By Nadia Lewis
Most people find it hard to juggle determination and honesty. You want to get somewhere, become something and the back alley instantly looks shorter. Deputy Superintendent of Police R Vishnupriya seems to have been one of the rare people who embodied both traits.
Vishnupriya, 27 years old at the time she was found dead, never actually wanted to be a part of the police academy. Her family says he had had her eyes set on the civil service sector instead. She’d wanted to become an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer.
The first time she took the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam, though, she did not fare well. But she had made up her mind, even before she joined St Joseph’s College in Tiruchirappalli to study maths, that she would join the civil services.
That first time, she travelled around 185km from Cuddalore to enroll in an IAS academy. She had never been away from home before and she was determined to come back home successful.
She tried again. This time she was two marks short of passing the UPSC exam. Her score in the exam did make her eligible for the Indian Police Service (IPS), however. And her parents left the decision to join the IPS to her.
Her mother, Kalaiselvi, had worked as a clerk at Andhra Bank in Chennai. Her father was a government official in Pondicherry. The family worked this out by having Vishnupriya and her sister live first in Pondicherry and later in Cuddalore.
Growing up, Kalaiselvi remembers Vishnupriya being a mischievous, playful child. She could start a conversation with anybody, anywhere at any time. Vishnupriya’s teachers thought her very intelligent. She loved to read, especially mystery novels. Her younger sister Dhivya says, she could leave nothing half-read.
Kalaiselvi also remembers that her sunny-tempered daughter loved to sing as a child. She would sing at home while doing chores, she would sing for guests, she would sing whenever she pleased. But there was one particular song, growing up, that struck such a chord in her. “She would sing ‘Pappa Padum Pattu‘ unabashedly on the streets, the bus, even in the hospital when she had to get an injection.” This infectious energy is what her mother misses the most about her.
In 2013, with her parents’ blessing, Vishnupriya set off to her duty as a policewoman in Tiruchengode of Namakkal district, home also to where Perumal Murugan can no longer write, as this essay at The News Minute remarks. She soon became the DSP of the district and her job was added to the list of things she loved.
Her family says she found her job fulfilling. Never mind the odd hours she had to work, sometimes leaving home at 11pm and returning by 4-5am, with just two hours of sleep, and then she had to report back to the station, to her SP. She didn’t mind that her job kept her constantly travelling from one end of the district to the other. She was getting to interact with people, to help the less privileged, to ensure peace in the community, to let people know she cared about them. Something her subordinates loved most about her was that she was easy to approach. She could talk to anybody, anywhere at any time. She never looked down on anybody and treated everybody with respect.
She enjoyed the investigations, says Kalaiselvi. Uncovering truths to help those in need, doing honest work, protecting innocent people.
From Kalaiselvi’s accounts, a picture emerges of a happy woman who enjoyed her life, doing something she was passionate about. And nobody could take that away from her – or so she thought, until she was made the Investigating Officer of the Gokulraj murder case.
Kalaiselvi says that for the first time, Vishnupriya was struggling under the pressure, suffocating from it. She had heard about corruption, but to experience it and to be asked to be a part of it? No. Never. She would not give in. She was honest and determined about this.
A young Dalit boy, Gokulraj, had been kidnapped, strangled, stabbed and left on the railway tracks to be decapitated. Why? Because he had spoken to a girl from a higher caste.
Vishnupriya was a Dalit, but neither she nor her family had ever faced discrimination, especially to this extreme degree, says her mother. Her mother adds that she has a hunch that Vishnupriya’s SP occasionally used her as a scapegoat, blaming her for mistakes she had not committed, but she herself could not be sure if this was because of her caste or simply because she was a subordinate. Anyway, it was not anything her daughter could not handle, she had thought.
Vishnupriya was determined to pin the murderer and she had found him: Yuvaraj, the president the party Dheeran Chinnamalai Gounder Peravai. Gokulraj’s mother said Vishnupriya was helping their case and she was on their side. But the SP had waved her findings away, says Vishnupriya’s mother. She was told to book some other people under the Goonda Act. She argued that the above mentioned people were innocent of the crime, but the SP was insistent, Kalaiselvi says. The moral dilemma seems to have tormented Vishnupriya.
For the first time her family saw that she was visibly upset. From the very beginning, she had drawn a very thick line that separated her professional life from the personal. She would never share any details of her work. She respected the people she worked with (and for), and she would not let them become casual dinner conversation.
But with this case the line she had drawn began to crumble. She began to drop hints when with her mother and sister.
“I am being forced to punish innocent people,” she said to her mother. “The SP is being persistent, saying I have to do as he tells me. But if I do as he says and this case goes to court, where will be my evidence? I have none. They are innocent.”
To her sister in Chennai, with whom she had phone conversations, she opened up, saying, “I am really busy at work, I am under so much pressure.”
Who would be alarmed by these statements? Pressure, stress, tension; this came with every job. “Quit,” her sister casually advised her, “Don’t let them walk all over you.” Her mother had been asking her to do so anyway, unhappy that she didn’t have a nine-to-five job. But Vishnupriya didn’t agree.
On Friday, her driver was the one who found her hanging in the police quarters. She left a seven-page suicide note that spoke about a guilt that she could no longer handle. The note also revealed humility and an overwhelming sense of responsibility, asking that her death not be sensationalised or connected to the case she was working on. She pleaded with the media to leave her family alone. Five times over, she repeated, “I love you ma.”
She asserted that nobody influenced her decision to take her life, nobody could wield that power over her, recreating the image of the young girl who loved to sing on the streets so much that even her mother could not control this habit.
Vishnupriya has left behind a legacy of being part one of the few whose moral compass always points north. She was determined to never let it waver.
“Just pray for me,” were her last words to her sister, “I have to catch him [Yuvaraj].”