Puducherry child murder: Residents reveal accused pretended to help find missing girl

19-year-old Karunas was part of the search operation along with the residents and police for two days before he was arrested for the murder of the nine-year-old child.
The drain in which the child's body was found
The drain in which the child's body was found
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It was an utter shock to the residents of Puducherry’s Muthialpet when the police booked Karunas, a 19-year-old teenager from their neighborhood for the abduction and brutal murder of a nine-year-old Dalit girl child. “He was part of the search party we had formed to look for the child on two consecutive days after she went missing. He was even part of the protest that we held seeking to find her immediately,” says Kutty, the area secretary of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK). 

The girl went missing on March 2, and her body was found decomposed on March 5 in a drain near her house in Puducherry. The whole of Puducherry erupted in protests following the murder, as this is the first in recent times that the people have witnessed such a brutal crime unfold right before their eyes. The discovery of her body also led to demands for Chief Minister N Rangaswamy to resign.

On the evening of March 2, the girl's mother returned home from work to find her child missing. The family immediately raised an alarm and started searching for her. However, as the search did not yield any results, they approached the Muthialpet police, and based on the CCTV footage recovered from the area, the police found that the girl had entered the area, but there was no visual to show that she exited.

The police, along with local residents, formed multiple search teams and started combing through the area. Residents state that they came to each house and made note of those living there and searched through all their belongings, including inside cupboards, fridges, etc. “The search was concentrated in this area because the CCTV footage showed that the girl had come here,” a relative of the child told TNM. 

The search for the child had happened multiple times in the area and Karunas alias Kakka was a part of it. “He was walking here and there, watching the news, and looking for the girl. We never imagined he might have been involved in this, though we knew he was a ganja addict,” says 60-year-old Sumathi, a neighbour of Karunas.

The girl's father, speaking to TNM, said that he saw Karunas standing near the tea shop and in the area while searching for his child. Karunas lived less than a kilometre away from the girl’s house.

The police later started questioning all the history sheeters in the area. However, they too did not take Karunas with them because he was involved in searching for the girl. Later, when they found that he was not questioned, they called him for an interrogation. Residents say that as soon as he was called for questioning, he cut himself with a blade across his body. 

On March 5, at around 2 pm, the police found a sack-like object floating in a drainage behind a cow shed. When lifted, it was a bundled, white-coloured dhoti with the decomposed body of the child. Her hands and legs were found tied and there were injuries throughout her body.  The cow shed behind which the drainage flows was attached to a house belonging to the family of Vivekanandan (56), the other suspect in the case. The connection between Karunas and Vivekanandan is not clear yet, though the residents allege that Karunas supplied ganja and drugs to Vivekanandan. 

Both Karunas and Vivekanandan were taken into custody the same day and on March 6, both of them were booked under Sections 302 (murder), 363 (kidnapping), 342 (wrongful confinement), and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Violations under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the Prevention of Atrocities Against Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Act (PoA) have also been recorded, but the Sections are not exactly clear.

On March 7, Puducherry witnessed a massive, emotionally charged funeral procession for the child, which was joined by hundreds of people who wanted to show their solidarity to the grieving family. The child’s books, bag, and toys were tied to the procession vehicle and buried along with her body. 

On the same day, the Supreidentent of Police Subham Sundar Ghose by order transferred inspector A Dhanaselvam and Sub Inspector V Jayagurunathan of the Muthialpet police station to the Puducherry Armed Police. In their place, Inspector A Kannan and Sub Inspector P Sivapragassam have been posted. 

The way Karunas joined the search party and was later apprehended by the police draws parallels to the murder of seven-year-old Hasini in Chennai in February 2017. The accused Dhasvanth, a techie who was the child’s neighbour, had lured her away with a dog, and then sexually assaulted and killed her. He also joined in the search for her after burning her body and stuffing it in a bag. The police arrested him and while he was on bail during the trial, he murdered his mother and stole her jewelry. He was then re-arrested and in 2018, the Chengalpet court awarded him 46 years of rigorous imprisonment and a death sentence, which was later upheld by the Madras High Court. The Supreme Court upheld his conviction but has stayed the execution of the death sentence.

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