Vidhya Sivaloganathan’s family remembers her as sensitive and soft. She had recently cried when her mother said they would have to sell the family’s goat because they couldn’t afford to keep it anymore. “No amma. She’s part of the family now. We’ll reduce our meals and share with her what we eat. Please do not give her away,” she had begged. Every evening as soon as she returned home from school, she would go straight to her ‘pets.’
“We reared the livestock –the goat, the cow and the chickens for eggs and milk but Vidhya always treated them like personal friends,” recalls her mother Saraswathi Sivaloganathan. “I often scolded her over it because she was always cuddling them and getting her white uniform dirty. She would cuddle them before going to school and then cuddle them as soon as she returned from school too. Kutty the goat would beckon with her horned head to Vidhya for more cuddling when she left for school. She would laugh and say, ‘I’ll pet you more, as soon as I get back Kutty.’ That was their ritual. As soon as she returned, all the animals would go to greet her including Chella Mani the hen, clucking all the way. She would pick the hen up, pretend that she could understand its seemingly indignant clucking and say, ‘Oh is that right Chella Mani? Amma hasn’t fed you properly today? How mean of her, here have some biscuits.’
“She would then feed the hen securely tucked under one of her arms, pieces of biscuits with her other hand while still in her school uniform,” recalls her mother tearing up at the memory. “It used to annoy me no end but now all those memories are so bitter-sweet to us. It is who she was. If I ever scolded her for talking to dumb animals as equals, she would say, ‘amma they are not dumb animals. They are intelligent sentient beings without a voice. We have to be extra kind to them.’”
“The animals knew,” says her brother Nishanthan (22). “It was finally the dogs who led us to her body. On the days leading up to her funeral and at the funeral itself, the dogs and goat acted half-crazed against certain individuals, wanting to head-butt or bite them. We thought they had become unbalanced with grief just as we had and tied them up. But it turned out the individuals the animals had been reacting against, were Vidhya’s rapists and murderers. They had had the nerve to show up repeatedly at our house to offer their sympathy until the police caught them.”
Much has been reported in the local Tamil press and online websites about the case but the family deny many of the incidents thus reported as unfactual.
“Firstly, I had no idea who could have done this to my daughter. We had no enemies in the area,” says Vidhya’s mother. “It has been reported that I witnessed a robbery and reported it to the police causing this revenge-killing of my daughter in such a dastardly manner. This is simply not true.
Last year, I had happened to notice one of the houses of my relatives abroad, who kept their house locked up, with its gates wide open. I informed my relative of this –she in turn informed the local police from abroad and they had happened to catch some people on their own. I had nothing to do with it and I don’t think it has any implication in my daughter’s rape and murder.”
Bursts out her brother angrily, “What may I ask is wrong with my mother’s action? People keep blaming us for it as if Vidhya’s fate would have been spared but for this incident. We don’t think so. This island suffers under too much a climate of crime along with too much a climate of fear of exposing the criminals. That is why incidents like these happen again and again. Even in Vidhya’s case, two young boys aged 10 and 13 had seen something but had been too scared to say anything. Though they initially admitted to being witnesses at least in part to the crime, they have now been coached by their parents to retract the story and say they saw nothing.”
According to the family, when they went looking for Vidhya after 3.00 pm on May 13th when she still hadn’t returned from school, the only one to talk of seeing her at all was one particular schoolboy. He had said that he and a schoolmate had been trailing behind Vidhya on their cycles when she turned a corner ahead of them and they heard a crash. When they turned the corner themselves, they had seen her overturned bicycle and one shoe but Vidhya herself missing. One of them had also seen a flash of a yellow shirt among the bushes, but nothing more. They had apparently continued on their way to school without thinking to mention this incident to anybody.
“I screamed when I heard this story,” says the mother. “I asked the boy repeatedly why he hadn’t thought to raise the alarm at least to the teachers. At school, the teachers had merely thought Vidhya was absent for the day; but she was a girl who didn’t like to miss school even if she was sick. The rapists had planned it well to kidnap my daughter on her way to school. We didn’t think to look for her until several hours later and by then it was too late.”