FOR more than 15 days, Amboji Venkatiah kept making the rounds of police and the high court for the whereabouts of his son Naresh. Finally, interrogation of two hours by a police officer brought in on the court’s orders revealed that the 23-year-old had been killed within hours of his disappearance. The role of police has come into focus in the case of the Telangana honour killing, where the couple are both dead and the upper-caste father of the girl, Srinivas Reddy, is now behind bars.
Naresh went missing on May 2, soon after Reddy had picked up Swati. When he couldn’t contact him for four days, Venkatiah, who had earlier expressed apprehension that Swati’s upper-caste family may harm Naresh, filed a missing complaint with Bhongir Town Police Station. Inspector M Shankar received the complaint, called Srinivas Reddy to the police station, asked him a few questions and when he denied any knowledge of Naresh, he let him go.
Says Shankar, “I asked Srinivas Reddy if he knew anything about Naresh and he said he did not even meet him. What else could I do after that?” He claims he sent teams to track down Naresh. A sub-inspector and an assistant sub-inspector posted at Bhongir Town police station, however, say they were unaware of any teams sent in search of Naresh.
On May 8, saying police were not looking for Naresh, Venkatiah filed a habeas corpus petition in the high court at Hyderabad. The court directed police to produce Naresh or furnish information regarding his whereabouts on or by May 18.
On May 8, Venkataiah approached Inspector Shankar again and submitted an application saying he feared for his son’s life. Shankar summoned Reddy and questioned him for around 10 minutes, with Reddy denying any knowledge again about Naresh.
Between then and May 16, says DCP (Bhongir Zone) P Yadagiri, police scrutinised call data records of Naresh, Venkataiah, Reddy, and Naresh’s sister Neelima, who lives in Sholapur, to try and find Naresh’s last known location.
On May 16, Swati was found hanging in the bathroom at her home in Lingarajapalli village. When Reddy informed Atmakur (M) police Sub-Inspector Shivanaga Prasad, saying she had committed suicide, he was not questioned, though Swati had earlier tried to kill herself on May 15. Reddy claimed she was breathing when he cut the chunni with which she had hanged herself.
Says S-I Prasad, “Reddy claimed he went to two-three hospitals in Bhongir but there was no doctor there as it was early morning, around 5:30. I could not verify which hospitals he took her to because his daughter was dead and he was distraught and got busy with the rituals. A day later, the police commissioner transferred the investigation.”
After Swati’s death, Venkatiah again approached Inspector Shankar on the evening of May 16, who told him Naresh’s last phone signal had been at Moula Ali near Hyderabad and that he had sent a team there to check.
On May 17, Rachakonda Police Commissioner Mahesh Bhagawat asked Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Chotuppal, M Snehitha to investigate the circumstances of Swati’s suicide, given the controversy surrounding the case.
Till May 20, ACP Snehitha did not speak to Reddy or start the probe. “Their daughter has committed suicide. He must be busy with rituals. He must be in pain and trauma also. After a week I will speak with him,” Snehitha told The Indian Express on May 20.
However, from May 17 onwards, Reddy, a local TDP leader, was giving interviews to news channels and journalists and meeting local political leaders who dropped by to console him. On May 19, with police failing to produce Naresh, the high court directed Telangana DGP Anurag Sharma to entrust the investigation to an SP-rank officer.
On May 22, L B Nagar Zone DCP M Venkateshwara Rao took over. He constituted a team on May 24 and summoned Reddy on May 25. Reddy finally broke down and reportedly admitted that he had killed Naresh on the night of May 2.
The special team headed by DCP Rao is also scrutinising a three-minute audio clip, said to be of March 26, in which S-I Prasad is purportedly heard almost threatening Swati, who was then in Mumbai with Naresh, to return home as her father was searching for her. They had got married the day before. When Swati said the fact that she was talking to him was proof enough that she was alive, and that she had certificates to prove they were majors married willingly, the man said to be Prasad insisted she return home.
On March 28, Ramannapet Circle Inspector N Srinivas, under whom the Athnamkur (M) police station falls, brokered a meeting among Naresh, Swati and Reddy, where Naresh and Swati returned to their respective families. Venkatiah claims that after Swati agreed to go with Reddy, Inspector Srinivas tore their registered marriage papers to nullify the wedding. Srinivas denies this: “I know nothing of the marriage papers.”
He also justifies his role in the episode, saying, “Srinivas Reddy and Venkatiah agreed that their children made a mistake by getting married. Reddy said that if his daughter wishes to go back to Naresh, he would not object. For a peaceful solution between the two families, I conducted the meeting. Swathi went with her father while Naresh went away with his father. After that I do not know what happened, but came to know later that Swathi went missing on March 31 and that she had gone back to Naresh in Mumbai.”