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When Vismaya V Nair, a flamboyant 23-year-old woman, thought of marriage, she hoped to get a husband with whom she could have long conversations. On 31 May 2020, when she married Kiran Kumar, an assistant motor vehicle inspector at Kerala’s transport department, she was sure she had found the right match.
Though an arranged marriage, Vismaya had chosen Kumar over scores of marriage alliances that had come her way. “They were in love. At least that is what she told us, even before the alliance got fixed through our relatives,” Vijith V Nair, Vismaya’s 27-year-old brother told The Quint.
Vismaya died by alleged suicide on 21 June. She was found hanging in the bathroom of her husband Kiran Kumar’s home in Sasthamkotta, Kollam. Her family has alleged that Kumar had been harassing her for dowry. She was a victim of domestic violence too, they allege. “She was forced to take her life,” her brother said.
Bold Girl, Top Performer
When she was a student of Anjal Sabarigiri school in Kollam, Vismaya was an “active and bold” girl. Every year, in the district-level youth festival, she used to participate in Margamkali and Oppana (traditional dance forms) competitions. District-level candidates are selected from among top performing school artists.
Apart from this, she was in National Cadet Corps and was a national-level junior under-officer, a rank given to top performers. “Till Plus Two (Class 12) she was the most popular student in her school. She was liked by all,” her brother said, amid sobs. Vismaya went on to study Ayurveda.
“She wanted to be an Ayurveda doctor and was preparing to write her examinations when her life ended,” Nair said. That such a “bold” woman took her own life seems “unlikely”, her brother alleged, accusing her husband Kiran Kumar of abetting suicide.
Rocky Marriage, Hushed Harassment
In the run-up to her marriage, Vismaya was hopeful. “She used to manage her own online matrimonial profile. She was sure that she had to select her own groom,” her brother said. It was through her brother’s phone that Kumar first contacted Vismaya.
“Kiran said that he wanted to talk to her. They hit it off over the phone and she seemed happy. But when it came to dowry, his family was particular,” Nair rued. Through a relative, the groom’s family sent word that they expected dowry.
“We were ready to give her, her share of the property. My father promised to contribute to the maximum extent possible,” Nair said. The family promised 1.5 acres of land, 100 pavan (one pavan is eight grams) of gold, and one car worth Rs 10 lakh.
Though Kerala is a state which is ranked high on human development indices including female life expectancy and education, the state has recorded 1,080 cases of dowry harassment from 2016 to 2020. It has also recorded 56 dowry deaths during the same period.
When the lockdown struck, the family’s fortunes were affected. Their savings were locked up in immovable assets, which did not find buyers.
“We could offer her only 80 pavan of gold and the car. Registration to the land was also not complete.”Vijith V Nair
Tragically, Vismaya’s father Thrivikraman Nair had raised the money slogging in Saudi Arabia as a super market supervisor for 25 years. “A good part of my father’s life was spent in Saudi. In his old age he lived to see his daughter’s death,” Nair lamented. Thrivikraman Nair is now 55.
During the first eight months of her marriage, Vismaya had not reported the alleged harassment she faced. When the family could not remit the rest of promised assets, Kumar reportedly asked her to leave his home. “When she came home three months ago, she told us that he has been harassing her, even beating her, all through the marriage. She said that the last straw was the car we offered him. He did not like it,” Nair added.
The car did not offer enough milage, Kumar had allegedly complained. He wanted a better model, for which he allegedly used to pick fights with Vismaya.
Progressive, Yet Dowry-Trapped
The family now thinks that they should have lodged a police complaint. “We did not want people to talk about it,” Vismaya’s brother admitted.
Thrivikraman Nair, who is a local leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI), had, however, reached out for the party’s help. The family even took the help of Nair Service Society. “But during a truce talk which was held at home, he hit her in front of us,” the brother said.
Vijith Nair accused Kumar’s family of aiding his abusive behaviour. “In our family such crass, abusive behaviour was never tolerated. Our father brought up both his children in a progressive atmosphere. Vismaya was finding it really difficult to survive,” he said.
Then why did the family agree to give dowry? For the family, social stature was important, the brother said. “In Kerala, dowry is rather substantial. Social stature depends on it. We just wanted to give her whatever we could,” the brother explained.
Though the agreement was to register 1.5 acres of land in Kumar’s name, he had started asking for cash. It was difficult for the family to arrange it as the COVID-lockdown-induced slowdown had affected the real estate market.
“We are sure that he is reason for her death. We will make sure to follow up the case till its legal conclusion. The state government has taken a proactive stand already,” Nair said.
A case has been registered under Section 304 B (dowry harassment) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has conferred the probe to Inspector General Harshita Attaluri. The CM has also asked the police department to strengthen district-level domestic conflict resolution centres.
Vijith Nair, meanwhile, has set an example, he claimed. “As I had undergone enormous stress due to the dowry harassment my sister endured, I did not ask or receive dowry when I got married three months ago,” he said. His wife Revathi lives with the family in their Nilamel, Kairoad house.