gupta had formed four teams of 20 police officials in total to crack the case. This team included CPIs and PSIs and was headed by the then Bhatkal DySP M Narayan, Udupi DySP Jayanth Shetty and Mangalore District Crime Investigation Bureau (DCIB) Inspector, Venkatesh Prasanna.

When the murder came to light, Jayanth Shetty, the former Circle Inspector at Bhatkal, had initially inspected the crime scene along with Inspector Venkatesh Prasanna and collected all the finger prints.

They had reportedly collected three different semen samples from the victim’s body. The police had concluded that Yamuna was hit by a blunt object on her head and was gang-raped before being strangulated.

According to Mahadevi Naik, Yamuna’s mother, her daughter worked as a domestic help in Mohammed Sadiq’s house. On the day of the tragic incident, Yamuna had received a call from Mohammed Sadiq’s house and she was asked to come for work.

“Yamuna was not at home and I told the caller that I would inform her about the work once she returned. When she did not return home that afternoon I went to look for her at Mohammed Sadiq’s house to see if she was there,” Mahadevi said. 

Mahadevi spotted two unknown persons outside Mohammed and Fatima’s house. When she enquired about Yamuna’s whereabouts, the youth allegedly told her that they knew nothing.

The police were informed about the brutal incident by a man named Venkataraman Naik. After questioning him for hours, he was let go by the investigators.

“At the time, the house was vacant as Mohammed Sadiq and Fatima Manzil had gone for a wedding to another village. The police had also detained and questioned Kashif, Mohammed’s son as he was home on the afternoon the incident occurred. Yamuna had left home that day at 8.30 am and was supposed to visit Mohammed and Fatima’s house at 12 pm. In the interim, the police cooked up a story that she had a lover and had gone to meet him. They arrested me and made up a story that I raped Yamuna and killed her as she had rejected my advances. I did not know her as a person but knew that she lived in my village. That was all the contact I had with Yamuna,” Venkatesh said. 

The police, during the investigation, were also suspicious that Yamuna was not raped and murdered at Mohammed’s house but that her body was disposed there by the culprits, who knew that Mohammed and Fatima were not around.

“The police had many theories about the sequence of events. They suspected that she was not killed there, but that her body was disposed at Mohammed’s house by miscreants who wanted to fire communal tensions in the region. I believe that the threat of communal violence was the reason the police did not investigate the case properly. Since they were not getting any leads, they made me the scapegoat and forced me to confess to a crime I did not commit,” Venkatesh added.

The nine members, against whom the initial FIR was filed, were questioned and let off. According to Venkatesh, the police strong armed Yamuna’s parents into pointing the finger at him.

“They forced the parents of the poor girl too. Both of them are daily wage workers and are scared of the police. They were easily influenced by the investigators,” Venkatesh added.

Following pressure by the police, Venkatesh and family members of Yamuna Naik admitted to the fake charges. He was convicted to life imprisonment by a local court.

However, knowing the reality of the incident, Mahadevi, wife of Venkatesh moved the court with the support of Criminal Lawyer Ravikiran Murudeshwara.

After a lengthy legal battle, Karwar district court on June 28, considering the statements of 51 witnesses, Venkatesh was acquitted after having spent 6.8 years in jail.

The court ruled in Venkatesh’s favour as the sperm, hair and fingerprints collected from Yamuna’s body did not match Venkatesh’s.

He is now planning to move the court against the police officers who he alleges tried to set him up as for a crime he did not commit. “I want this case to be reopened and reinvestigated. Yamuna’s killers are still out there and it clearly looks like the police were trying to protect someone,” Venkatesh said.

Soon after his acquittal, Sri Ram Sene activists rushed to Venkatesh’s support.

"Venkatesh is innocent and a victim of false charges. The police department forced Venkatesh to admit to the crime and finally sent him to jail to protect some members of a community, which was responsible for Yamuna’s murder. The real culprits are still out there and must be punished. Justice must be served for Venkatesh who lost nearly seven years of his life. A fresh inquiry must be launched, ” Pramod Muthalik, Sri Ram Sene Chief said.

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