HYDERABAD: The death of 11-year-old Syed Mustafa in the Mehdipatnam military garrison on October 8 may well remain a mystery. An Army jawan lance naik Balla Appala Raju (32), who was being interrogated by SIT of Hyderabad police and Army officials in connection with the boy’s death, shot himself to death with his service weapon inside the garrison in the small hours of Monday.
Though the Army said his suicide should not be taken as an indication of his involvement in the case, sources associated with the investigation said that Raju was the prime suspect in the case and that circumstantial evidence thus far was pointing towards his role. Mustafa succumed to burn injuries on October 9 after he was allegedly set on fire inside the high security military area.
It was at around 4.30 am that Raju committed suicide inside the washroom of the dormitory on the first floor near the place where Mustafa was found with burns a month ago. “Raju, who was a member of the Quick Response Team, was on duty. He shot himself using an INSAS rifle,” said A Venkateswara Rao, Deputy Commissioner of Police, West Zone.
An official with the Special Branch of the city police told Express that Raju was under severe stress due to interrogation from both civil and military police. “His barrack was close to the spot where the boy was found last month. Since he was present there, he was being questioned. He seems to have taken his life out of frustration,” said the official. However, sources told Express that Raju’s behaviour on the day Mustafa was found with 80 per cent burns raised suspicion. “Raju visitied the spot four times that day from his barrack. He changed his clothes thrice and appeared worried. During the course of investigation, we found a bottle (in which petrol was stored and used to douse Mustafa) which lay next to the boy. Later, we found a similar bottle in Raju’s house,” an investigator said.
Further, it is learnt, internal enquiries also revealed that Raju reportedly had some vices. However, since there was no eye-witness to the incident, investigators have been interrogating Raju for longer hours. “He perhaps felt that the agencies were zeroing in on him. Both police and the Army were convinced that no outsider could venture into the highly secured area,” sources said.
Asked about the possible motive behind Mustafa’s killing, sources said that the post-moterm report did not indicate any sexual assault. “But post-moterm reports cannot indicate whether any attempt was made to sodomise the 11-year-old,” said the sources. It is likely that SIT, which was being headed by East Zone DCP Shahnawaz Qasim, may be wound up shortly.
NO SUICIDE NOTE FOUND ON RAJU
In an official statement, Army officials said no suicide note was found from Raju’s possession. “He was one of the over 70 persons being interrogated by the police and the Army is fully cooperating with SIT in the investigations,” said the release. “Raju’s suicide should not be taken as an indication of his involvement in the case as wide speculations are being raised, questioning the involvement of the deceased soldier in the Mehdipatnam incident,” said the release, adding that “probably, the jawan was under immense mental stress due to the ongoing interrogation”. The jawan hailed from Pendurthi mandal in Visakhapatnam district.
Raju was taken to the military hospital where he was declared brought dead. A postmortem was conducted at Osmania General Hospital on Monday evening and the body handed over to the family. Raju is said to have been in service for 14 years and was posted in Hyderabad for over a year now. He is survived by wife Anasuya and two children, Nishanth(8) and Pranitha(2). The family, speaking to media outside the Mehdipatnam garrison gate, said Raju was a victim of continuous harassment in the last few days. “He was innocent. The officials would interrogate him from 5 pm to next day morning. He was under severe trauma for something he was not related to,” said his inconsolable wife. Raju’s brother Satyanarayana added, “He used to talk with me over phone. He was under severe trauma. We could not believe he shot himself. We want justice.” Appala Raju, according to family, was on a 15-day holiday in his hometown Visakhapatnam and joined duty two days before Mustafa was set on fire on October 8. Mustafa, in his last statement, had told a magistrate that some “military men” burnt him. The boy’s parents had also alleged that some Army personnel were involved in the matter but the Army had denied the allegations. A case of attempt to murder was registered in connection with the incident against unknown persons.