It was poetic, venomous and mostly drenched with the stench of casteism. Not just social media, but even mainstream media. An accused in a murder case was being hailed as the ‘greatest father in the world’, while the victim was being attacked with the choicest expletives.
“Happy Women’s Day! Are you happy now?”
“You changed the meaning of your name. You should be named ‘poison’”.
“She is the poison who destroyed nine lives”.
“He bought her a 100 dresses! Who does that!”
This was the flavour of Women’s Day in most parts of both the Telugu states. The issue in focus – the suspected suicide of Maruthi Rao – the prime accused in an ‘honour’ killing that shocked every sensible person.
24-year-old Amrutha is the only child of the late Maruthi Rao, who was an influential businessman from Miryalaguda, Telangana. She professed her love for her classmate Pranay to her parents, and according to her, they were not just agitated by her decision but went as far as locking her up. Reason – Pranay is a Dalit Christian. The couple got married on 30 January 2018, without the family’s approval. The influential father apparently said that the ‘honour’ of the family had been tarnished by this act of marrying a ‘lower’ caste.
Pranay’s ‘Honour’ Killing
According to the Nalgonda SP, AV Ranganath, Maruthi Rao was enraged when he got to know about Amrutha’s pregnancy, and started pressuring her to abort the child. When Amrutha paid no heed to his advice, Maruthi Rao went ahead with his plans.
According to the subsequent police enquiry, it was revealed that Maruthi hired two killers, Asgar Ali and Abdul Bari, who were earlier acquitted in Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya’s murder. Maruthi Rao paid them an advance of Rs 15 lakh, while the total deal was of Rs 1.13 crore.
The hired killers closely followed Pranay for over a month and finally hacked him to death on 14 September 2018, while the couple was returning from a medical check-up.
The gory scene of Pranay being attacked with a machete, while a hapless Amrutha cried for help, were captured in a CCTV. Soon, the visual became commonly known, with the video being played on repeat mode across platforms and interviews.
While the case got attention from even the generally non-reactive Tollywood stars, the debate also started to get more heated up. “Wasn’t it Amrutha’s mistake?” “Didn’t Maruthi Rao do the right thing?”
The discussion brought back the casteist mindset in this region which had been lurking in the shadows until then. Such was the frenzy, that people took out support rallies at the time when all the accused, including Maruthi Rao were arrested. From being a murder accused for hiring killers to end the life of his own son-in-law, he became overnight, an example of ‘fatherly-love’. Even today, there are innumerable fan pages for Maruthi Rao on social media.
Most of these fan pages reflect the deep-rooted caste bias.
All have explanations for why and how Maruthi Rao did the ‘right thing’ considering Pranay was a Dalit-Christian, and Amrutha had to be ‘taught a lesson’ for dragging the family’s ‘honour’ through mud.
Amrutha’s Resilience & Refusal to Withdraw Charges Against Murder-Accused
On 8 March 2020, Maruthi Rao, who hails from the Vaishya community, was found dead in room number 306 of Arya Vaishya Bhavan in Hyderabad. While the police didn’t find any poison bottles in the room, the forensics found it to be death by consumption of poisonous substance.
After being arrested for Pranay’s murder, Maruthi Rao and the co-accused secured bail in April 2019. Maruthi Rao was reportedly trying to get in touch with Amrutha and pressurising her to withdraw the case, ever since. Amrutha, who delivered a baby boy a year ago, has been living with Pranay’s family and was vocal about demanding justice for Pranay. She said that her father deserved capital punishment, if nothing less. Withdrawing the case was not even a matter of discussion as far as she was concerned.
A Suspected Case of Suicide
Exactly a week prior, an unidentified dead body was found in a farmland shed owned by Maruthi Rao. So far, the police could only gather that the victim was a 35-40 year old male and had been lying dead there, for may be a few weeks. There are also rumours doing the rounds that Maruthi Rao had been having altercations with his brother about property. His brother, who is a co-accused in the murder of Pranay, was reportedly asking Maruthi Rao to transfer his property to his sons, as Amrutha wasn’t going to come back home.
Also, while it was widely reported in mainstream media that Maruthi Rao wrote a ‘suicide letter’ saying ‘sorry’ to Amrutha and his wife, the Police didn’t find anything in his room – not even a bottle of poison.
As per the police, it is still only a ‘suspected’ case of suicide.
Amrutha’s Voice, Consent & Trauma Dismissed
The moment the news of Maruthi Rao’s alleged suicide broke out, social media went into a frenzy. People are still baying for Amrutha’s blood. There are cringeworthy posts saying that she is “the reason nine lives were ruined including her own.” Many TV channels showcased titles like ‘Father’s Love’, reducing the brutal murder of Pranay to nothing. A few clips of swamijis preaching about the ‘importance of caste’ to maintain social order, or how to rein in your daughters, are making a re-entry into social groups. “Father’s love is greater than her immature love,” is the common thread being peddled by many including social media influencers. The cremation of a murder accused like Maruthi Rao was being live telecast, while simultaneously throwing a word of caution to ‘daughters like Amrutha’.
There were slogans against Amrutha, who went to see her father at the cremation.
The situation was tense with the public abusing Amrutha for ‘ruining’ so many lives, that she left without seeing him. Amidst all the chaos, Miryalaguda MLA Bhaskar Rao from the ruling TRS party, went to pay ‘homage’ to Maruthi Rao. All this to reinstate the message that Maruthi Rao was indeed a ‘hero’ and Amrutha, a ‘demon’.
With only a few sane voices left, the rationale that Amrutha, a woman, who is legally allowed to take decisions, and has autonomy over her feelings, her consent, her emotions, her loss and her trauma – is not even finding space to breathe.
(Revathi Pogadadanda is a Hyderabad-based journalist. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)