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The Rediff Special/ Chindu Sreedharan
Some time before he died, at some point in police custody, Vijay Ekka must have realised that truth can be dangerous.
That it can kill.
Ekka, if you recall, was the cook at the St Francis school in Navada, Mathura, where Brother George Kuzhikandam was clubbed to death last month. He 'committed suicide' in police custody on June 17, five days after he was picked up for questioning.
Today, as the police piece together the chain of events, one thing is clear -- Vijay knew more about the murder than he had admitted.
Would he have been able to identify the assailants? Or was it deeper than that?
Was it a case of thirty pieces of silver?
"Never," says Brother Alphonse who has known Ekka for many years. "I can never believe that he betrayed us."
Ekka was originally from Madhya Pradesh. He had married recently; his widow Gloria is pregnant now.
"Maybe he gave away something unknowingly," the missionary adds after some thought. "Like, details about how to get in or something, to people who he thought were safe."
Ekka and his wife slept hardly 25 metres away from the spot where Brother Kuzhikandam was murdered. Directly opposite, with their windows open, there was no way he couldn't have heard anything that fateful night. Especially with the brother fighting for his life, and calling out to Ekka for help.
Definitely Ekka knew something was on. Yet he chose to stay put and only 'find' the body after Ajin, the 10-year-old boy whom the assailants had locked up, shouted for help.
"He sent Gloria and Ajin to my house at around 5.30 in the morning," says Neelam, Ajin's aunt, who was among the first to reach the spot. "If he had been just frightened, he should have come for help after the assailants left. Why behave as if he heard nothing?"
Brother Alphonse agrees that there was something strange in Ekka's behaviour that morning.
"I have known him since I hired him in 1993. When I spoke to him about the incident I felt that he was evasive.
"Where his replies used to be prompt earlier, he took his time answering -- as if he had something to hide, as if he was thinking what to say. He spoke as if he was suffocating," he says.
Ekka, according to the missionaries at the school, was picked up on June 11 evening, in their absence. He was taken to the Nehrauli police station nearby.
"We used to meet him thrice everyday," says Brother Alphonse. "On June 12 when I met him he said, 'Yeh log mujhe maar dalega [These people will kill me].' He told me they closed his mouth and poured water in his nostrils.
"On June 17 they informed us that he had committed suicide. I can never believe that's the truth. Where he died [in a small, bare bathroom], he just couldn't have committed suicide. There was no hook or anything for him to hang himself."
Then how did Ekka die? Explanations are varied: One, Ekka was innocent but was in a position to identify the assailants and hence was finished off by the police-criminal nexus.
Two, Ekka was not innocent but still was finished off by the nexus when it came out that he was a threat to their safety.
Three, the death was an accident while the police were persuading him to talk...
The Christian community has more faith in the first than the third. As for the second, Brother Alphonse dismisses it.
"He will never do that," he repeats. "Unless he changed very much after his marriage. He was a very hardworking, very reliable person. I can't explain why he lied initially, but..."
The school authorities had tried to get Ekka out. But they had a problem: they couldn't push too hard for fear of stalling the investigations.
"In fact, we were accused of just that," they say. "Our person had been killed and our own person was being interrogated -- and we were being accused of not cooperating!"
There's another factor that throws suspicion on Ekka. How did the six assailants get past the two Doberman dogs that roam the school campus? Does this not show the involvement of an insider?
Brother Alphonse's counter is that the dogs aren't as ferocious as they were made out to be. Despite the Doberman tag, they are quite mild.
"They are used to the boys [in the hostel] and a lot of people come in. They accept food from anyone. So they could have been drugged," he holds.
He guides you to the kennel where, at the sight of a stranger, the dogs raise their heads, pose for a picture or two with a few half-hearted barks, and return to repose.
For its part, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which the Church believes is behind the attacks on Christians, has another explanation to offer for Brother Kuzhikandam's death.
Accordingly, "the priest with a loose character" had himself called in the assailants who were his friends, "they drank, had food brought in from a hotel outside... and then his own friends killed him."
Today, one month after the incident, the state crime branch probing the incident hasn't arrived at the truth.
Ekka knew the truth, or at least part of it. He paid for it with his life.
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