Uthra Case Diary: Police close in on in-laws

The murder of the 26-year-old Uthra in Kollam is yet another reminder of the dark side of the dowry system in India. Sooraj, the key accused in Uthra’s murder, has been sent to police custody again after being produced in the court on Thursday. The Punalur First Class Judicial Magistrate Court extended his custody by another four days. The infamous snakebite murder case made further progress with the arrest of the father of the prime-accused Sooraj on Monday. The police arrested Surendran after questioning him for hours at his house in Parakkode near Adoor in Pathanamthitta district. Crime Branch Deputy Superintendent of Police (DySP) A Asokan told the media that nearly 38 sovereigns of gold was found buried in the premises of Sooraj‘s family house in Adoor. Surendaran spilled the beans about the ornaments during interrogation.

Sooraj’s mother Renuka and sister Soorya had told the cops that they were not aware of the conspiracy. Though they denied any knowledge of the crime, his sister, mother and father had admitted that Sooraj has bought home venomous snakes several times. Soorya admitted that she helped Sooraj to go into hiding when he realised the arrest was imminent. His mother and sister will be questioned again as part of the detailed probe.

Never-ending demands and harassment

Uthra had reportedly suffered domestic abuse and harassment over dowry at Sooraj’s house. Apart from Sooraj, his parents and sister Soorya were also reportedly involved in this, according to the probe report. Earlier, Kerala Women’s Commission had asked Pathnamthitta District Police Chief K G Simon to probe the domestic abuse angle and submit a report. Based on this, Special Branch DySP  R Jose  had conducted a probe and submitted the report. The report was handed over to the Women’s Commission and Kottarakkara Crime Branch.

According to Uthra’s family, Sooraj and his family kept nagging them with monetary demands to fulfil their needs even after taking 96 sovereigns of gold, Rs 10 lakh cash and a Suzuki Baleno car worth another 10 lakh. The couple married two years ago and has a one-year-old son. The police said that Sooraj’s parents and his sister will be booked for domestic violence and anti-dowry provisions.

Uthra’s parents alleged that a major portion of the gold gifted as dowry was missing. The police investigated the bank where Uthra and Soorja held a joint account and found 10 sovereigns of gold. Six sovereigns of gold were used to get an agricultural loan. The police are yet to account for the rest of the gold.

Months of training

Sooraj had reportedly received training to handle snakes. Considering the venmous nature and size of both the snakes that bit Uthra, handling them required professional training. In the first attempt Sooraj was able to put the viper back into the plastic tin after it attacked Uthra. He was also able to handle the cobra with ease in the second attack. Evidence suggested that Sooraj used to watch several YouTube videos to learn the art of handling snakes.

Cover-Up

According to the investigation team, Sooraj had bought the venomous snake from snake-catcher Chavarcode Suresh and orchestrated the murder after sedating Uthra by lacing her food with sleeping pills. Sooraj was able to cover-up the first attempt. Uthra’s parents were informed about the viper attack only after Uthra’s health condition deteriorated. The police have also found evidence to prove that Sooraj had sought the help of snake-catcher Chavarcode Suresh to cover-up his role in this case. When he felt that the police was closing in on him, Sooraj reportedly called up Suresh and asked him not to tell the police about the snakes. Sooraj had made the call using a close friend’s phone. The police had collected the call records and crucial statements from his close friends.

Chavarcode Suresh

Suresh used to drive a school van in Kollam and started snake-catching in 2017 as a hobby. He started a YouTube Channel in the name SK and was also active on Facebook under the name ‘Suresh Nagachaithanyam’. It was Suresh who regularly helped locales on spotting snakes in nearby areas of Kollam. Sooraj contacted Suresh after watching his YouTube Channel. Sooraj had bought the snakes from Suresh for Rs 10,000 .When they saw the news in newspapers, the family asked Suresh to inform the police but he refused fearing he would get arrested

A Historical Post Mortem of a Snake

It is the first time in the history of investigations in Kerala that the police dug out the snake which allegedly bit Uthra on May 7 at her parent’s house in Anchal, Kollam, for post-mortem. The Cobra’s fangs, muscles and brain were sent for expert analysis in Thiruvanthapuram and New Delhi. The post-mortem report of the snake will be a major turning point as there are no eyewitnesses in the case. The fangs of the 152cm long cobra measured 0.6cm.Meanwhile the forest department will approach the court, seeking custody of the first-accused Sooraj and second-accused Suresh. The forest department had filed against them as per the Wildlife Protection Act.

Vava Suresh’s assistance

Vava Suresh has wide knowledge about snakes and had more than two decades of hands-on experience in handling the snakes. In connection with case, Vava Suresh had assisted the police which helped them understand crucial details. When he heard the news, Vava Suresh asked a relative of Uthra to file a complaint. He visited Uthra’s house and observed that there is no chance for a snake to enter the house.

He made three assumptions based on his observation:

1-Uthra might have been sedated and hence she didn’t feel the pain when the cobra bit her twice. (Later Sooraj admitted that he had sedated Uthra – according to the police)

2-There would be a deep injury if one forces the snake to bite.

3-If a cobra is thrown to someone’s body, it tries to crawl away rather than bite. In this case, the snake might have been hurt to make it bite, or the accused would have used some methods to trigger the snake.

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