Eight years a convict

Girl’s family didn’t think he was either their daughter’s rapist or killer, police story was implausible, still it took a disease and court to get P Satyam Babu his freedom.

Written by Sreenivas Janyala | Published:April 9, 2017 12:02 am
Vijaywada, Vijaywada rape, rape, Pidathala Satyam Babu, Rajahmundry, Anasagaram village, west godavari police, Sex Maniac, sex maniac Satyam Babu, Vijaywada news, india news, indian express news Satyam Babu with his mother at their home in Anasagaram village. Then additional SP of West Godavari described him as a “sex maniac” and “psycho”. (Source: Express photo by Sreenivas Janyala)

ON APRIL 2, Pidathala Satyam Babu walked out of the Rajamahendravaram Central Prison in Rajahmundry, free of a life sentence, free of charges of rape, free of a disease that had left him paralysed, into the arms of his mother and sister.

They had been waiting for nearly nine years, ever since the then 21-year-old was picked up for rape and murder, and had eight cases slapped against him. Seventy kilometres away, the family of the girl he was accused of killing, Ayesha Meera, said they were relieved too; they had never believed what police accused Satyam Babu of doing.

While Satyam Babu was still in jail, his father, a farm labourer, passed away. Later, the family’s small thatched-roof hut caught fire after a lightning strike. Satyam Babu returned from jail to a one-room house nearby, in Anasagaram village, 50 km from Vijayawada, that the family has now rented for Rs 400 a month. While his mother P Mariamma, 48, works as a farm labourer, sister Satyavathi is a helper in a hospital.

Satyam Babu was working as a mason when he was picked up from home on August 16-17, 2008, night by a Special Investigation Team of the West Godavari Police. Police were investigating assaults on women by an unknown offender in the area.

For two days, Mariamma had no clue where her son was. Anasagaram villagers sat on a hunger strike before police produced him in a local court, and claimed that with his arrest they had cracked the sensational murder of Ayesha, a 19-year-old student who had been found bludgeoned to death in her hostel on December 26, 2007.

Police accused Satyam Babu of using a chutney pounder to hit Ayesha, and raping her. They said he had confessed to 13 other cases of assault on women in the region. A V Ranganath, then additional SP of West Godavari district, described Satyam Babu as a “psycho” and a “sex maniac”.

Satyam Babu told court that before his arrest in the Ayesha case, he had been held for stealing a mobile phone and kept in jail for six months. And that eight days before he was to be released from the Vijayawada district jail, he was taken first to Rajahmundry Central Prison and then to a hospital where his blood, hair, footprints, and semen samples were taken. According to him, he was released, and later arrested again.

Ayesha’s mother Shamshad Begum was the first to raise doubts about the police theory. Both she and husband Syed Iqbal Basha, settled in Tenali in Guntur district, are teachers. Ayesha was staying at a hostel near her pharmacy college in Ibrahimpatnam, on the outskirts of Vijayawada, when she was killed.

“The story that police narrated after arresting Satyam Babu felt like just that — a story. They reconstructed how Satyam Babu was waiting at a bus stop when he saw a girl talking on a mobile phone on the second floor of the hostel and instantly decided to confess his love for her. They said he climbed up a drainage pipe and entered the room where he thought the girl was. Anyone who saw that hostel would tell you it is impossible to enter the rooms without being seen. According to police’s version, Satyam Babu climbed up and down four times without anyone noticing. The first time he apparently climbed up to meet the girl he saw from the road but instead found Ayesha sleeping in a room. He apparently then climbed down to search for a weapon, jumped into the adjoining house where he found the stone pounder, and climbed back to Ayesha’s room with it in his hand. When he attacked Ayesha, none of the girls appeared to have heard any noise. His clothes had no blood stains, and although the body was dragged to the bathroom where he apparently raped her, there were no footprints or any other evidence,” says Shamshad.

She points out that before arresting Satyam Babu, police had accused the family cook and then Ayesha’s maternal uncle. “Only when I showed them the photo of my brother who had died three years ago did police shut up.”

Ayesha’s parents later gave a statement to the Mahila Court that Satyam Babu had been falsely implicated “to protect the real culprits who are politically connected”. They believe the grandson of a then state minister and his friends had a role in the murder, and that Ayesha was killed for objecting to a party in the hostel. They also don’t believe there was ever a rape. “The truth is the postmortem did not reveal any rape at all. It is all a concocted story.”

While in jail, Satyam Babu started losing mobility in his legs, and was diagnosed with a nervous disorder known as Guillain-Barre syndrome. It eventually left him partially paralysed below the waist. The image of Satyam being carried by policemen into the Mahila Court at Vijayawada for his hearings finally rallied public opinion and activists in his favour. Many petitions were filed questioning the police investigation, eventually leading to the acquittal by the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana High Court. The court said that the evidence presented was circumstantial and pulled up police for shoddy investigation.

Satyam Babu’s lawyer Pichuka Srinivas says he had never come across a chargesheet with as many loopholes as the one filed against Satyam Babu. “Police had created a web of lies and deceit… All cases of attacks on women in the area which were till then registered against unknown offenders were linked to him to prove he was a habitual offender and therefore involved in Ayesha’s murder.”

Noting how ludicrous the charges were, he adds, “In one murder of a woman named V Radha, her husband confessed to killing her in a drunken rage. The Vijayawada police let him off, telling the court that though he had confessed, he was not the killer and that Satyam Babu had killed her. In another case, a victim gave a statement to police that it was her friend’s boyfriend who had attacked her. Still, police implicated Satyam Babu.”

After the Mahila Court sentenced him to life, a group of lawyers including Srinivas and Vasudha Nagaraj moved the high court, which quashed five of the nine cases against Satyam Babu. “Police were desperate to find a killer, not the killer,” says Nagaraj. “They questioned more than 1,300 youths in their effort to implicate someone until they found Satyam — an illiterate Dalit Christian from a very poor family, living on the fringes of a village with no one to support him. Cops tutored him what to say and he confessed exactly that in a video-recorded confession. Only when he was sent to life imprisonment did he realise how police had duped him.”

While the high court was considering the other cases, the Andhra government sanctioned Rs 3 lakh for Satyam Babu’s treatment. He was admitted in NIMS, Hyderabad, for over two months. On March 31 came the order clearing the way for Satyam Babu’s release. The high court also told the state government to pay him Rs 1 lakh.

Vijayawada Police Commissioner Gautam Sawang told The Sunday Express they would challenge the verdict.

Unable to believe that he is finally free, Satyam Babu says he can’t eat or sleep well. “I am too happy, too relieved… Truth and justice have won.”

There is one part of this story he hasn’t shared with many. “Can you believe I was in the same jail as the scientific officer of Forensic Science Laboratory N Venkanna, who gave the report that my semen sample matched the samples from Ayesha’s body? Venkanna was trapped by the Anti-Corruption Bureau while accepting a bribe to give a positive report to implicate someone in a rape case, just like I had been implicated.”

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