By Nikhat Fatima, TwoCircles.net
If justice delayed is justice denied, it would be safe that the family of Ayesha Meera have been denied their right for over a decade now. On December 26, 2007, Meera’s body was found naked, blood-soaked in the ladies hostel where she was staying. The hostel, in Ibrahimpatnam, was home to Meera who was enrolled in Nimra College, Vijayawada.
Five years later after the incident, TwoCircles.net had done an extensive report on how the family of the 17-year-old girl had not only been denied justice, the police had in fact gone out of its way to ensure that the investigation is derailed at every possible step. This, combined with the names of politically powerful people being mentioned as the accused, meant that the family was slowly losing all hopes of justice.
And in a clear indication of how justice remains elusive to the families of the marginalised, even in the first week of 2019, 11 years after the incident, little seems to have changed. The only thing that has, in fact, changed, is that politicians who promised justice have forgotten the issue, the powerful people who were accused remain free and the only one who was ‘punished’, wrongly, for the crime belonged to the Dalit community.
When the body of Meera was found, it had created an uproar across the region. From human rights activists to even politicians, everyone had spoken against the ghastly murder of a teenager and had promised all possible support in her family’s quest for justice. But, as our report showed, the investigation from the first day showed how little the police wanted to pursue the matter. On the first day itself, the police did not interrogate anyone at the scene of the crime, nothing was detected by their sniffer dogs, no one heard any sound of struggle despite there being several girls in the hostel at that time, and no questions asked about how could someone enter a building locked from inside. Meera’s mother, Shamshad Begum informed TwoCircles.Net that when they arrived at the hostel in the morning, everything had been cleaned. She said she could see the clean floors and walls freshly wiped.
Arrest anyone who ‘fits’ the profile
Over the next three years, the police continued to arrest anyone they ‘thought’ had committed the crime even as it avoided political bigwigs, despite allegations against some senior Congress leaders. The grandson of former deputy C.M. Koneru Ranga Rao (who was then Municipal administration minister) Koneru Satish, who was the Sarpanch of the village, was one of the suspects. Another suspect was Congress Mandal President Cheruku Madhav Rao. They were never interrogated and remain free. In September 2010, the police found their perfect scapegoat in the form of P Satyam Babu, a poor fatherless, Dalit Christian youth who was in jail for an alleged robbery of a cell phone.
Satyam Babu was produced before the court and the forensic reports all miraculously matched the DNA of Satyam Babu. And he was convicted for rape and murder of Meera. During his trial, Babu could hardly walk as he suffered from a nervous disorder for which he was being treated at the time. The farcical nature of this investigation was evident from the fact that even Meera’s family refused to believe that it was Babu who had committed the crime. And for good reason: Satyam Babu was a physically weak person. Entering a locked building by scaling the six feet wall, sneaking noiselessly in the hostel, banging Meera’s head against the wall, trying her up, raping her, writing across her chest and then again writing another love letter, leisurely drawing love symbols and then silently going out of the building with the locks intact seemed a near to impossible task not just for Satyam Babu but even a well-built tough guy.
This explains why Meera’s parents went to the extent of giving their statement to the press and to the court that they believed that Babu was not the culprit. Everyone, except the police and the judiciary, was sure that it could not have been Babu.
Several Dalit organisations, human rights groups came out to support Babu, claiming that he was unjustly imprisoned. Eminent lawyers fought his case. It was a long battle but justice was delivered when the High Court in 2017, acquitted Satyam Babu on the grounds that the entire investigation was unscientific and came down heavily on the police, the forensic department and also the prosecution. Satyam Babu was awarded compensation as well. And the bench also asked Satyam Babu to sue for damages done to him due to the unjust sentence was given by the lower court.
Senior advocate Bojja Tarakam and Pichuka Srinivas stood by Satyam Babu and fought his case in the lower court. But after the death of the senior counsel, 2 other counsel Vasudha Nagaraj and V Pattabhi joined in the fight in the High court.
