Delivering the judgement in the first ever case in Kerala where video conferencing was used in the judicial proceedings, a Thrissur court convicted a 50-year-old woman for murder under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code on Monday. Ollur native Kunnathuparambil Shailaja was the sole accused who was found guilty of murdering her four-year-old grandniece. The deceased's parents, who are based in Australia, gave their statements before a magistrate via videoconferencing.
On October 13, 2016, Shailaja drowned four-year-old Meba - her brother's granddaughter - during a relative's funeral ceremony. The principal motive behind the murder was vengeance, police say, as Shailaja had held a grudge against Meba's family -- mainly her parents, Neeshma and Ranjith.
Back in 2013, the accused has a fallout with Meba's family, when they found that Shailaja had stolen the child's gold waist chain on the day of her first birthday celebrations. Moreover, Shailaja was booked by the Thrissur East Police in a trafficking case in the same year. The two incidents led to the family banning her from visiting their ancestral house in Pudukkad. This led to the accused vowing to avenge the treatment meted out to her.
"The accused is the sole sister among five brothers. All of them live as neighbours. When her eldest brother died in 2013, Shailaja and her daughter were invited to attend the ceremony by the family. Here she saw Neeshma and Ranjith again and decided to seek revenge. Post the funeral, she took the four-year-old to the backyard of the house which faces the Manali river, and threw her into the water," investigating officer Sub-Inspector SP Sudheeran of Pudukkad police station told TNM.
When Meba's family started searching for her, Shailaja told them that she had seen migrant labourers from Bengal kidnap the child. This led to family members searching all over the town for Bengali migrants, even as the four-year-old drowned in the river.
According to the investigating officials, it was only when the child's body washed up near the banks that the family realised that she had drowned. Following investigations, Shailaja was arrested by the police and booked for murder.
SI Sudheeran adds that this is the first case where video conferencing was used in court to take Meba’s parents' witness statements. "Meba's parents are working in Australia. As they did not get leave to fly down to Kerala and submit their statements to the magistrate, they were asked to appear at the Indian embassy in Australia and record their statements via video conferencing," Sudheeran told TNM.
Meba's father Ranjith is a crucial witness in the case and the first person to give his statement when an FIR was lodged following the child's death.
On Monday, the court found Shailaja guilty of murder. The quantum of sentence will be furnished on Tuesday.
"The accused planned the murder for a number of reasons - she was upset that Meba's parents were earning well after moving away from India. She also believed that they were responsible for spreading the news about the immoral trafficking case against her. Following the verdict, the accused's bail has been cancelled. She has been shifted to women's sub-jail in Palakkad,” Sudheeran says.