July 9, 11:53 am, Chengannur station: Kerala Express No. 12626 rolls in, covering 2,911 km from New Delhi to Kerala’s Alappuzha district. It has a 2-minute halt, and three Class XII students scramble on, carrying their school bags. Soon, they realise their blunder. Their tickets are for Kerala Express No.12625, from Thiruvananthapuram to New Delhi, which is to arrive at 1:21 pm, on the opposite platform.
July 9, 12:53 pm, Mavelikara station: The friends get off. Mavelikara is about 10 km from Chengannur. They take a bus to Ernakulam, 100 km away, and finally a train to Bangalore.
July 13, Mankara railway station: The bodies of two of the girls are discovered along tracks near the station, in Kerala’s Palakkad district. The third girl, found badly injured a few metres away, dies a week later.
S Raji, 16, Athira R Nair, 17, and Arya K Suresh, 16, have got a new name: ‘The Konni girls’. Rest everything about the friends who left their homes one day for school two months ago and never returned remains a matter of speculation.
A day after the bodies were found, IGP Manoj Abraham said, “Post-mortem reports don’t show any sexual assault, the girls were not murdered, they had family problems and were mentally disturbed.”
Now, Investigating Officer DSP A Nazim claims, “Our probe has pointed to a suicide angle since the beginning. Chat messages retrieved from the Facebook accounts of the girls show they were regulars on social media. They chatted at odd hours.”
After questioning 20 youths, including one who left home at the same time as the girls, police have little to prove their theories.
Those who knew Raji, Athira and Arya — parents, friends, teachers, and relatives — say they saw no hint of a suicide pact.
S Sujatha struggles to piece together the four days her daughter was missing. “Raji left home at 6:45 am on July 9 for her tuition in Konni town. She was there till 8:30 am. Some students told me Athira and Arya called for her there,” Sujatha recalls, sitting at her three-room house in Thengunkavungal village, a few kilometres from Konni town.
It’s when she comes to the part about the girls later being seen in “colour clothes” that Sujatha fumbles. “Raji had no change of clothes in her school bag,” she asserts.
Sujatha works at a photocopy shop near Konni Government Senior Secondary School that Raji attended. She took up the job after her husband left her and their two children. “Raji would visit me during interval, but that day she didn’t,” says Sujatha.
Around 1 pm, the school ended abruptly, after a “political strike” — common in these parts — saw student leaders shut classrooms.
Sujatha thought she would meet Raji then, as she went home. It was when she couldn’t spot her among the children that she first got alarmed. “Raji’s friends said she had not come to school. As I was rushing there, I got a call from Arya, who asked me about Raji. I was going to meet the teachers so I brushed her off,” she says.
Police believe Arya was calling to find out whether their families had come to know that they had run away yet.
A teacher told Sujatha to call back on the number Arya had called from. The owner of a lottery shop near the Mavelikara bus stand picked up, and rushed to hand over the phone to Arya. “She was evasive and quickly cut the phone,” says Sujatha.
The shop owner later told police “the girls were behaving normally”.
At about 2 pm, Sujatha registered a missing person’s complaint at the Konni police station. Within the next hour, it was discovered that Arya and Athira too were missing.
A total of nine cellphones were confiscated from the parents and relatives of the girls, though they insisted this was of no use as their daughters “never used a cellphone”. “Instead of tracking the girls, they kept interrogating us,” says Sujatha.
Meanwhile, Raji’s elder brother Rahul, along with friends, launched a “parallel probe”. The owner of the only tea shop at Mavelikara station told Rahul he had seen the girls “arguing with the station master for a refund”. “On seeing some railway police personnel, they ran away.” Both the station master and tea shop owner have been questioned by police.
Police argue they “acted promptly”. “The girls were constantly on the move… They died returning from Bangalore to Ernakulam,” says a senior officer.
Arya K Suresh
One of the clues found in the trail of the girls was a tablet allegedly sold by Arya, a computer science student, to a shopkeeper in Bangalore. Mother Rosily Suresh says it was a prized possession.
“My daughter did not even have a cellphone. She only owned the tablet, which was gifted by her father, who works in the Gulf as a mechanic,” Rosily says.
She knows of the claim that the girls “misused” Internet. Rosily admits Arya had a Facebook page, but adds her brother blocked it “as she spent too much time online”.
The family, which isn’t very well-off, lives in a two-room house in a Dalit colony in Airavan village.
Uncle K Subhash, a bus driver and leader of a local Dalit outfit, blames police. “Had they released pictures of the three girls, they could have been saved. Instead, police didn’t, saying the girls’ future could be harmed.”
Slamming police claims of “family problems”, he adds, “We thought they have common sense, but they are just incapable.”
Athira R Nair
She belonged to the most well-off family among the three girls. Father Ramachandran Nair is a building contractor, who has worked in the Gulf. The family lives in a three-room house in Manjakadambu village.
Two days after the girls went missing, Athira’s father met DGP T P Senkumar. He can’t understand police decision not to release pictures of the girls either. “They could have been traced in Bangalore,” Nair laments.
Adding that they didn’t suspect anyone, he says, “But why has the police not got any clue as to the reasons behind the trip?”
“What family problems?” Nair adds. “And if at all my daughter was mentally disturbed, what about the other girls? My daughter had no issues, she was a good student. I knew Arya and Raji too, they often came home.”
While the parents of all three say they were “good” in studies, their teachers say they had been struggling lately. “The girls had good marks in Class X, but were not performing well in Class XI,” says one.
However, the teachers too dismiss the suicide theory. “Most students have family troubles, it is completely unbelievable the girls went on a trip to kill themselves,” a teacher says.
Despite little evidence to go on, police have stuck to the suicide theory. “Their online messages show one of the girls was afraid to tell her parents she had pawned a gold coin worth Rs 2,000. Another was concerned over poor results. They were in distress, they had family problems,” emphasises Investigating Officer Nazim.
Police also talk about something one of Raji’s classmates mentioned. “Raji came to me with Athira and Arya and said they were going to die. I just laughed it off,” says the classmate.
Police questioned 20 youths in all, apart from 80 others. “We asked them about their social media links to the girls, but could not connect anything to the trip,” admits Nazim.
The families suspect at least one youth, aged 22, who also left Konni around the time, returning after the girls’ deaths. “We read police had found proof of this boy’s communication with one of the girls,” says Sujatha.
A relative of the 22-year-old, in turn, claims the summons to the youth was under “pressure from RSS and BJP leaders”. “He had gone to work at a private medical lab in Ernakulam at that time,” the relative says.
The families, which sat on a hunger strike last month, don’t want to be caught up in such politics.
Sujatha adds that she keeps going back to the unanswered questions. “If the girls had jumped from a moving train, how were Raji and Athira’s bodies lying so close to the track?” she asks. There is another image that haunts her.
“Raji’s glasses were kept neatly folded on her chappals, on the opposite side of the track. It was very unusual.”