Vasudha Nagaraj told TwoCircles.net that she is hopeful that the CBI will crack the case and that no from outside could enter the hostel. It had to be someone who was already inside in the hostel with the knowledge of the warden and her husband.
Pichuka Srinivas, told TwoCircles.net “ Everyone now knows that Babu was falsely acquitted and how the police tried to mislead the investigation. By implicating an innocent youth in a very planned manner they have done a grave injustice. I have advised Satyam to sue for damages. And we will soon file a suit for the same. The Rs 1 lakh compensation awarded is a mere pittance compared to the hardships and the loss of eight years of Babu.”
“As for the missing materials, they are nothing but fake evidence created by the police like the letters and other stuff just to mislead and shield someone with influence. But with the CBI on in the case I am hopeful the murderer will be brought to book,” he added.
Still, no leads on who committed the murder
While the acquittal of Babu was a matter of relief for many, the main question: Who killed Meera? remained unanswered. Therefore, the High Court apart from acquitting Babu and awarding him compensation has also directed for two fresh FIRs to be filed in the case. One FIR was in relation to the murder of Meera and another FIR for the missing evidence. The case is now being handled by the CBI. The police, however, say they want to challenge the acquittal of Satyam Babu.
The orders for reinvestigation of the case were given because of the PIL (public interest litigation) filed by Rama Melkote retired professor of Osmania University, Sajaya Kakarla and V Sandhya Rani activists because even after the acquittal of Satyam Babu no steps were taken by the Government to either catch the culprit or punish the erring officials. The activists said that when innocents are punished and guilty people left free it shakes the confidence of the lay person in the judiciary.
Satyam Babu, who was acquitted in April 2018 is a happier person now. In a conversation with TwoCircles.net, he said the 8 years he spent in prison have been both hard and have given him some experiences. Earlier at the prison, his health had failed and he could not even stand on his own, he was away from his mother and sister, suffering all the time. But gradually he recovered and could walk once more. “During my time in prison, I managed to complete my graduation through distance education and I also learnt metal work.” He said. “ Whether to ask for compensation or a government job, I have left it to my lawyer Srinivas Garu, he knows best,” he said. Currently, he is jobless but hopes to find some work soon.
He also said, “I have waited for justice so long and my waiting has come to an end but the parents of Ayesha are still waiting. I hope and pray that one day they too will get justice. They have suffered a lot,” he said sympathetically.
It goes without saying that the CBI has an extremely tough case in their hands now. The hostel warden and the immediate roommates of Meera in the hostel are allegedly missing. It is assumed that they have left the town.
What happened to all the evidence?
Handwriting experts and the forensic labs that lied earlier, saying that the handwriting and footprint matched with Satyam Babu now say that the reports, the letters, the torn pieces of Meera’s dress and other materials are all missing.
Further, fresh reports also say that Meera was not raped as there was no injury to her private parts. And that there were ants on her body indicating that her body was lying in the bathroom from a long time.
Some lawyers are of the opinion that in order to mislead the investigation, the body was defiled in a manner to make it look like it was murder with the primary motive of rape.
But, Meera’s mother told TwoCircles.net that on December 26, 2007, she had left her daughter at the hostel and there seemed to be a party going on at the hostel. And some sources informed her that Meera did not like the fact that there were liquor and outsiders at that party apart from the hostel inmates. And Meera is said to have objected to this. And an argument ensued between the outsiders who were partying there and Meera in which her head was banged on the wall due to which she died. And then her body was dragged to the bathroom and all other telltale signs like the scrawling on her chest and other love letters were left to mislead the investigation.
But apart from this being just hearsay there is no evidence to prove that this is what happened that day.
No support from Muslim leaders and Muslim religious organisations
Every year on December 27, solidarity meetings are organised for Meera by her supporters. But an activist on the condition of anonymity told TwoCircles.net “ Why aren’t Muslim organisations coming out in support of Meera’s parents? The Jamat e Hind is very large and their presence is also strong in Vijayawada but so far they have not shown any kind of support to the bereaved parents.”
