Three Muslim boys lure a 14 year old Hindu girl to a hillock near her house, try to assault her and force her to drink poison. At that moment, they are spotted by an elderly woman who stumbles upon the scene, the boys panic, they escape, the girl is taken home, she dies.
That was the story from Thirthahalli, about 300 km from Bangalore, that spooked an entire state three weeks ago.
But now, sources in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Karnataka police say what really happened is this: The girl was depressed after her father moved her to a new school and committed suicide after being unable to cope with studies.
The rest was partly scripted by the scared girl herself before her death, her father who wanted to escape the social stigma of the suicide, and a relative who was a member of the local Bajrang Dal unit, they added.
The investigators have also concluded that Suhan, the only Muslim youth the girl had named, was an unfortunate victim in this episode, a mere acquaintance of the girl who has been kept in protective custody following fears that he may be publicly attacked in the communally charged atmosphere.
Amid the heat and the headlines, all it took for the CID to crack the case was this set of clues: a suicide note found in the girl’s school bag in her own handwriting; lack of any sign of sexual assault; cell phone location data for the Anandagiri hillock and Thirthahalli; forensic reports indicating poisoning as the probable cause of death; medical evidence since the night of October 29 when the girl started vomitting inside her home; and eye-witness accounts.
A CID report on the death – stating that the girl was alone on the hill on October 29, that she concocted the story of her abduction, and that she committed suicide – is now being readied to be handed over soon to the state government, the sources said.
The report is expected to put the lid firmly on weeks of speculation, indignation and conspiracy theories that have been doing the rounds since the girl’s death.
While the girl’s father A G Krishnamurthy had demanded the arrest of Suhan, the BJP’s top leadership in Karnataka had launched protests alleging that the police were shielding the accused because he was a member of a minority community. Thirthahalli was even shut down for a week in the aftermath of the death.
Now, the CID’s findings, from the beginning.
The 14-year-old eighth standard student at the Government School in Thirthahalli, and the elder of two daughters of a small shop owner, was declared dead on the evening of October 30 at the Kasturba Medical College in Manipal.
That night, her father lodged a police complaint stating that his daughter was abducted and taken to the Anandagiri hillock by three persons — including one she identified as an acquaintance from a minority community — in an oil red Maruti Omni, on the morning of October 29. He alleged that she had been forced to drink “something” by the abductors who intended to assault her before she escaped after they were spotted by an elderly lady.
All hell broke out in Thirthahalli on November 1 when news of the death and the complaint spread and protestors were mobilised by right wing leaders in a region that has elected a Congress leader over the last two assembly elections after the BJP dominated the region from 1994-2008.
“Of the three boys who abducted her she only knows the name of one Suhan, the brother of a former schoolmate Farhan from St Mary’s School, where she studied till class seven. The other two boys are not known to her. The police are protecting the prime accused,’’ the girl’s father alleged, days after he lodged the complaint.
With police not finding enough evidence to arrest the youths alleged to have abducted the girl, the opposition BJP stepped up its protests with top leaders including state president Prahlad Joshi, former chief ministers B S Yeddyurappa and Jagadish Shettar, and former minister Shobha Karandlaje demanding the immediate arrest of the “three youths’’.
After the Congress government decided on a CID probe, Joshi alleged, “We have no confidence in an investigation by the CID. We want a CBI inquiry. The culprits are being protected by the state government because some belong to a minority community.”
In the end, it was the suicide note found in the girl’s bag five days after her death – and verified by handwriting experts at the Forensic Science Lab in Bangalore – that provided the first turning point.
The note stated: “My name is ——, I came here to die. I did not study well. My father is a good man but I did not study well. Please forgive me. Let my sister study well. I have made a big mistake. I have drunk poison.’’ It signed off with her name.
Clearly, it was meant to have been found at the hillock, the CID sources said.
“My mother was collecting firewood when she saw the girl on the hill. She did not specifically see anyone else with her but she was quite far away,’’ said Ravi, the son of Kamalamma.
“The girl called us when we were heading home. She asked for water. We asked her to come down and took her to our house and asked for her father to come. She said she was forcibly taken to the hill. Her father took her home,’’ Kamalamma said.
According to the girl’s family, she initially only stated vaguely that she had managed to escape sexual assault by three youths whom she could not identify. After being quizzed persistently by an uncle, Rajesh, the girl stated that one of the boys who abducted her was Suhan, 20, the brother of her former classmate Farhan.
“Suhan and two of his associates whom she could not identify are responsible for the death of my daughter. She would not go to the hill on her own. They force-fed her poison. The police are looking at us with suspicion and are protecting the accused,’’ the girl’s father alleged.
Apart from the suicide note, the fact that the girl fell ill nearly 12 hours after she returned home led the investigators to believe she consumed some kind of poison on the night of October 29 in the confines of her home.
Although forensic experts have opined that she consumed some sort of poison based on the number of times she vomitted before being taken to hospital in the early hours of October 30, the CID is awaiting an official toxicology report to identify the exact substance.
CID investigations have also looked at why the father delayed filing a police complaint about the alleged abduction and poisoning until the death of his daughter despite being informed about it a day earlier by the 14-year-old.
CID sources said Krishnamurthy filed the complaint after consulting a relative, Santosh Poojari, a member of Bajrang Dal who promised to rally right wing support for him to ensure at least some compensation from the state government.
“Santosh Poojari, a distant relative of mine, is associated with Bajrang Dal. But, he is fighting the cause of justice in the issue and there is no other agenda in our fight,’’ Krishnamurthy said.
“Police are trying to suppress the truth because of the involvement of Muslim boys. The Congress led state government is pressurising them,” Vishwanath Kumar, a local Bajrang Dal activist, claimed.
“Initially, there was no complaint of sexual assault. Even the doctors did not find any marks on the body to support such claims. She was simply admitted for vomitting and other health concerns,” Kaushalendra Kumar, SP, Shimoga district, said.
“While we were sincerely trying to follow all possible leads the matter was twisted and politicised by vested interests. Unfortunately many will be disappointed with the outcome of the probe since it is not remotely close to what they have been propagating,” a senior police official said.
As for Suhan, CID sources confirmed that he had no relationship of any sort with the girl except for being a distant acquaintance. “They may have spoken a couple of times,” sources said.
“Suhan is a silent guy, lost in his thought all the time. We used to say he is in a permanent comatose state. Given his personality it is improbable that he might be involved. But he must be arrested if he is found guilty or else it will spread a sense of insecurity in the minds of people,” said Mohammed Mustaq, a furniture seller in a shop near a store where Suhan works in Thirthahalli.
(With inputs by Santosh Kumar R B)