Video Editors: Sandeep Suman, Ashutosh Bhardwaj
(The story was first published in September 2018 and has been republished from The Quint’s archives after Amrutha’s father and the main accused in the caste-killing, Maruthi Rao, was found dead in a Hyderabad hotel on 8 March.)
Twenty-four-year-old Pranay and 21-year-old Amrutha’s love story was snuffed out after a murder conspiracy, stemming from honour and caste bias.
On 14 September, about 150 kms away from the main city of Hyderabad in Miryalguda, Pranay was hacked to death in broad daylight by goons hired by his father-in-law, Maruthi Rao, a businessman, who couldn’t accept that his daughter had married a man from a lower caste.
Pranay left behind a 21-year-old widow, Amrutha, and an unborn child.
Sitting in their freshly-painted, two-storeyed house, plastered with posters seeking justice for Pranay, a distraught Amrutha narrates how the tragedy unfolded on 14 September.
“On that day, I had gone for a general pregnancy check-up to Jyothi hospital, when someone suddenly attacked Pranay on his head. He fell down immediately and he was no more. Out of shock, I had fainted and had to be admitted to the hospital. I got to know that I had lost Pranay forever after two days.”Amrutha
In Cold Blood
Two months of planning, multiple meetings between the five main accused, fake sim cards and a deal worth Rs 1 crore – that's how Maruthi Rao, Amrutha's father, executed the murder. For Rao, who belonged to Vysya caste, his daughter falling in love with a Dalit man was nothing short of a crime.
“Immediately after the attack, I made a call to my father to ask, ‘Why did you do this to me?’ In response, he just told me ‘Go to hospital’. He was that careless about the incident.”Amrutha
Seven people, including Amrutha’s father, are in police custody. According to police, Maruthi Rao hatched the plot to eliminate Pranay with the help of Asgar Ali, Bari and Abdul Karim. Maruthi Rao's brother, T Shravan, and driver, S Shiva, are the other accused.
The police chief said the conspiracy was hatched in July. The deal was struck for Rs 1 crore though Asgar, and Bari had demanded Rs 2.5 crore. Maruthi Rao had paid Rs 15 lakh advance.
After questioning Maruthi Rao and others, police identified the killer as Subhash Sharma, a native of Bihar, whom Bari had met in Rajahmundry Central Jail.
The investigations revealed that the gang failed to execute the plot on a couple of occasions. On 17 August, they hosted a wedding reception, which further angered Maruthi Rao, and he stepped up his efforts to get Pranay killed.
"In the meantime, when Amrutha became pregnant, his father tried to pressurise her to abort because he was afraid that if Pranay is killed and a child is born to her daughter, it will lead to more problems. She, however, refused to abort," the SP said.
Amrutha says would often speak to her mother over the phone about her health or scheduled hospital visits. She says, although her mother was against the marriage too, she isn’t sure if she was a part of her father’s murder plot.
How Two Schoolmates Fell in Love
Amrutha says she befriended Pranay, her school senior, seven years ago when she was in Class 9. “We didn’t know at that time if it was love or attraction, but we kept talking.”
But their love, forbidden by caste, came with a sense of foreboding.
“My parents house-arrested me two-and-a-half years back. I was in BTech 2nd year... they discontinued my studies... My uncle physically assaulted me with dumbbells and wooden sticks... I was not even allowed to talk to my cousins. But when they planned to marry me off to someone else, I contacted Pranay and we decided to run away.”Amrutha
When asked how she mustered courage to marry against her family’s wishes, she promptly replies, “Because I loved him. I loved the way he cared for me.”
“My father was in Hyderabad and my mother was sleeping. Ours is an independent house... so I came down and got into the car and ran away. We got married in Lakshmi Nagar, Arya Samaj on 30 January.”Amrutha
From 2016 to 2018, when Amrutha was under house-arrest, Pranay lived in constant fear, in hiding, and even dropped out of his college. On 31 January, when his family found out about their marriage, they were hesitant to accept the couple, fearing further intimidation from Amrutha's family. But, while wiping the dust off the framed photograph of Pranay as a child, his father, Balaswamy, tells The Quint why he changed his mind a few days after the marriage.
“Amrutha is a very good person, that’s why I accepted the marriage. They are both true lovers. But her father only cares about honour and caste and only because of those two reasons the murder happened.”Balaswamy, Pranay’s Father
A large photo of Pranay, adorned with a garland, hangs on the wall of his courtyard, and barely a kilometre away stands Amrutha's opulent house, which houses a school that Amrutha’s father had set up under her name. But Amrutha no longer resides there. She calls a different address her home, and those who reside there her family.
“The only thing a father would want is happiness of her daughter. My father spoiled my life. I lost my husband, my father and mother... all three for the same incident. Pranay used to care for me like my family. Now Pranay’s family is with me...I just don’t want to go back ever. I just want to stay here as his wife forever.”Amrutha
Breaking down midway into our conversation, Pranay’s father says he has vowed to protect Amrutha and her child till his death.
“After Pranay’s death, Amrutha wanted to stay with us. She was crying when she told me that ‘this is my Pranay’s family... please let me stay here’. I said, ‘I have never rejected your love... You can stay here. I will support you till death... but my son is not here.’”Balaswamy, Pranay’s Father
As she continues her fight for justice and hopes that the accused, including her father, are hanged to death for killing her husband, Amrutha dreams of a future free of discrimination on the grounds of caste and creed for her unborn child.
“The only thing I am alive for now is to give birth to my baby and bring him/her up. We just want to make him/her strong and a daring person, like Pranay was. He was always very strong and confident. Even when he knew his life was in danger...he married me and shared his life with me.”Amrutha