The body of an elderly Christian woman was found in a pool of blood on the terrace of her house in southern India’s Andhra Pradesh state last Wednesday, 21 March.
Chadarajupalli Subbaravamma, who was in her mid-sixties and converted to Christianity ten years ago, was last seen by her family at around 5.30pm, when, after having a bath, she grabbed her Bible and went upstairs to spend some quiet time in prayer and worship, as was her custom.
“When my son sits before the TV, [my mother] goes to the terrace to pray,” her son, Subba Rao, told World Watch Monitor. “It has been her routine since [a] long time. It can be disturbing to her to pray while the kid watches TV.”
About an hour after Subbaravamma went upstairs, her husband, Jayaramaiah, said he and some neighbours saw a young man climbing the stairs.
Her husband, who is 70, said the young man had shot upstairs too quickly and that he couldn’t catch him. Within minutes, he said that he heard his neighbours, Venkaiah and Bala Krishna, scream: “He is killing her. He is killing her.”
Her son, Subba Rao, told World Watch Monitor what happened next:
“By the time we all went to the terrace, she was lying with her blouse by her side and the Bible thrown away, and her head bled profusely. She died on the spot.
“The neighbours saw him [the young man] beat her to death. She was knelt in prayer and fell with her face down. The blows were so heavy that her head is broken apart. Nobody should wish such painful death to their bitter enemies even.”
Soon a crowd amassed outside the house, which is in Bollapalli village, Prakasham District, blocking the only entrance to the single-storey building.
“There was no chance for the killer to escape,” Subba Rao continued. “He went and locked himself inside the bathroom.
“We don’t know to whom he made calls, but soon police arrived and pulled him out of the bathroom. We were howling in pain that ‘mother is dead; he killed her, he killed her’.
“But the police told us, ‘That fellow is mad’. I am not educated; my family survives only on [the produce from] our one-acre agriculture field. They asked me to ‘shut up’, and ‘don’t make a scene’.
“The police took the killer with them. The police had themselves written a complaint and took the signatures of my wife and assured us that the body will be taken for post-mortem, and we can perform the last rites after it.
“They told me if we inform any Christian leaders, they will take up protests and will not let us perform the last rites for at least ten days. They told me, ‘That fellow is mental, and there can’t be any complaint against him’.”
The police report (FIR no 45/18), filed on the day of the attack at the local police station in nearby Martur, recorded that a man had being charged under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (for murder cases, which are non-bailable and punishable by life imprisonment or even death), but did not reveal his name. He was recorded only as “one unknown person”.
But locals identified him as a 20-year-old sculptor named Ramu, one of six sculptors hired from East Godavari District (about 300km away) by the high priest of the local Hindu temple.
They said they had seen Ramu with the temple’s chief, Uppalapati Prasad, several times, and that it appeared to them that they were “very close”.
The temple is situated in the hills, and devotees from the village have to pass by the Christian family’s house to get there. The house can also be seen from the temple, something that irked the high priest, according to the locals World Watch Monitor spoke to.
“Are we so foolish that we can’t recognise if a person is insane? We will stand up for Subbaravamma. As many as 50 of us are ready to testify in the court if needed.”
The pastor of the local church, Mohan Rao, added that Subbaravamma and her family previously worked at the temple, making statues, but that after converting they took up hard labour instead.
One villager, who did not wish to be named, said: “Are we so foolish that we can’t recognise if a person is insane? We will stand up for Subbaravamma. As many as 50 of us are ready to testify in the court if needed.
“It is a well-planned murder. Anyone standing at the temple can clearly see the woman on the terrace. She was targeted.”
Police Superintendent Satya Yesu Babu confirmed to World Watch Monitor that a 20-year-old sculptor from East Godavari District had been arrested, but he would not name him. He said:
“The accused suffers from some psychological disorder. He would roam around the houses in the locality daily, and on the day of the offence he entered the room where the old lady was present, assuming her to be a young woman. He tried to catch hold of her, but she resisted. It was then he picked [up] a wooden stick and struck her [on] her head. She succumbed to the injury.
“We came to know that he underwent some treatment in a hospital for the mentally disabled in Visakhapatnam. On 23 March, we took him into custody.
“[The] name of the accused cannot be mentioned in the FIR because, at the time the offence was committed, we did not come to the conclusion that he had killed her.
“This case has no religious angle. The accused is a psychological pervert and he was desiring only sex. When she revolted, he started beating her.”
Police ‘protecting’ accused
“Since the attack, the police are paying frequent visits to village chief Maddhena Aadi Lakshmi’s house. Her husband Hanumanta Rao is a noted Telugu Desam Party worker [the ruling party in Andhra Pradesh],” a local source, who requested anonymity, told World Watch Monitor.
“The priest, police and the president have joined hands to protect the accused,” the source continued. “Section 302 is a non-bailable offence that awards life imprisonment or death, if proved guilty. It is a very serious case. Had the officers acted responsible, by now the accused would have been brought before the court also. They are delaying the matter, jeopardising human rights.
“Had the officers acted responsible, by now the accused would have been brought before the court also. They are delaying the matter, jeopardising human rights.”
“A dutiful officer takes into consideration all angles in a serious case like this. When a case is under investigation, he cannot ignore an angle and the manner he rebuffed [the] ‘religious angle’ itself says the police is trying to hide the facts. Previous psychological illness is not at all the criterion here. The inquiry into medical examination has to be done by the court.”
Pastor Rao told World Watch Monitor: “Subbaravamma came to Christ ten years ago, took baptism and continued in faith until her death. On any Sunday, she would be the first one to make it to the church. She was a strong believer.
“The church is shocked to hear the news and none of us is in accord with the police statements. They are cooking up a different version that she was mistaken for a young woman wearing the same coloured sari. It is not true.
“My father is in his seventies. He has not touched a morsel of rice since the day [she] was killed. He is very depressed and crying like a baby.”