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‘Rape-murder’ of 6-yr-old in Hyderabad turns into spectacle as scared families lock up daughters

In Singareni colony, a Hyderabad slum, 'rape-murder' of a minor by a neighbour has destroyed trust & friendships. With politicians and actors crowding the area, families have become more wary.

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Hyderabad: In the cramped Hyderabad slum of Singareni Colony, one of the city’s largest, the narrow lanes have been overrun with residents, supporters of politicians and even fans of some movie stars for days now.

The melee began a week ago when a six-year-old girl, who was initially missing, was later found in her neighbour’s house, allegedly raped and murdered.

With the case gaining more attention after the police incorrectly claimed they had arrested the accused, the slum has been receiving a slew of visitors, including politicians and movie stars, and was even the site of a protest.

Families are shaken by the events of that dreadful 9 September night. Many have locked up their young girls at home, wary of the crowds outside. Among these girls are three of the victim’s classmates and close friends. The four spent much of their time together, going to school and playing on the streets outside their homes.

The children had even performed together during ‘Bonalu’ in August, an important festival observed in the state. It wasn’t a fancy event; just a music speaker set up while the kids danced in the slum’s streets, earning praise from neighbours, who are like family to them.

All of that has now changed.

The Singareni slum in Hyderabad where a six-year-old was allegedly raped and murdered, in Hyderabad, Telangana | Rishika Sadam | ThePrint
The Singareni slum in Hyderabad where a six-year-old was allegedly raped and murdered, in Hyderabad, Telangana | Rishika Sadam | ThePrint

“I will not open the door, whatever you want to ask me, do it through this window,” said 27-year-old Prema, the mother of one of the victim’s friends, as she cracked open a tiny window to speak. She says she has not stepped out of her home since the incident.

“I am so scared, no one imagined something like this to happen to a child. We all live like a family and this is shocking. Our bathroom is outside the house, but I am not waking up during the night to use it. I am not even allowing my child to do that. I don’t let her play outside the house anymore; she has to be inside and I will be with her … We will continue like this,” Prema said.

For the relatively close-knit community, the fact that the accused was a neighbour has been shattering.

In fact, on that Thursday night, the accused, 30-year-old Pallakonda Raju, had even gone and spoken to the family before they realised the child was missing, letting them know he was heading out.

Raju was found dead on railway tracks in Ghanpur in Warangal district this Thursday morning, days after calls for an ‘encounter’ grew.

“His body was found on the railway track in the morning and police was informed about it. We suspect that he might have ended his life by jumping in front of the train,” a senior police official involved in the investigation told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.

The Hyderabad Police Tuesday had launched a massive manhunt with special teams and also announced a cash award of Rs 10 lakh for details that would lead to nabbing the accused.

Meanwhile, with every passing day, the crowds in Singareni Colony, located in Saidabad in the old city, have been swelling. When ThePrint visited the colony Wednesday, at least 500 people were crammed within the few kilometres the slum is spread across. Actor-turned politician Pawan Kalyan was expected to visit the family to offer his condolences, leading to fans turning up as well. He eventually met the family Wednesday evening.

“I am here to see him (Pawan Kalyan) and I have been waiting for five hours now. He consoling the family will help them. I came all the way from 15 kilometres to see the actor,” said a bystander, Nagesh. S.

Also read: Hyderabad man accused of rape, murder of 6-year-old found dead on railway tracks

Outrage and fear

Two days after the murder, the city police declared they had caught Raju. State IT Minister, K.T. Rama Rao, who is also the chief minister’s son, had tweeted saying the “perpetrator was arrested within hours”. However, days later on Tuesday, he tweeted that had been “misinformed”.

The news led to outrage among residents, who have been demanding justice. Following the news of Raju’s body being found, the family has now demanded that his body be brought to the slum for them to see for themselves. However, in a statement to local news channels, the Hyderabad Police Commissioner said photos of the body were shown to the family.

“The predator was between us,” said Girija, a neighbour of the victim’s. Just a tin sheet separated the accused’s and the victim’s homes, said the victim’s grandmother.

Like most of the houses in Singareni, these two homes, located right next to each other, are a one-room set up.

