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How Soumya Vishwanathan's Parents Remained Unrelenting in the Face of Tragedy

Although their daughter’s murder trial is now in its eleventh year, Soumya Viswanathan’s parents won’t give up.

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(It has been 15 years since journalist Soumya Viswanathan was murdered in Delhi on 30 September 2008. This article was first published on 19 February 2018, and is being reposted from The Quint’s archives in light of five men being convicted in the murder case on 18 October 2023.)

Soumya Viswananthan's parents wave to an auto, which they approach with a caution in their gait that accompanies old age. "Saket District Court jaana hai (take us to Saket District Court)," they tell the driver. Despite the harsh cold of a Delhi February morning, they want to reach the court on time, as they always have.

Although their daughter’s murder trial is now in its eleventh year, Soumya Viswanathan’s parents won’t give up.
They’re on their way to attend the latest hearing in the trial for the murder of their journalist daughter, who was 26 when she was shot dead in September 2008. The trial is currently in its tenth year.

The Quint accompanied Soumya’s family for hearings that happened soon after they wrote a letter to Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal about the “meandering sense of apathy” with which the case was proceeding. This reporter wanted to get a sense of how this soft-spoken and ageing couple has dealt with their daughter’s murder trial for a decade.

Snapshot

The Soumya Viswanathan Murder Case – In Brief

  • Soumya was shot dead while returning from work around 3:00 am on 30 September 2008 in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj.

  • The police identified Soumya’s alleged killers while investigating the abduction and murder of IT executive Jigisha Ghose who was killed in March 2009.

  • Between March and April 2009, the police arrested all the five accused, namely the main accused Ravi Kapoor along with Baljeet, Amit Shukla, Ajay Kumar and Ajay Sethi.

  • A 620-page charge sheet was filed by the police in June 2009. The trial commenced thereafter.

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10 Years of Apathy... and Counting

"The judge had said the trial will start exactly at 10:00 am last time," 70-year-old Madhavi says with a renewed eagerness as we enter the court complex. While 77-year-old MK is helped by a guard to walk down the stairs, Madhvi walks behind. Both enter the additional sessions judge's courtroom where their matter is listed.

"Ravi Kapoor versus State," shouts the middle-aged bailiff. Standing in the doorway, Soumya's parents look around for their public prosecutor or literally anyone else connected to the case. But as usual, while they are on time, no one else is.

Although their daughter’s murder trial is now in its eleventh year, Soumya Viswanathan’s parents won’t give up.

They walk in, greet the judge with a modest smile, who returns it, and then they patiently... wait.

They’ve waited while public prosecutors changed. They waited while court rooms changed. They waited while the judge on the case changed. But even ten years on, they are still the first to reach the court. Over half the listed witnesses are yet to testify, which means a verdict is still far far away.

Both are retired now. While MK was a liaison officer with Voltas till 2008, Madhavi retired as coordination manager and deputy editor of the National Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories Ltd in 2011. We are not that well off. We are managing with our life savings and the interest we get on them,” Madhavi says.

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Reliving their Daughter's Death Again and Again

Both Madhavi and MK don’t need to be at the trial while other witnesses testify, but the constant change in public prosecutors, judges and court rooms has forced them to be present at each hearing.

With two exceptions. Once when Madhavi, who suffers from osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones, had a knee surgery. “I had a knee replacement in 2011, so I couldn’t come to the trial for a few months. Soumya’s father came alone then,” she said. Then, in 2015, MK had a fall and had surgery for a hip implant. “He was very restless then, not being able to attend the hearings,” she said. They recovered patiently from invasive surgeries and continued to appear for each hearing after.

As the room slowly fills up, the cop who works at the malkhana (evidence room) in the Vasant Vihar police station brings with him four white jute bags. All of them containing evidence, including a muddied tyre, Soumya's footwear, an iron rod and remnants of the car etc. Looking at the bag, Madhvi tells The Quint how she has seen Soumya’s footwear amidst the evidence.

