When a lawyer couple was dragged out of their car and hacked to death in Telangana’s Peddapalli district on Wednesday (February 17) afternoon, several bystanders preferred to do nothing but capture the gruesome murders on their cell phones. The passengers of two buses stranded on the road too watched the murder in silence as the couple was first waylaid by the assailants and repeatedly attacked with knives, sickles, and axes at leisure, without any fear or hesitation.
The bystanders then shared video footage and photos of the murder on social media. What does this mind-numbing tragedy reveal about us as a society? An utterly shameful level of callousness!
Not a single person in the crowd thought of calling the ambulance or police. This, when a profusely bleeding Guttu Vaman Rao repeatedly pleaded with the bystanders for help. He even gave out the name of the person responsible for the attack.
The daylight murder comes as yet another grim reminder of the growing insensitivity of people and how such tragedies have become mere spectacles to be captured on smartphones.
The killings were executed by professional killers, police say. The victims, Gattu Vaman Rao and his wife Nagamani, were public figures and spirited individuals known for taking up people’s issues and exposing corruption in the system.
The couple was travelling in a car when they were attacked by the unknown assailants. The incident happened at 2.30 pm on Wednesday, 16 km from Manthani town on the Manthani-Peddapalli highway.
Vaman Rao told the bystanders in his dying testimony that one Kunta Srinivas was behind the attack. Kunta Srinivas belongs to the same village as the couple and was the TRS Manthani mandal president. The TRS immediately distanced itself from Kunta by announcing his suspension from the party.
Fighting against wrongdoings
A few days back, a flex reading ‘this construction has no legal permission”, appeared on the walls of an under-construction house and a temple nearby. The wrongdoers suspect that it was the act of the advocate couple.
In another case, a politician filed an affidavit listing his properties just before the election. Vaman Rao challenged the veracity of his affidavit with proof of suppression of several properties.
When a Dalit man died in police custody, Vaman Rao filed a public interest litigation leading to investigation into the alleged police atrocity.
Vaman Rao and his wife Nagamani practiced in High Court under their firm name: Gattu Law Chambers. They belonged to Gunjapadugu village in Ramagiri Mandal of Peddapalli district.
The couple used law and courts to challenge the wrongdoers in the system and powerful persons in their village. They never gave up their fight despite facing threats, hardships and harassment. They sought police protection and direction to prevent police from harassing them. Vaman Rao was also fighting the sand mafia and other wrongs occurring in his native village.
Police protection sought
The High Court of Telangana had accorded protection to the lawyer couple. It is reported that Nagamani, Vaman Rao’s wife, had recently put up a fresh request in the HC for protection.
The High Court of Telangana has taken suo motu cognizance of the double murder and directed the state to file a status report before March 1. Calling the murders “most unfortunate”, Chief Justice Hima Kohli sought immediate action against the culprits. The CJ also suggested all the material evidence be preserved with care. The judge also sought scientific collection of forensic evidence.
Chief Justice Kohli instructed Advocate General B S Prasad to file a status report on the ongoing investigation. The High Court has asked the police to gather strong evidence against the accused. The High Court also asked for video footage of the crime to be traced and noted as crucial evidence against the culprits.
There has been reaction against the double murder on the ground as well. All courts in Telangana came to a standstill after lawyers went on a protest. Manthani town observed a bandh in protest against the gruesome crime. Rallies and dharnas were taken out by lawyers. The Telangana High Court Advocates Association (THCAA) issued a statement condemning the murder and sought prosecution of the culprits without any delay. A protest call was given by the THCAA, civil society groups and opposition parties, crying foul over the brutal murders that shook the state.
Fight against custodial death
The lawyer couple had recently filed a petition in the Telangana High Court, demanding a probe into custodial death of Sheelam Rangaiah, a Dalit, who was arrested for poaching wild animals.
The couple had written to the HC in May last year that Sheelam Rangaiah was first brought to Manthani Police Station, illegally detained in lockup for the past four days, harassed mentally and physically. Vasantha Rao had contended that Rangaiah was whacked badly by police and he died in the lock up itself.
Rangaiah’s body was sent to Manthani Area Hospital for post-mortem. It was alleged that there were attempts to “manage doctors” by not identifying injuries on the body of the deceased. The petitioners wanted a direction to the police to register the FIR as custodial death for the offences under section 176(2) Cr.P.C and u/s 302 of IPC and to conduct re-post-mortem with a team of doctors to trace the reality, to stop cremation of Rangiah and also to conduct judicial inquiry into the death.
The HC Bench had directed the Hyderabad Commissioner of Police Anjani Kumar to probe the allegations of custodial death. Anjani Kumar submitted the report to the Court in June last year. The Court directed the report be kept under the custody of the Registrar General of High Court. Nagamani was permitted to take the notes from the Report.
Nagamani informed High Court that ever since the said permission to file the counter to the report was given to her, both she, and her husband were constantly being harassed by the police force, both at Manthani, and in Hyderabad. She also complained that her husband is being falsely implicated in two FIRs including No 176 of 2020 on 02.O9.2020, registered with Basanth Nagar police station in Ramagundam district.
Moreover, according to Nagamani, she was being threatened by the police to not to file a counter to the report submitted by Anjani Kumar. The circle inspector had threatened to commit suicide in case she did not withdraw her case. The High Court directed the Telangana Director General of Police to ensure that neither Nagamani, nor her husband, Gattu Vaman Rao, are threatened by any police officer, and that they are not called to any police station as long as this case is sub judice before the High Court. The court had extended protection to the couple and posted the matter for further hearing in April.
All eyes are now on the ruling TRS. The police have to go into the depth of the gruesome murder.