“Apart from United Muslim front that was there in the beginning stages demanding justice, not even the college which is a Muslim institute have shown their sympathy or provided any support to us,” said Iqbal Basha, Meera’s father, to TwoCircles.net.
Shamshad Begum and Iqbal Basha also tried to seek the help of senior Congress leader Shabbir Ali but he ignored them.
In a conversation with TwoCircles.net, Shamshad Begum recalled meeting MP Asaduddin Owaisi who assured them of his support and gave fiery speeches demanding justice for Meera and her parents. But that was only in the beginning. Afterwards, there was no sign of his support anywhere. “When Owaisi Saab came to Vijayawada we went to meet him with high hopes to request his help, but he told us he was not well and could not meet us.”
“Muslim organisations not standing by us means they don’t really care not just about our daughter but also about so many other Muslim daughters who leave their homes in pursuance of education and jobs. How will parents from small towns and villages draw courage to send their daughters to cities for higher studies?” she lamented.
Different yardsticks for delivering justice
In the recent meeting held in Vijayawada on December 27, 2018, Shamshad Begum narrated how in the beginning they had come to Hyderabad to meet the then Chief Minister Late YS Rajashekhar to seek justice for their daughter and how the CM had offered monetary compensation.
For those who do not understand Telugu, Shamshad Begum says she was a fan of the Late YSR but when he offered monetary compensation she was shocked because she was of the impression that compensation is offered only when there are road accidents. But she mustered courage and asked him would he have accepted compensation if it was his daughter instead? It was perhaps after this question that an upset and angry CM ordered for the SIT (Special investigation team) to take up the matter.
She further says in the video that in the case of Nirbhaya the guilty were accosted, brought to book and even a law called Nirbhaya Act has been passed. Why this different yardstick of justice for Meera? Is it not clear that caste, religion and money play a role in the delivery of justice? I am not against Nirbhaya getting justice but I am pointing out the glaring difference. The Nirbhaya incident took place after Meera’s case but justice was delivered first to Nirbhaya while Meera is still waiting for justice.
In her conversation with TwoCircles.net, she cited the case of Asifa, the child who was brutally raped and murdered in Jammu and Kashmir in early 2018 and Mohammed Najeeb, the JNU student who went missing. Both are Muslims and see how justice still evades them, she said.
“We have realised long back that we have to fight this battle alone. We are both private employees. We do not own huge properties or draw high salaries. What little we had we sold to make ends meet in our quest to fight for justice” she added sadly.
Shamshad Begum also spoke about the threatening phone call she had received at the beginning of the case. An unidentified caller had said, “ If you do not stop all this agitation, your second daughter will also meet the same fate”. Both Shamshad Begum and Iqbal Basha had approached the commissioner of police who offered police protection to them for a few months.
Says she, “How can you expect the police who could not trace a phone call to solve the murder case of our daughter?”
Some activists pointed out that even region seems to play a role here. The north of India is not even aware of Meera’s incident while we in the south always show our solidarity to any tragedy that may have happened even in the north. They point out how after the Nirbhaya incident, people in South India also gathered to show their solidarity.
But Meera’s parents have not given up hope. They say if justice is not delivered by the courts here divine justice will not fail them. They have a strong faith that Allah will punish the ones who have killed their daughter. “At the same time we are thankful to the support of other organisations, lawyers, activists and other individuals who come to the protest meetings, give us courage and give us suggestions about the course of action. We are really broken inside but the support of our well-wishers keeps us going”, they told TwoCircles.net.
Every concerned person including Meera’s parents is hoping the CBI will bring out the truth at the earliest. And that the murder of Meera’s should not be another unsolved case with the rapists and murderers enjoying their lives while Meera’s ageing parents are grieving all the time.