‘She was injured and bleeding’: Residents speak on rape of eight-year-old in Aluva

The second incident of abduction and rape of a child from a family of migrant workers within weeks have come as a shock for the residents of Aluva, a suburb of Kochi.
Residents gathered near a police jeep at Edayappuram in Kerala
Residents gathered near a police jeep at Edayappuram in KeralaThe News Minute
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It was around 2.15 am on Thursday, September 7 when Sukumaran heard that eerie wail from outside his home, which brought a sinking feeling to his stomach. A resident of Chathampuram in Edayappuram in Aluva in Kerala, Sukumaran, in his 60s, had woken up abruptly to attend nature’s call. He had left the window in his bedroom open, he realised, and it was raining heavily. As he heard more cries, he moved closer to the window and spotted two figures — a man and a child — standing slightly away from his home. 

The man raised his hand as if to hit the girl, and she was crouched in fear, he recalls. “I thought some lunatic was beating up a child outside our home,” he said. Sukumaran hadn’t realised the extent of the brutality the man had unleashed upon that child until he gathered a few neighbours and ventured out to the street. What they encountered shortly afterwards was horrifying: in the rain stood a girl child injured and bleeding, with clear marks of abuse on her body, her clothes nowhere to be seen. 

The quick response of residents well past the midnight hour is perhaps what saved the life of the girl as the man who abused her fled, presumably, upon hearing the commotion. The man Sukumaran saw had stealthily entered the home of the migrant family, abducted a sleeping eight-year-old child and raped her, only a few yards away from their homes. 

“I had felt a sense of dread as soon as I heard that scream at night. There are small kids in houses nearby and we are used to hearing them cry at night but I knew in my heart this was different. That’s why I immediately woke my wife Sheela up and told her something weird was going on. We then informed two of our neighbours, found some sticks, and three of us went out to investigate,” Sukumaran said.

Sukumaran and his wife Sheela
Sukumaran and his wife SheelaThe News Minute
The window from which Sukumaran spotted the man and the child
The window from which Sukumaran spotted the man and the childThe News Minute

The perpetrator, identified as Christal Raj and arrested by the police later in the day, probably escaped by running through the adjacent paddy fields. “We only had a torch and some sticks with us, and we are not young blood anymore. Since it was raining, the roads were muddy. There was a limit to how much we could see and how far we could go. We searched as much as we could for around 10-15 minutes and were beginning to feel helpless, when we saw the child walking towards us from a field nearby. That’s when one person in the search party identified her, and took us to her house,” he said.

Ward member Sahida Abdulsalam said the timely response by neighbours saved the life of the young girl. Her family was unaware that she had gone missing until they brought her back home, around 2.45 am. When the rescuers reached her home they found the door was locked from outside. “We repeatedly knocked on the windows and called out to the family, and that was when their mother woke up and realised the child was missing. The culprit must have locked the door after abducting her from the house. We eventually found the key and opened the door for them,” said Sukumaran.

It’s only few weeks since the body of a five-year-old girl, a victim of brutal rape and murder, was recovered from Aluva market, hardly four km away from Edayappuram. The girl, daughter of a migrant couple, was abducted and strangled to death by a Bihar native named Asfaq Alam on July 28. The police submitted the chargesheet in the case a day ago.

The occurrence of the second such incident, while the memory of brutal sexual assault and murder was still fresh in their minds has come as shock for the resident. The eight-year-old too is the daughter of a migrant couple, said Sajina, who lives next door and knows the family well. “She has two brothers, one of them older than her. The family is Bihar and has been living here for the past year. Both the survivor and her elder brother speak Malayalam very well. She even studies in a Malayalam medium school, and when she speaks the language, she sounds no different from any Malayali here. She is a very smart kid,” she said.

Sajina said the family has a habit of locking the door and placing the key by the window, and believes the accused must have come to know this somehow and used it to his advantage. “Her father works the night shift. We saw him leave for work around midnight, just as my husband was returning home. He was not at home when she was kidnapped,” she said.

Sajina’s husband called the police around 3 am, after he learned about the incident. “We woke up after hearing the commotion next door, and that’s when Sukumaran chettan (elder brother) and the others informed us about what happened. When we saw the child, it was evident that she was abused and in pain. She nodded when asked if she was assaulted,” Sajina said. The child is currently admitted to the Ernakulam Medical College Hospital (MCH) in Kalamassery, and her condition is stable.

Ward member Sahida said the police were prompt in their response. “The first calls came from the local Janamaithri police. By the time I reached, officers from all nearby stations had arrived,” she added.

The accused, identified as Christal Raj (27) of Thiruvananthapuram, was taken into custody around Thursday afternoon from under the Marthanda Varma bridge in Aluva, after the police received information about a man hiding in the bushes under suspicious circumstances. Though he jumped into the Periyar River, police officers soon caught him with some help from headload workers belonging to the CITU, a trade union.

Christal Raj taken into custody from under the Marthanda Varma bridge in Aluva
Christal Raj taken into custody from under the Marthanda Varma bridge in Aluva

Christal was subsequently identified as a history sheeter, who was arrested in 2017 for allegedly raping an elderly woman. He was also reportedly convicted in a theft case in Perumbavoor near Aluva in 2022, and was released from jail just last month in August. People from his hometown have also alleged that he is addicted to drugs, though this is yet to be confirmed by the police.

Asfaq Aslam, the accused in the rape and murder of a five-year-old girl in Aluva, was also later revealed to have been booked under the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act in New Delhi in 2018 and had been an undertrial prisoner for a month.

Women and Child Development Minister Veena George announced free treatment for the survivor at the Ernakulam MCH and an ex-gratia payment of Rs 1 lakh. Speaking to media persons, she said the child is currently under the care of expert doctors. She also promised detailed investigation into the incident and said the perpetrator would face stringent action.

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