If the murder of Swathi, a 24-year-old software engineer, in Chennai plunged the state into a state of horror, fear and outrage in June, the alleged “suicide” of her alleged killer Ram Kumar in a suburban prison on Sunday will seal the fate of the case as an unresolved mystery.
With the alleged murderer gone, there is no further investigation and trial possible on Swathi’s murder and nobody will ever know if Swathi was indeed killed by Ram Kumar and why. And both her family and friends will have to live with the non-closure of a tragedy that shattered them.
In the popular imagination, which often tends to side with the Code of Hammurabi, Swathi and her family have been served justice, or rather retributive justice. But the mystery behind her death is unlikely to be uncovered as the new outrage will now be about Ram Kumar’s “suicide”. The new investigation, and justifiably a resultant outrage, will be about whether he killed himself or somebody else killed him.
See how fast the tables have turned.
Although Swathi’s early morning murder at a railway station, where she was about to board a suburban passenger train to work, by an unidentified man was as shocking as the Delhi gangrape a few years ago, it didn’t lead to a major public uprising because the local police arrested the suspect within a week. Although there seemed to have been some initial jurisdictional bungling, reportedly the police was very systematic in its investigation and nabbed the accused from a far away village in the southern district of Tirunelveli. The arrest was preceded by a lot of drama as revealed by the leaked photos of the midnight raid on his house and followed by accusations by his family that he had been framed.
It’s impossible to even guess if Ram Kumar indeed committed suicide, accidentally died or was killed because it happened in a highly fortified jail. An investigation may or may not bring out the truth; but the fact of the matter is that according to the police, he killed Swathi; and now he is also dead. In a medieval sense of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, the circle has been completed.
It’s not the first time in Tamil Nadu that the accused in a sensational murder dies in curious circumstances before trial. In 2010, a driver in Coimbatore who abducted a child and her kid brother and killed both after raping the girl was gunned down by police during the investigation of the case. According to the police, they had to shoot at him because he snatched the revolver of an inspector and fired at the police while being taken to the scene of crime. Compared to Swathi’s murder, which evoked very limited protest, the Coimbatore rape and murder had led to a massive public outrage with people demanding his execution. Once when he was taken to a hospital, he was even attacked. Similarly, five suspects in a bank robbery in Chennai were also shot dead in an encounter during investigation.
In Swathi’s case, what vitiated the atmosphere is not the clamour for blood by her family, friends or society, but the conspiracy theories floated by various, mostly unverified quarters in the social media and even in some television channels. While her family and friends were more or less tight-lipped on the murder, leaving the responsibility of bringing the killer to book to the police, inspired campaigns maligning both Swathi and the police and absolving Ram Kumar appeared on the social media. They floated outlandish theories to establish that Ram Kumar was not the killer and was being framed to protect the real killers.
The speculations varied from an alternative love theory and contract killing to stealing strategic secret from the software company she worked in. These theories quoted unverified eye witness-accounts and past behaviour of Swathi to make them credible. Spread mostly on YouTube, these propositions were blatant assertions, with no logic, evidence or even journalistic value, accusing foul-play by police and bad personal and professional conduct by Swathi. Unfortunately, many of them also sought to sully the victim’s character. A number of them were also suggestive of caste discrimination.
Without a serious investigation, it’s hard to understand the motive of, and truth behind, these conspiracy theories. Strangely, it was not one or two, but many. Did all of them originate from a single source or multiple sources? Were they coordinated? Nobody knows. However, the inherent motive appeared to prove that Ram Kumar was innocent. Except a couple of TV channels, no mainstream media paid attention to the campaign.
What got lost in these conspiracy theories, and now his death, is Ram Kumar’s chance to face the law of the land. His lawyer always maintained that he was innocent and was being framed. He even demanded a CBI enquiry. He and Ram Kumar’s family were confident that he would get bail soon because the case of the prosecution was weak. Dalit rights and political leader Thol Thirumavalavan also was not impressed by the police theory and had demanded a CBI enquiry.
What’s noteworthy, in the contest of the alleged “suicide”, was that the high court in early August prevented the police from transporting Ram Kumar to the crime scene for taking his photos and videos. In what appeared to be a minor set back to the police, the court said that it could be done at the jail itself.
Was the evidence against Ram Kumar indeed weak as his supporters argue? Would he have survived the trial? With a fairly high conviction rate (compared to the national average) on IPC cases, did the police have anything to worry? These questions are irrelevant now that he is dead.
Unfortunately, the Swathi murder is now an open-and-shut mystery. Let’s now wait to see how Ram Kumar died.