The tiny, yet bustling town of Madanapalle in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district is known for an abundance of mangoes and tomatoes. On January 24, however, the residents of Asia’s biggest tomato-market town were in for a ghastly shock.
Two young, well-educated sisters were found in pools of blood at different rooms of their residence. They were allegedly bludgeoned to death by their parents; the police suspect that the crime is linked to the occult. Sai Divya, 23, who had completed her Bachelors in Business Administration from Bengaluru, was found dead just outside the family’s prayer room; she was allegedly stabbed with a trident. Her sister Alekhya, 27, who had recently completed a Diploma in Forest Management from Bhopal and was preparing for the civil services examinations, was reportedly bludgeoned with a dumbbell.
Their bodies were found wrapped in red saris, with tonsured heads and copper vessels in their mouths. The police said that Sai Divya would have been murdered around half-past two and Alekhya, two hours later. Their father, Valleru Purshottam, had then telephoned a close friend around 7 p.m. to inform him of what had transpired. The friend alerted the police.
A book of the spiritual guru Meher Baba was found next to Alekhya’s body. Religious artefacts, books and photographs of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, Shirdi Sai Baba, Meher Baba and Osho were found across the house.
Valleru Purshottam Naidu, a Ph.D in Chemistry, was Associate Professor at the Government Degree College for Women in Chittoor; his wife Padmaja had been a teacher at a coaching institute for the past 23 years. A gold medallist in MSc (Maths), she appeared to be mentally unhinged and exhibited disturbed psychological behaviour. She is said to have tried to prevent the local police from retrieving the girls’ bodies claiming that they would soon wake up.
Purushottam hailed from Kondraju Kalva in Thavanampalle mandal and Padmaja was from Chittoor town. They settled in Madanapalle five years ago. Ravi Manoharachari, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Madanapalle, told Frontline that the parents had been arrested after being charged with murder. They were produced before the Judicial Magistrate, who placed under remand till February 13. According to the DSP, the police prima facie believe that the twin murder was influenced by superstitious beliefs. The “extreme religious devotion” of all the four family members was the reason behind the murders, they said.
Police sources quoted posts on Alekhya’s Instagram. Along with many posts about the world coming to an end, she had posted a message claiming that “Shiva is coming” three days prior to the incident.
Eyewitnesses said that when the police tried to enter the house, Padmaja was hysterical, shouting, and appeared to be in a trance. Refusing to allow the police in, she accused them of interrupting and destroying “a majestic heaven on earth that was about to unfold.” She is alleged to have told the police that the Shiva was in the house, and shouted that they should enter without footwear.
Padmaja refused a mandatory COVID-19 test, saying that the coronavirus had not emanated from China but was born from the hair of Shiva. She screamed that a divine voice revealed to her that her daughters would soon wake up.
Locals have alleged that the family, especially the women, were largely confined to their three-storied house. The daughters had returned to Madanpalle due to the Coronavirus situation.
Speculations are rife over what exactly could have transpired. Newspapers reports have indicated that the murders were part of a suicide pact, and that the parents too would have killed themselves had the police not arrived on Sunday night. The family members reportedly believed that they would resurrect.
Purushottam has been quoted as saying that both his daughters were in a trance in the days prior to their murder. Alekhya had been claiming that she possessed mystical powers and was a reincarnation of Shiva ever since when she was in the ninth standard, the father added.