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Sunday, October 25, 2020

In Hyderabad, caste turns love story into a story of hate and murder

The Hyderabad home of computer engineer Avanti may be a world away from Hathras in UP — roiled by a Dalit girl's assault and murder allegedly by upper-caste men — but that evening, the distance seemed to disappear.

Written by Sreenivas Janyala | Hyderabad | Updated: October 2, 2020 10:52:39 am
The couple met Cyberabad Police Commissioner three months ago,

Their love bloomed with every “Hi” and “Hello” on the quiet lane outside their homes. They soon moved to Facebook, spending hours getting to know each other, growing closer. Then there were the phone calls, with bills running upto Rs 1,500 a month. And finally, on June 10, they got married.

“Hemanth and I were so much in love. Every evening, we used to sit together and make plans about the future,” says Avanti Reddy, 23. Until September 24, when this tale of two people from two castes in one big city came to an abrupt, and brutal, end.

The Hyderabad home of computer engineer Avanti may be a world away from Hathras in UP — roiled by a Dalit girl’s assault and murder allegedly by upper-caste men — but that evening, the distance seemed to disappear.

Two of Avanti’s uncles reached their house, called the couple out and forced them into a car before speeding away, according to police. On the way, while they switched cars, Avanti managed to escape and alert the police, who later found 28-year-old Hemanth Kumar’s body about 20 km away from the house — he had been strangled to death.

Police say it’s a clear case of caste killing. And they have since arrested 14 people, including the two uncles, Avanti’s father D Laxmi Reddy and mother Archana, and three alleged hired killers.

Also Read | Nalgonda caste killing: Father, who plotted murder of daughter’s husband, commits suicide

Today, all that Avanti is left with are the memories.

“After we got married, we did not spend even a few minutes away from each other. When he went to his work sites, I went along with him and sat in the car, waiting,’’ says Avanti.

Their story goes back to their teenage years, to that lane behind Madhuri Hospital in Chandanagar where Hemanth’s father C Murali Krishna moved in with his family 12 years ago. By then, Avanti’s family was well established there. Both the families were well-off, involved in construction and real estate, but there was a wall: Avanti’s family were Reddys and Hemanth’s Vysyas, lower down the caste hierarchy.

“It started as a friendship and turned into love as I started my intermediate course and Hemanth was pursuing his BSc in Chemistry. We did not meet often, only occasionally near my college. We used to exchange a ‘Hi’ or a ‘Hello’ in the street. Then, we discovered Facebook,’’ says Avanti.

“It was then that some of my lecturers saw us and informed my father. We decided to become more secretive. After two years, when I started pursuing a B.Tech in Computer Science, I got a mobile phone and we started talking for hours. But my father grew suspicious when my phone bills started reaching Rs 1,400-Rs 1,500. He warned me again,’’ she says.

According to Avanti, despite the obstacles, life began to look up. Hemanth got a job in the interior walls department of a paint manufacturer. Two years later, she says, he signed up with an online service provider. “Last March, he opened his own office as an interior designer,” she says.

Hemanth’s father, Murali Krishna, says he referred his son to his friends who were builders. “Hemanth impressed them, he was doing very well,’’ says Krishna.

Avanti, meanwhile, completed her engineering in 2018, and started an internship with education portal Byju’s. By then, they had begun to dream of marriage. But they also saw the storm clouds gathering.

“Last November, someone sent a photo on WhatsApp to my father of Hemanth and I together. There was a showdown and on November 27, my father sent a resignation letter to my office, confined me at home, and took away my phone,’’ says Avanti.

It was only their “love for each other” that pulled them through, she says. “Finally, on June 9, we eloped and got married the next day at an Arya Samaj temple. That was when Hemanth’s family came to know about us,” she says.

Despite the backlash at home, Avanti thought they were safe when they got the marriage certificate on June 10 and met Cyberabad Police Commissioner V C Sajjanar two days later. Says Sajjanar: “I instructed the Chandanagar police station to summon the woman’s parents and counsel them. As per the Inspector’s report, the woman’s parents agreed to leave the couple alone.”

The couple took a house on rent in Gachibowli, about 12 km from Chandanagar. “The last three months were the best days of my life,” says Avanti. “Hemanth took me to his village in Guntur, and I loved listening to him reminisce about his childhood, the anecdotes. Then, we went to Vijayawada to visit a few temples. It was so memorable,” she says.

“All this while, I had no inkling that my family would harm Hemanth, we were educated people. I never thought my husband would be killed in the name of caste in a big city like Hyderabad,’’ says Avanti. “My family has not just killed Hemanth, they have taken away a part of me.”

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