Dressed in a black and red salwar with a white dupatta casually flung over her shoulders, Neenu looks like any other college girl.
The bag on her shoulder and the book in her hand reiterate the same. Looking at this photograph, which was published in a leading Malayalam newspaper on 14 June, it is hard to place her as the young woman whose husband was tragically murdered allegedly by her own family, just a day after their wedding.
But, the smile on 21-year-old Neenu's determined face proves that she is far from being defeated. Her husband Kevin Joseph was abducted and allegedly murdered by a gang lead by her own brother and his dead body was recovered on 30 May.
Neenu returned to BK College in Amalagiri in Kottayam, where she is a third year student of BSc Geology and Water Management. She had missed two weeks of classes; and she feared that her identity would forever be linked with the tragedy that struck her life, that she would be kept at arm's length by the people around her.
But when she returned, she says that she was welcomed back with love and care.
My friends continue to support me, they are helping me cover the classes I have missed. Also, when students of other batches stared at me at one point, my friends protected me. They didn’t want me to feel awkward.Neenu
Neenu tells TNM that she is determined to continue her studies, and work after she graduates. Growing up with the dream of cracking the civil services examination, Neenu had been attending coaching classes. However, she had to drop out last month, when she eloped with Kevin.
"I want to continue with IAS coaching, that's what I want. But so far I have not decided anything. I want to start going for coaching as soon as possible," Neenu says.
Speaking about the photograph that is now being shared widely on social media, Neenu laughs. She says that she had no clue that the media were waiting for her, as she returned from college.
"I didn't know I was being photographed. I was surprised to see media gathered at the house. A lot of people told me about this photo, they said I looked strong and that I have risen from despair. I didn't know I was this strong, in fact I have to be strong for the sake of Kevin's family. If I sit around crying all the time, our family will be inconsolable. I do not want that," she says.
For the people of Kerala who had only seen several photographs of a devastated Neenu before, the smile on her face signified strength and the will to live.
Neenu used to live at a hostel before, and went to college from there. After Kevin's death, she now lives with his parents at their house. Kevin’s parents had not known Neenu before his abduction and murder, and had been unaware of their relationship too.
(Published in an arrangement with The News Minute.)
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