The Congress’ decision to give the ticket of Warangal Lok Sabha byelection to S. Rajaiah, accused of dowry harassment by his daughter-in-law Sarika, may have cost the latter’s life. Sarika, who was charred to death along with her three sons — Abhinav (7), Sriyan and Ayan, twins aged three, is supposed to have committed suicide in fear of increased harassment if Rajaiah became an MP, a preliminary investigation by the Telangana Police revealed. Sarika, 32, is said to have made her fears known to Congress president Sonia Gandhi in an e-mail but the party high command turned a deaf ear to her pleas of denying her father-in-law the ticket.
Sarika and her children were burnt alive in an LPG cylinder blast that took place at former MP Rajaiah’s residence at the posh Revenue Colony in Warangal at 4:45 am on Wednesday. The police are still probing the matter, but initial leads point to a suicide.
The police has arrested Rajaiah, his wife Madhavi, a lecturer in a government degree college, and their son Anil, Sarika’s husband. The three have been remanded to judicial custody till 19 November. The police has also arrested Sana, with whom Anil was allegedly having an extramarital relationship. Anil was also allegedly living with Sana in Hyderabad for some time now.
Only a day before the fateful Wednesday morning, Rajaiah had filed his nomination papers as the Congress candidate for the Warangal (SC) byelection. He was set to file another set of papers in a grand rally of party leaders on Wednesday.
Barely 10 days ago, Sarika had sent an email addressed to Sonia Gandhi, urging her not to field Rajaiah for the by-poll. “If you give him the ticket, their — Rajaiah, his wife Madhavi and their son Anil — atrocities against me will increase. Their cruelty against me went up only after Rajaiah became an MP in 2009,” Sarika is believed to have written in the email.
Sarika, along with some NGO activists, had planned a dharna in front of her father-in-law’s house on Saturday, 7 November, to protest his candidature and highlight the domestic violence meted out to her and her children. Sarika had consulted Damodar, an organiser of Sarvodaya Youth Association, Warangal for the dharna.
Sarika had been battling alleged domestic violence for a few years and only in April last year, in a run-up to the general elections for the Warangal Lok Sabha seat, she had held a dharna in front of Rajaiah’s house and exposed his cruelty. Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections also, she had appealed to Sonia Gandhi to not give ticket to Rajaiah.
Rajaiah is said to have entered into a heated argument with Sarika after he learnt of her plans to hold a dharna. He allegedly asked her to keep quiet till the polling was done on 21 November. Madhavi and Anil too were present and they had allegedly abused Sarika for planning the dharna. The domestic helps said in their statement to the police that there was a “serious heated argument and shouting” among them the night before the incident.
Within hours, by 4.45 am on Wednesday, there was a cylinder blast on the first floor of the three-floor house. Two LPG cylinders — one full and another 40% filled — burst in Sarika’s bedroom. She and her three sons were burnt alive and their bodies were charred beyond recognition.
Surprisingly, Sarika’s in-laws and her husband, who claimed to be in the same house at the time, rang up the fire fighters only after 15 minutes had lapsed. A fire tender reached the spot by 5.20 am. Her in-laws told the cops that Sarika and the kids died in a cylinder blast. However, the cops registered a case under sections of murder and abetting death.
Sarika’s lawyer, Rahena, who has been fighting a dowry harassment and domestic violence case against Rajaiah and his family for the last three years, told The Sunday Guardian on Friday that “had the Congress leadership taken note of Rajaiah and his family’s cruelty against Sarika since 2010, things would have been different” and that “they (Congress high command) should have denied ticket (to Rajaiah) in the current by-election”.
Sarika married Anil after a brief affair in 2006. They belonged to different castes. At the time, the two were studying in a Karimnagar engineering college. Sarika’s parents did not approve of her marriage. Immediately after their wedding, the couple left for London, where Sarika got a job and Anil was dependent on her. By 2008, they had a child, but Anil’s alleged extramarital affairs became an issue between the couple. Rajaiah and his wife supported Anil and blamed Sarika for the situation.
The couple returned to Hyderabad in 2009 and Sarika filed a dowry harassment case against Rajaiah, Madhavi and Anil, and she started living separately. After Rajaiah became an MP in 2009, he forced Sarika to return home and brokered a patch-up. She gave birth to twins, but Anil allegedly did not change his ways. He began living with another woman, Sana.
“Rajaiah used to advise Sarika to put up with all this. He used to tell her to sacrifice her life for the sake of his family and his political reputation,” said Jameela Nishadt, organiser of Shaheen Women Resources and Welfare Association based in Hyderabad while talking to this newspaper. Sarika approached Jameela on 11 February 2011, to file her dowry harassment case.
Jameela said that Rajaiah managed to remove his name from the list of accused in a case under the IPC Section 498 (dowry harassment) by using his political clout. “The Congress leadership knows Sarika’s story very well as she went to the media several times, protesting the harassment from the Rajaiah family. But, no one did anything,” said Jameela.
Rehana, who is fighting Sarika’s dowry harassment case, spoke to The Sunday Guardian and wondered how the Congress high command could give ticket to Rajaiah who is facing a criminal case. “Political leaders talk about the need to check criminalisation of politics (sic), but they give tickets to criminals as they might win the election using their ill-gotten money and caste power.”
Damodar, whom Sarika consulted for organising a dharna on 7 November (Saturday), too told this paper that the young woman faced untold misery because of Rajaiah’s political position. “She (Sarika) felt threatened that the family would kill her if Rajaiah became an MP again. We don’t know how exactly she and her kids died, but it could be suicide.”
Warangal range IG Naveen Chand told this paper that the police are investigating the case from all angles and would soon know the exact cause of the death.
But, sources in the police said that Sarika might have committed suicide along with her kids, fearing that the Rajaiah family would snatch away her children and kill her.
After the incident, Rajaiah withdrew from the contest and the Congress high command fielded former Union minister Sarve Satyanarayana as its candidate. Sources in the police told this paper that Rajaiah volunteered to be arrested, fearing massive public backlash against him. “Had we not stepped in, hundreds of women might have lynched Rajaiah on Wednesday morning,” a local police official said.