Cops fail, Question remains: So who murdered the child ?

After 1,716 days in jail, woman accused of murdering child declared ‘not guilty’.
Illustration: Saai
Illustration: Saai

CHENNAI: Arrested by Chennai police for the murder of a three-year-old child in Villivakkam in 2017, a woman casual labourer spent 1,716 days in jail as she had no means to apply for bail or hire a lawyer for her defence. On July 22, a sessions court in Chennai declared S Devi (40) not guilty as the prosecution’s theory of the woman’s involvement in the drowning of the child, didn’t hold water.

Villivakkam police attempted to pin her down on an unfounded theory that she was jealous of her neighbour’s beautiful child as her three-year-old son had a speaking defect and committed the murder.

“But for the casual statement by the victim’s parents, there is no other incident or material to prove that the accused acted in a manner, exposing her jealousy over the deceased child. This motive attributed by the prosecution is weak, unbelievable and insufficient for committing such a grave crime,” TH Mohammed Farooq, Sessions Judge, Mahila Court stated in his order to acquit the woman.

The child, Kavya, was reported missing by the parents on November 7, 2017. The child’s father was out at his roadside fruit shop in Parry’s Corner. Around 7 pm, the child’s mother left to a nearby shop to purchase groceries and returned home to find Kavya missing. The next day, the child’s body was found near the railway track, according to the prosecution.

An autopsy report showed the cause of death was drowning and the injuries confirmed that the death was homicidal.

Villivakkam police arrested Devi, the neighbour who moved in three months ago in the compound of row houses on Bharathi Nagar in Villivakkam, a low-income neighbourhood. Devi, a construction labourer, was living with her three-year-old son, who allegedly had a speech defect and a man, Suresh, who was also a construction worker.

The prosecution theory was that two days before the child went missing, Devi had a quarrel with the child’s mother and linked it with Devi’s alleged jealousy over the child and held that she committed the murder.

The prosecution also submitted a barrel seized from the house of the accused as material evidence to show that the child was drowned in it and also water samples from the barrel.

Mahila court noted that police did not submit any evidence to prove that the child was drowned in the water found in the barrel seized from the accused’s house.

“In fact, the parents have deposed that when they found the body, it was yellow and it was like the child was drowned in turmeric water. The post-mortem report does not reveal any presence of turmeric in either the internal or external body,” the court noted and dismissed the prosecution theory.

Sessions judge TH Mohammed Farooq held that the prosecution has not established the link between the material objects seized with the murder and held that mere suspicion raised by the prosecution cannot be considered proof and declared the woman ‘not guilty’.

Wretched by the system, saved by the system

Devi would have languished in jail, if not for the legal aid advocate, S Krishna Prasad who contested the case for her pro bono, under the trial court’s direction.

Unlike some cases, in this trial, the witnesses did not turn hostile and the prosecution submitted ‘scientific’ evidence, which was contested by the legal aid advocate.

“As many as eight witnesses were either relatives or friends of the parents of the victim,” advocate Krishna Prasad told DT Next.

Judgment a shot in the arm for legal aid lawyers, perceived to be lethargic as they argue the case for free

S Krishna Prasad

Further, Devi was pressurised by police to confess to the crime, according to him. The 52-yearold lawyer, who specialises in criminal law, has been a panel lawyer with legal aid for more than 15 years.

A question the advocate posed to the prosecution was about the whereabouts of the live-in partner of the accused woman, Devi, who finds no mention in the charge sheet. “The police did not even investigate him. No one knows about his whereabouts,” the lawyer said.

When DT Next visited the residence where the incident happened, neighbours too said they are not aware of his whereabouts.

The case was taken up by Krishna Prasad in 2021. Irrespective of the result of the trial, the legal aid panel lawyer would be paid a mere Rs 6,000.

“My wife is an assistant engineer with the government, and she has been of major support for the family’s sustenance,” he said. At their chambers in Madras High Court, the panel lawyers quip, “More learning, less earning,” when asked about their financial prospects.

A sub-judge with the district legal services authority told DT Next that there is a perception that legal aid advocates will be lethargic as they argue the case for free and said this judgment is a shot in the arm for legal aid lawyers.

On what has kept him running, despite the no-pay in such cases, Krishna Prasad shrugged and said, “Maybe, it has got to do with the day I was born.” He shares his birthday with another lawyer, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

WOMAN YET TO GET CUSTODY OF SON, NO NEWS ON LIVE-IN PARTNER...

  • Devi was released from Puzhal prison on July 23 and has been shuttling between Central railway station and Koyambedu bus terminus, hoping for her legal aid advocate to get custody of her son. The child was admitted to a government home after his mother was incarcerated, as the live-in-partner abandoned the child.

  • DT Next visited the neighbourhood where the murder happened and learnt that the child’s family had moved out of the area within months. The house owner said that he is not aware of their whereabouts.

  • The pertinent question posed by the Sessions Judge, TH Mohammed Farooq to Villivakkam police, “So, who murdered the child?”

  • This is the second instance in the recent past that the city police failed to do justice to a murdered child. On May 27, a court had acquitted the adoptive father of a four-year-old child as ‘Chintadripet police’s investigation was done in a careless and irresponsible manner,’ as noted by the court.

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