Crime, she wrote
By P Ramdas
30th June 2013 12:00 AM
The femme fatale is a popular figure in crime fiction. Dashiell Hammett's voluptuous blondes with beautiful faces and stone cold hearts ready to commit murder with panache and equal ruthlessness; Philip Marlowe's redheads with revolvers and the hot-blooded murderesses of George Simenon's works lend a dark glamour to the female criminal. In reality, however, the truth may be more mundane and gory; devoid of the sheen of good fiction. The deceptive gentleness of Kerala—the state of friendly people and emerald fields—is suddenly Ground Zero for the femme fatale with a yen for blood and con. The number of crimes recently exposed in the state where women have emerged as linchpins has shot up to such an extent that it has given birth to an altogether new saying: there is a woman behind every successful crime. She cooks up a storm full of murder, sex, blackmail and intrigue.
Saritha S Nair, Kerala's new Betty the Blackmailer is the scandalous seductress—in concert with her allegedly murderous beau Biju Radhakrishnan—who has put the political establishment in a bind. The divorced Saritha was a college dropout who grew up in a dysfunctional family.
The taste for the good life brought her a like-minded partner in the form of Biju. Together they wove a net of fraud and blackmail, trapping starlets, politicians and prominent businessmen in their net. Her call details to Chief Minister Oomen Chandy's aides (Chandy would speak to people only through those cell phones) leaked by a TV channel almost threatened to bring the government down. If it was not for the close relationship with some senior luminaries in the Communist Party that led the previous government—an important ex-minister was her "uncle"—Chandy would've been cornered into complete humiliation and despair.
Saritha's allure over all those she dealt was most over Biju. Saritha's is a cheap dime novel story—she married a Dubai-based businessman, whom she divorced in 2006 to live with Biju. Biju's wife Reshmi complained to the cops that Saritha wrecked her marriage and her husband abandoned her for Saritha's sake. Later, Reshmi was found dead in her bathroom. When Biju was arrested from a Coimbatore hotel two weeks ago, he was charged with murdering his wife through poison. Kerala's Crippen alleged that Saritha was in a relationship with former UDF minister, K B Ganesh Kumar, and shared hotel rooms in Coimbatore where Ganesh had gone for an official function. Earlier, Ganesh's wife had complained of his philandering accusing Chandy of shielding her. The chief minister finds himself in the unenviable position of being cornered in this scandal, which has provided much grist for Kerala's rumour mills.
Another woman, the actor and dancer Shalu Menon, is under the scanner after reports pointing at her role in Saritha's fraudulent schemes. Police suspect that it was Shalu who helped Biju to leave Kerala the day Saritha was arrested. Shalu and her mother were reportedly in the room next to the one in which Biju was staying as well. Police sources reveal that Saritha was a honey trap for the big wheels in politics and business; blackmailing them after photographing them in compromising positions with her. More revelations involving the state's power elite are expected to fall out of Saritha's and Biju's closets as the police continue their investigations of how she defrauded many using their jointly owned company Team Solar as a front.
A survey of the inmates of Viyyur Women Prison showed that 100 per cent of the female prisoners in the prison are from Kerala. Fifteen out of 32 are convicted for murder and three are on trial for murder. Two hundred and seven women are incarcerated in different jails in the state, with 56 convicted criminals and 151 facing trial. Earlier, women caught by the police were found to be only involved in minor crimes like bootlegging and selling a few grams of marijuana.
Some, like their universal sisters, were just prostitutes—more bathos than blood. The marquee of mayhem is the new show in town—now women criminals in the state are being arrested for serious offences, ranging from brutal murders to multi-crore scams. Incidentally, Kerala tops India's crime list with 455.8 cases for every 1,00,000 persons according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Ironically, along with Bihar and Chhattisgarh, Kerala tops the states with the highest percentage of women legislators with criminal records. A PRS Legislative Research study shows that 83 per cent of women legislators have criminal records in Kerala.
The modus operandi of women criminals in the state is a cocktail of politics, sex, cinema and crime; in some cases the la belle dames sans merci even marry hardcore criminals if it helps them to successfully execute their plans.
However, 54-year-old medical doctor Omana Edadan was flying solo; she is one of the most memorable of women criminals, perhaps the first one to capture public imagination in recent times. Omana is wanted in the murder of her lover Muralidharan in 1996. The middle-aged Lucretia Borgia of Kerala had poisoned Muralidharan. With surgical precision, she went on to dismember him, cut up his bones into little convenient pieces at her home in Payannur, where she lived alone. At her macabre best, she carefully packed her unfortunate paramour's flesh and bones separately in plastic packets. The internal organs, she cut into very small pieces and flushed down the toilet. The police calculate it took her a mere three hours to accomplish the ghastly operation. Thereafter, she calmly placed packets in the boot of her car, and drove to the salubrious Tamil Nadu hill station Ooty where she checked into a hotel after parking the car at the railway station.
