TS Venkatesan, Chennai
Gone are the days when State was known for peaceful place to live with a good law and order maintenance. The image of Chennai being one of the peace heaven and safest cities in the country is slowly fading away with the spate of murders that took place in June alone and that too, in broad daylight.
It was a bloody Friday (June 24) for women in the city, as news emerged of the cold blooded murder of five women — four of them under 30 years of age. While S Swathi, a 24-year-old Infosys employee, was hacked to death, the decaying corpses of a mother and her three teen-aged daughters were found in a house in Royapettah, right behind the new police station building. Swathi was on her way to work at Mahindra City, about 60 km south of Chennai and was waiting to board a train, when a young man attacked her with a sickle, eyewitnesses said. This is the sixth murder in the city in four weeks. Five of the murders took place in public view.
Right from the beginning, all police efforts were to track the culprit and not to save the victim. Swathi's bloodied body lay on platform for more than two hours without any doctor pronouncing her dead. Her death was assumed and not certified. Bystanders too didn't call for medical help or ambulance, assuming that she was dead. Questions were being asked as to whether Swathi could have been saved if she had been rushed to hospital in time, instead of police assuming the role of doctors and certifying her death. A leading criminal lawyer pointed out that Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) has no provisions for police to certify an injured person dead. “In this case the GRP and RPF officials are liable to be prosecuted for negligence in this case. They should have brought a doctor to the spot or rushed the body to the hospital,” he said.
On Monday, a Division Bench of the Madras High Court suo motu summoned the Public Prosecutor and sought a clarification on police Commissioner’s reported remark that they did not have jurisdiction. The judges noted that the court has a social responsibility and it was not confined only to the cases before it, and referred to an incident of acid attack reported in Puducherry. The court wondered whether the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court are being implemented or not. On June 26 evening, the probe was transferred to the Chennai city police. The case was handled by the railway police. “Crack the case within two days. We will be watching the progress of the probe for a couple of days. If we feel there is slackness, we will take suo motu proceedings after getting concurrence from the Chief Justice.” Judges remarked.
Meanwhile, Swathi’s family members also requested the public to help find the killer. It is alleged that the father of Swathi had started picking up and dropping her following her complain that a man was stalking her on her way to office. Fearing problems, the family did not go to police for help.
Till June 27, no political parties dared to come with a statement condemning the gruesome murder or visiting the victim’s house to offer solace, as the victim belongs to a Brahmin community, which is a numerical minority in TN. They do not have any political power as such. The middle-classes are justified in feeling insecure as a community in the State. Some said Swathi was actually murdered by a jilted love Jihadi. There were outbursts in social media over the inaction of the police to apprehend the culprit and the flaying of political parties including the ruling dispensation for their stoic silence. Angry residents took to social media to vent their ire at the establishment, at the visible lack of policing and the brazen nature of the violent crimes against women.
At candlelight vigil in memory of Swathi held on June 26, people from all walks of life not only expressed their solidarity with the family, but also raised some crucial questions about the safety of women in general and train commuters in particular. They wanted visible policing and speedy justice,
The BJP state chief Tami Isai Soundararajan called on the victim’s family to condole the death on June 27. The BJP staged an agitation on June 28 to draw the attention of the Government to the “deteriorating” law and order situation in the wake of a spate of murders in Chennai.
“When an advocate was murdered in the city recently, I had raised the issue of law and order situation, and now a girl has been hacked to death. Alleging that the murder of Swathi had raised questions about the safety of women in the State, the BJP leader wondered why many political parties had not expressed their condemnation yet. “Vacancies of police officers and their grievances have to be addressed by the government,” she said. Referring to the arrest of about 160 anti-social elements in the last two days since the hacking of the girl, she said, “The government and police should not wait for an incident to take action. Why were these anti-social elements free?” “What prevents CM Jayalalithaa and her ministerial colleagues from condoling Swathi’s death?, Tami Isai questioned.
After the BJP seized the Swathi issue, other political leaders followed suit. DMK treasurer and the state opposition leader MK Stalin said, “The Government is not doing enough for women’s safety, women feel unsafe even when they are at home.” He also urged the state government to take immediate action and ensure that such crimes become a thing of the past.
The brutal murder of a young software professional Swathi was blood chilling. It has shattered the image of Tamil Nadu being a peaceful State where all people, particularly women and children are safe, says Ravi, an automobile engineer. Starting with the murder of RTI activist J. Parasmal that took place on June 7 till the murder of techie Swathi, the city has witnessed five murders committed in broad daylight. Ranging from personal problems to revenge, the murders were committed for various reasons. “It reflects the inability of the police to command respect and fill fear in criminals. Chain-snatching, burglaries and crime against the elderly are occurring across the city,” said V Suresh, National General Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). Many feel that the police should be given free hand when it comes to dealing with law and order problems..
“When we nab a rowdy, we get orders from senior officers and politicians to release him. This should stop and the department should be allowed to function freely. In the present case, the murderer is a professional or jighadi hacker. After hacking he walked with calm as if nothing had happened” said a police official.
“The spate of murders has shattered the image of the ruling AIADMK in its second innings. Normally anti-social elements were on free run during the DMK regime with official patronage. The serial murders in the heart of Chennai now clearly show that Jayalalithaa, who is known for taking tough measures, has lost grip and the police, who are well paid with a slew of allowances, are lethargic in performing their duties” says a political commentator.