Although their daughter’s murder trial is now in its eleventh year, Soumya Viswanathan’s parents won’t give up.
This reporter saw firsthand how the Viswanathans, despite being mere observers, were needed to clarify case details more than once. That is the level of unfamiliarity on the case. A policeman approached Soumya’s father to clarify the make of Soumya’s car in which she was found dead.
Although their daughter’s murder trial is now in its eleventh year, Soumya Viswanathan’s parents won’t give up.
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As the trial proceeds, each hearing lasting about four hours, Soumya's father, clutching his black bag, dozes off on his chair. On his right is Madhavi, sitting wide awake, leaning ahead to hear as much as she can. “We’ve never thought of dropping this case, that is not an option,” Madhavi says adding that they’re doing what their daughter would have wanted. “Soumya was fearless. She would take up other’s issues without hesitating. I remember when a man got into an accident, she and her friend took him to the hospital.” She looks towards her phone to respond to a message, the wallpaper is Soumya’s photograph.

MK wakes up abruptly whenever a key word or a phrase stands apart from the familiar sound of typing and court murmur.

Although their daughter’s murder trial is now in its eleventh year, Soumya Viswanathan’s parents won’t give up.
There are also repeated references to him in other people’s testimonies, of meeting him at the spot Soumya was found dead, of being handed over her wallet and phone, of visiting the hospital etc.

Her father doesn’t complain. He says he understands the realities of a murder trial and is reasonable about his expectations. He tells The Quint later, "We are not needed to come, we mostly watch and listen. But you can see how the people involved in our case keep changing, so we feel we are needed here. Also Soumya was our daughter."

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Still Waiting For Closure

As the five murder accused walk into the courtroom with their hands entwined with a police constable each, Madhavi and MK do not look their way. “We are just blank now. Earlier we used to get frustrated but those feelings stopped years ago,” Madhavi said.

The main accused in the case is Ravi Kapoor. “He was not a Sikh, he has become one in the course of this trial,”she says signalling she doesn’t want to say more about him. “We want them to suffer like we are suffering . Death is too easy a punishment,” she says, adding that they want the case to come full circle and provide them closure.

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An Old Friend but New Hope

Over the years, some faces have become familiar for the Viswanathans. Including today's witness, constable Hawa Singh. He has been questioned and cross-questioned by four laywers. He retired in 2015 but is present whenever he is called. MK walks upto him and introduces him to The Quint at the end of his hearing. "He has a daughter and retired very recently," he says. Looking towards Singh, MK asks him about his well-being, Singh in turn leaves him with comforting words, "Don't worry, they will be convicted. We are with you."

Although their daughter’s murder trial is now in its eleventh year, Soumya Viswanathan’s parents won’t give up.

In July 2018, the Delhi High Court had granted bail to Ravi Kapoor, the main accused in Soumya Viswanathan's murder case. Delhi Police challenged the order in the Supreme Court and got the matter stayed. They argued that he had already been convicted in 2009 for the murder of business executive Jigisha Ghosh. He was awarded a death sentence by the trial court which was later commuted to a life term.

MK and Madhavi don’t have high expectations, they just want a public prosecutor who shows up to each hearing, a judge who ensures a speedy trial and witnesses who show up, so that the case may move forward.

However, after the letter to the Delhi chief minister, some optimism has returned.

"Now at least people are showing up. They are also making an effort to inform us of future hearings. Our case will be heard on every alternative week as well. Earlier we felt clueless about where the case stood, no one took the trouble to inform us, the witnesses would not show up and nor would the lawyers," Madhavi told The Quint.

While the judge announces the next date of the hearing, MK meticulously opens the calendar on his phone. With eyes squinting he registers a reminder for himself, they’ll be present before anyone else, he knows.

As they walk out today from district court building, aided by a guard along the stairs, they exude hope. Hope that doesn't deserve to be let down again and again.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Delhi Crime 

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