Thereafter, she made an attempt to dump the various parts of Muralidharan into a ravine. She then hired a taxi to go to nearby hill retreat Kodaikanal, which she thought provided a better option to dispose of the remains. However, the taxi driver got suspicious and informed the police. Omana was arrested. The deadly doctor spent a few months in Madras Central Jail. Soon, she managed to get out on bail. However, she jumped bail and has been in the wind since 2001.
"With better education and the increasing social exposure it entails, women have grown increasingly confident of doing anything that men are capable of. This is reflected in crime as well and they exploit the opportunities as well as men do. In fact, women are in a better position to exploit the weaknesses of prospective victims," says James Vadakkancherry, a reputed criminologist.
According to James, women are capable of formulating a better modus operandi by virtue of their looks, approach and communication skills. He cited the more recent example of Shobha John, the only woman who holds the dubious honour of being in the Kerala Police's 'goonda' list, to make his point.
Shobha made headlines in 2006 when she blackmailed and then kidnapped the former Thanthri (head priest) of Sabarimala, Kandaru Mohanaru. He was abducted and taken to a flat in Kochi and photographed with a woman in a compromising position. It's not just blackmail and honey traps Shobha was an expert at. She also ran a successful prostitution racket. She figured prominently in the shocking Varappuzha sex scandal where a minor girl was bought from her mother and then pimped out to several high profile clients. She was caught and booked. But that wasn't all. Next, one of her gang members who were also arrested by the police sang like a canary on their boss's crimes. He accused Shobha of murdering one of her gang members. Sent to jail, the blackmailing belle became a source of dangerous embarrassment to the reputation of many of the high and mighty in the state. Out on bail, her reputation as an expert blackmailer had the political and bureaucratic class nervous. In fact, in her bail petition, which she filed in Kerala High Court in the second week of June, where it is pending since, Shobha claimed that the police were implicating her in one case after another. The reason she gave was that her revelations would expose many top politicians.
"There are many reasons why women like Shobha end up as criminals. Many of them have grown up in troubled families or have witnessed crimes in their childhood. The submissive personality of women may also induce them to commit a crime for their partners' sake in some cases," says A V Druhin, Professor, Psychiatry department, Academy of Medical Science, Kannur.
He observed that women in their 40s seem willing to go to any extent to lead luxurious lives.
"Women can better sell a fraud than men since they can instill confidence in the victims. They also fly below the police radar much better than men. For instance, a few years ago, an attractive woman successfully donned the role of a guide in smuggling spirits. Though the gang was eventually caught, it was the presence of a woman that helped them to initially evade the police net. Besides, women seem to be better equipped in building contacts with the powers-that-be, helping them to evade the long arms of the law for longer periods than men," says C P Udayabhanu, a noted criminal lawyer of the Kerala High Court.
Crime and glamour are kissing cousins, as seen in the case of the 25-year-old actress Leena Maria Paul, who was born in Kerala but brought up elsewhere, and her male friend from a south Delhi farmhouse where they were hiding, following a cheating case which was registered against them in Chennai. Leena, who has acted in Malayalam films like Red Chillies, is a well-educated girl who entered the field with the help of her friend Balaji. During her interrogation, Leena confessed that it was a desire for a lavish lifestyle and easy money, which made her take part in criminal activities. Along with Balaji, she has been involved in many other cases including defrauding a Chennai-based bank of `19.22 crore.
Justice D Sreedevi, a former chairman of the women's commission, adds, "Money is the root cause of all evil. It also spoils the life of women. Those who are involved in crimes like this like to lead a luxurious life and want to find an easy way to get money for it. Surprisingly, the women are ready to go to any extent, even commit murder, to earn money. The number of alcoholic women is also increasing. Under the influence of alcohol they commit any crime." But only eight women have been convicted in alcohol related cases so far while 27 are facing trial.
Money plays an important role in sex crimes and murder. A case célèbre was of former Kerala beauty queen Sherin and her alleged lover Basit Ali. In November 2010, Bhaskara Karanavar who had returned to Kerala after retiring from the US government, was found murdered in his house in Alappuzha. After investigations, the police concluded that the murder was planned and executed by the dead man's daughter-in-law Sherin and Basit.
Basit and two accomplices smothered Karanavar to death, guided by Sherin. The provocation was Sherin's name being cut off from Karanavar's will. The police tech and cyber division examined calls from her cell phone and Orkut chat records to nail her.
Further investigations revealed a sordid network of crime. Ali, on the run after the murder and arrested from Karnataka reportedly ran a hawala network in Kerala. Cops said that Sherin seduced Ali and promised him they would live together with the proceeds. Sherin had a criminal history; when she and her husband Binu were living with Karanavar in New York she allegedly blackmailed her father-in-law for money, threatening divorce. The cops said she was jailed for credit card fraud and stealing money on her job.
In the opening chapter of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, gum shoe Philip Marlowe is visiting a client living in a stately home. The passage ends: "I was still staring at the hot black eyes when a door opened far back under the stairs. It wasn't the butler coming back. It was a girl."
Well the butler didn't do it. She did.