When Angamma got a call asking her to immediately go to her daughter Laxmi's workplace, a parlour in Delhi's Lajpat Nagar, she did not expect to see her daughter's burnt body on the bathroom floor. She screamed and shouted, but it was too late.
The 18-year-old Laxmi died on the morning of 1 October.
While the police say that they are conducting investigation in accordance with the law, Angamma is indignant. She wants them to register a First Investigation Report (FIR), which has not been done even though it's been almost a week since the incident.
This is despite verbal and written complaints by Angamma. Her advocate tells us he is worried that the evidence is being tampered with.
Angamma Mentions Sexual Harassment of Younger Daughter
Angamma has three daughters, of whom one is currently in Tamil Nadu. It was this daughter who had called her up and asked her to hurry to the workplace. All she had said was, she heard Laxmi cry loudly. This was around 7:30 am on 1 October.
When she reached the parlour around 8 am, she found smoke all over the place. "When I entered the washroom, I found a 5-litre empty can kept at the door. When I peeped inside the washroom, I saw my daughter lying on the floor: her body burnt. I observed that all the clothes to be cleaned up for the day were lying inside the bucket, as if she had not started the work for the day," she says in pain.
Angamma claims her daughter was murdered by her employer. "I want a fair investigation and justice for my daughter. I have a strong apprehension that my daughter's employer murdered her," she said.
She does not have specific evidence or did not witness anything to make that claim, she reluctantly accepts.
Angamma lived with her kids in the Madrasi camp in Lajpat Nagar. They moved to Delhi decades ago for better work and have been working as domestic workers in different homes in the area.
While she may not have evidence, her resentment against the owner of the parlour rises from what her 15-year-old daughter had told her. "My youngest daughter, aged 15 years approximately, used to work at that particular beauty parlour. During the lockdown she informed me about the fact that her employer used to inappropriately touch my younger daughter often," she said.
The family had not approached the police to register a complaint or FIR regarding the employer in this case.
Laxmi had been working at the same parlour for the two months before her death.
Police Say Looks Like Suicide, Conducting Investigation
In a long conversation with the concerned police officer at Lajpat Nagar Police Station, he explained why he thinks the woman died by suicide.
"We may not have registered an FIR yet, but we are leaving no stoned unturned as far as the investigation is concerned," the police officer said on the condition of anonymity.
Based on CCTV evidence, call recordings and speaking to those involved, the police say that the call that Laxmi made to her sister was because she wanted to talk to a man who she was in a relationship with but had blocked her. "It was because of that that she said she would kill herself repeatedly. We have call recordings regarding this back and forth," the police official said. He added that there was CCTV footage to show that no one followed Laxmi inside the floor which only had one entrance.
When asked despite how she died, Should an FIR not be registered? the concerned police officer said a DDR had been registered and the investigation was underway.
The police officer said that he did not want to ruin the life of the accused when there was not sufficient evidence against them. "These things change everything. Considering the evidence we have, or the lack of it, it would not be prudent to register a case," he said. He also said that invoking Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) where inquest proceedings are initiated in the case of a suicide. The concerned part of the section reads:
(4) The following Magistrates are empowered to hold inquests, namely, any District Magistrate or Sub- divisional Magistrate and any other Executive Magistrate specially empowered in this behalf by the State Government or the District Magistrate.
"We are waiting for the post-mortem report to come. We have also taken into consideration the allegations of sexual harassment. While the doctors said that preliminary probe indicates suicide, the full report is awaited. We will register an FIR for murder if there is evidence pointing towards it. Right now there is no case," the police officer said on the condition of anonymity.
Advocate Says, Worried Evidence Being Tampered
The advocate in the case, K R Shiyas, said they are tired of the police not registering an FIR in the case even after almost a week.
"We waited, we sent them a written complaint and now we have filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court for the court to take cognizance of the matter. The matter has been listed for Monday," Shiyas said.
Regarding the police saying they are conducting their investigation under Section 174 of CrPC, Shiyas said, "That current delay in registering the FIR in case of a cognizable offence is in direct violation with regard to the Section 154 of CrPC."
Section 154 of the CrPC states that a police officer must record an FIR in writing when they receive any information which discloses a cognizable offence. The Supreme Court in its Lalitha Kumari judgment had held that it is mandatory for the police to do this without any delays; they cannot offer an excuse, for instance, saying that a preliminary enquiry is required.
Shiyas went on to say that there was a "chance that the circumstantial evidence and material proofs would be tampered with and misplaced." "We apprehend that tampering is already done. The police have to serve a preliminary autopsy report before the detailed one," Shiyas concluded.
With the writ petition up for hearing on 11 October, the arguments of the police and the lawyer will be heard. "We will tell the court what we have done and leave them to decide if an FIR needs to be registered," the police official said.