“What are you able to do? I am not afraid if you post this as status. Get lost..
“I lv Muslims. My life is my choice. Why are you bothered?.
“Why are you dying in the name of religion as we are all Indians?
“I don’t care whatever you tell. My father and mother always support me.”
Two days before 20-year-old Dhanyashree committed suicide at her home in Mudigere town in Karnataka’s Chikmagalur district, she was being her usual feisty self in a WhatsApp conversation. According to the exchange, an English transcript of which was provided by the Chikmagalur police, Dhanyashree does not back down when a man, Santosh, warns her that he has “already sent a screenshot of their conversation to the Mudigere Bajrang Dal”, taunts her by asking if her father was Muslim and then asks her to elope with “them”. The conversation is in Tulu.
On Thursday, the Chikmagalur police arrested Santosh, who they say is the main accused in the case. “He is a 25-year-old from Bantwal in Dakshina Kannada district. He was arrested in Bengaluru. He is the son of someone called Rajesh Poojary and is a lift mechanic,” said Chikmagalur Superintendent of Police K Annamalai.
Sources in the police said Santosh is a member of the BJP. On Sunday, in the first arrest in the case, M V Anil, president of the Mudigere unit of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, was arrested from Mudigere.
Dhanyashree was found hanging in her house in Ward No. 6, Chaithra Maidan of Mudigere town on January 6. In a complaint to the police, her mother blamed members of an organisation for harassing her daughter by claiming that “she loved” Muslims.
BJP leader and MLA from Chikmagalur, C T Ravi, said, “What has happened in the Dhanyashree case is unfortunate. A worker of the BJP, Anil, has been arrested for it. But he has not done anything criminal, he has not committed any murder. He was just trying to inform the girl’s family about the dangers of love jihad, which has claimed so many Hindu girls. His intention was not to provoke her to suicide [sic]. No men of the girl’s family have accused anyone of harassing them, it is only the police which is making out such a case.”
When asked about Santosh’s alleged involvement and if he too was a BJP member, Ravi said he would wait for the investigation to be completed before commenting.
It all began with Dhanyashree changing her WhatsApp profile picture, said Annamalai. It was just an image of her eyes, close-cropped. Held against a black background, it appeared — to some eyes – an image of her wearing a burqa. This image was posted on other WhatsApp groups as proof of her “love” for Muslims.
“We are still investigating how Santosh got hold of this photo or Dhanyashree’s number. But we know that on January 4, he called up Dhanyashree’s parents and her. He also had this lengthy WhatsApp conversation with her,” said Annamalai.
A day later, a group of five men, including Anil and members of the Bajrang Dal, landed up at Dhanyashree’s house – first when she was attending classes at the DSBG Government First Grade College, where she is a first year student, and then again in the evening when she was home.
“The second visit, especially, turned very ugly. They abused Dhanyashree in vulgar language. They forced her parents to take her phone away. That evening, she did not have her dinner. She did not eat the next day either. In the evening, she hanged herself,” said Annamalai.
Dhanyashree and her family lived at the end of a lane that overlooks a dip in the picturesque valley. Their home with a red-tiled roof lies locked, ever since her parents Yadav and Saraswati left Mudigere on Sunday. A couple of old television sets lie outside: Yadav was a television mechanic, who barely went to work. Saraswati was a tailor. Neighbours are wary and reluctant to speak. “She was a good girl, I never saw her with any boy or girl,” says a woman, who refuses to be identified.
At the college, where she had been attending classes for the last six months, there is a sense of caution, even a lack of anger. Principal Basavarajappa B C says Dhanyashree was a good girl in college. “I don’t know what she did outside.Should someone be punished for her death? I don’ know.”
Nivedita M V, a member of the commerce faculty, remembers her as someone who would “fight for even one mark.” “She was competitive, she would demand to know where she had gone wrong, why she had got one mark less than the others. She wanted to become someone in life. She was eager to prove herself. She was preparing for her competitive exams,” the teacher said of the “front bencher”.
David, another member of the faculty who only gave his first name, says Dhanyashree was a “leader of the class, you could say.” “She was bold and took a lot of initiative in everything.”
On Saturday, Dhanyashree did not go to college. By evening, the news of her death had spread through the small town. That evening, according to the police, Dhanyashree’s father came to the police station in an inebriated state. “He said that he had scolded his daughter for being always on the phone, and that she had then committed suicide. He filed a complaint saying no one should be held responsible for her death,” said Annamalai.
Police, however, went to the house on Sunday and did a thorough search. “There, we found suicide note after which her mother filed a complaint against the men who came to harass her.”
According to the police, in the note, she begins by asking, “If you Hindu boys do such an injustice to a Hindu girl like me, then where will I go for justice? I am not in love with any Muslim boy, not going out with any Muslim boy. Because of your unnecessary harassment, you have tarnished my reputation and name. Whatever has happened to me should not happen to any other girl.”