On a hot Wednesday afternoon, scores of people gathered outside a house called 'Vaishnavi.' The crowd included mourners, police officials, politicians and media personnel, but each spoke in hushed tones, while focussing their attention on one particular area inside the house, located in Malayilkada, near Neyyattinkara in Kerala.
The covered mortal remains of 44-year-old Lekha and 19-year-old Vaishnavi sat in view of the crowd, before they were carried to their final resting place behind the house, which was named after the teen who ended her life there. Many had gathered to pay their respects to the two women, who died on Tuesday after setting themselves on fire. Initially, the reason behind the suicide was said to be alleged threats from a bank for failing to repay a home loan. But investigations by the police on Wednesday morning had revealed another side to the story.
The suicide note
Just as the crowd outside the house began whispering about the delay in the funeral proceedings, a police jeep arrived at the house and Chandran -- Lekha's husband and Vaishnavi’s father -- stepped out of the vehicle. Chandran was met with angry taunts and boos by the people gathered there.
“Remove the cover and the see the burnt faces of your wife and daughter, who you killed!” said one man. “Show some emotions, at least now,” shouted another. With the crowd's anger growing, the police whisked Chandran away from the house after seeing his wife and daughter one last time.
Earlier that day, the police while investigating the room where the mother and daughter immolated themselves, found a note, allegedly written by Lekha, which accused her husband, mother-in-law, Krishna and sister-in-law, Shantha, of being the reason behind the death of her and her daughter.
“In the name of dowry, Krishnamma (Krishna) tried to poison me to death. Instead of trying to save my life, she took me to a black magician, who performed black magic on me,” according to the note, police said.
Lekha alleged that it’s because of her mother-in-law that there used to be constant fights in the house. “The moment the sun rises till it becomes dark, she (Krishna) tortures me and my daughter, and even said that one day she will kill us,” the note said.
The note goes on to allege that even when the family was struggling to repay their loans, both her mother-in-law and husband did not bother helping Lekha. The note claimed that Krishna stood as an obstacle as Lekha tried to repay the family loans.
Lekha had also allegedly written on the walls of the room before setting themselves on fire in the same space, claiming that Krishna, Chandran and Shantha were the reason behind the death of Lekha and Vaishnavi.
Family members speak
“We didn’t know she was going through such a terrible phase. Had we known about it, we could have prevented it from happening,” cried out Bindu, Lekha’s eldest sister. Lekha was the youngest of the three sisters. Bindu was the eldest and Sindhu was the second daughter. Based on interactions with family members, many said that Lekha was closest to Bindhu, who was inconsolable throughout the funeral and refused to speak to media. “I didn’t know anything,” was all she managed to repeat.
Speaking to TNM, Lekha’s cousin from the paternal side revealed that 19 years ago, Lekha had allegedly attempted to take her own life by consuming poison tablets. She was rescued after her father and Santosh rushed her to the hospital. A government employee, Santosh said it was the first time Lekha spoke out about the harassment she allegedly faced from her mother-in-law.
When asked why a police complaint was not filed at the time, Santosh stated that Lekha herself had stopped them. But the questions around why the family still left her with Chandran and his mother were met with vague responses by family members.
The earlier suicide attempt by Lekha took place before Vaishnavi was born and at a time when her husband, Chandran, was in Dubai, where he was working as a carpenter. Chandran had only returned to Kerala about nine months ago. Family members allege that most of the harassment came from Lekha's 80-year-old mother-in-law.
Krishna gets pension from the government because her husband was in the army. According to Santosh, she never helped her son nor his family repay the loan despite staying in their house and having enough money. “She would not help nor will she allow them to find their own way of solving their crisis,” he alleged.
Recently Chandran and Lekha had decided that they would sell the 10 cents of land attached to their house in Neyyattinkara. But Krishna protested saying that her pooja muri occupied 3 cents of land out of the total 10 cents so she could sell that land. “She somehow managed to get her son to side with her and Chandran said that they will only sell 7 cents,” stated Santosh.
But Santosh and other uncles of Lekha alleged that Krishna was very superstitious and had extreme religious beliefs. “We don’t know whether she was into black magic, but she was a strange lady. She was like Dakini [a fictional witch in a Malayalam comic series]," he alleged.
Santosh says that the only reason Lekha tolerated the alleged harassment by the mother-in-law was for the sake of her daughter, whom she wanted to get admission in a medical college under the government quota. Vaishnavi was undergoing entrance coaching classes to appear for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) examinations.
The family had taken a loan of Rs 5 lakh from the Canara Bank branch in Neyyattinkara as housing loan. Over the past few years, the family has not been able to repay the loan because of financial difficulties. They are said to have owed the bank Rs 6.8 lakh, with interest.
On Friday, a bank advocate is reported to have called Lekha multiple times to warn her that if they don’t pay finish paying the amount on Tuesday, then the bank would seize their house. “Meanwhile Lekha had found a buyer who said that they will buy the 7 cents of land for Rs 24 lakh. But when she tried contacting him on Friday, he wasn't answering. After 10 pm, his phone was also switched off,” says Santosh.
When Bindu regained some composure, she told TNM that she and her husband had told Lekha to bring Vaishnavi and live with them at their house in Thiruvananthapuram. “On Monday, Lekha told me that she was packing her bags to come to our house. Later, I came to know that she and Vaishnavi set themselves on fire,” said Bindu, through tears.
The Marayamuttom police, which is investigating the case, had taken Chandran and his mother into custody on Wednesday morning and around 2.30 pm on the same day, registered their arrest. “In the morning, they were taken into custody under Section 174 (legal provision that deals with the procedure that the police and the magistrate need to follow in cases of suicide and unnatural death) of CRPC. But later they were charged under Section 306 (Abetment of suicide) and 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC),” a police official at the Marayamuttom station said.