Pointing to the tin sheet, the 60-year-old grandmother said in Telugu: “Can you believe (that) the gruesome incident happened behind this sheet? He turned (up) his television volume and even we had it running on high … that is why we could not have heard her may be,” before breaking down into tears.

The victim is survived by her parents and two younger brothers. On the day she went missing, residents had searched the slum. They suspected the accused when he locked up his house and left.

A police complaint was lodged hours later, and the accused’s door was broken down. Inside, the child’s body was found wrapped in a quilt in a corner. Angered, slum residents ransacked the house and even broke down the walls.

Still lying on the mattress on the floor, amid the rubble, is a doll dressed in yellow.

Residents of Singareni slum ransacked the house of a man accused of raping and murdering his six-year-old neighbour, in Hyderabad, Telangana; (left inset) a doll found in the rubble | Rishika Sadam | ThePrint
Residents of Singareni slum ransacked the house of a man accused of raping and murdering his six-year-old neighbour, in Hyderabad, Telangana; (left inset) a doll found in the rubble | Rishika Sadam | ThePrint

“How do I tell my daughter what happened to her friend? How can I even send her to school? They’re all mentally so affected and things are going to change now. It will take time for us to lose our fear and let them play together outside. Don’t think I can do that anytime soon,” said Rajeshwari, the mother of another of the victim’s three friends.

She added her daughter has had fever for a week now and has not been able to eat solid foods.

The four girls attended the same private school nearby.

The same fear shadows the third friend. When she came out of her house to speak to ThePrint, her mother promptly took her back inside their one-room house.

“They’re all so used to playing outside the homes, and if you see, the streets can hardly accommodate four people at a time. And we all sit outside on these pavements all the time. But, now I will not allow her. I am shaken. We are all daily wage labourers. We used to leave our kids in the houses and go to work sometimes … such was the trust on our neighbours,” said the mother, Nirmala.

Nearby, the victim’s mother’s wails could be heard. Living just mere metres away, she was sitting dehydrated, under a banner that called for justice. As her cries grew louder, Nirmala went inside and shut her door saying it was like losing one of their own daughters.

According to the residents there, Raju was a native of Yadadri-Bhuvanagiri district and had been residing in the slum for the past three years. He would regularly drink alcohol and is a father himself, to a one-year-old girl.

The crime has impacted not just the victim’s family and her friends though; at least 15 girls who live nearby have been stopped from stepping out of their homes.

Also read: 1-yr since Hathras ‘gang rape’: Caste divide is deeper, memories don’t fade, drama in court

Calls for encounter

Over the past week, opposition party leaders, including Congress chief Revanth Reddy and party legislative member Dansari Anasuya (Seethakka) visited the victim’s family. Y.S. Sharmila, Andhra Pradesh CM Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s sister who launched her own party in Telangana, sat on a hunger strike Wednesday in the slum. With her were about 50 of her supporters, taking up half the space in the lane. Earlier in the week, an actor from the Telugu film industry, Manchu Manoj, also visited the family.

For residents, though, this has been of little assurance.

“What is the guarantee that such an incident will not happen again here? The police could not catch him even after a week? How will they instill fear in such predator’s minds? My 12-year-old daughter used to go to school in a private van and takes the last drop. She stopped taking transport after this incident. Her father or I have to drop her now,” said Vanaja, a resident in a nearby area.

Emotions have been riding high, which led to calls for an “encounter”, with comparisons being drawn to the infamous Disha case, wherein a young veterinary doctor was gang-raped and murdered in 2019. The Telangana Police shot dead all four accused, just over a week after the crime.

It isn’t just the residents who made such demands; state cabinet minister Malla Reddy Tuesday told media the accused would be caught and “encountered”.

The K. Chandrashekar Reddy government and his Telangana Rashtra Samithi have been facing flak for the investigation into the case, as well as for not visiting the family.

Hours before Raju’s body was found, state Home Minister Mahmood Ali and Child Welfare Minister Satyavathi Rathod visited the family and offered Rs 20 lakh as ex-gratia.

“Leaders are offering us money. We do not want money, we want justice for her. We want safety to hundreds to young girls living here,” said the victim’s grandmother.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: Hyderabad ‘encounter’ of rape-murder accused chilling reminder of 2008 Warangal killings


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