The heartbroken father of a young woman from Telangana whose lifeless body was found off the coast of Kent has called for “justice”, accusing her husband and his family of driving his only daughter to suicide.
Questions continue to swirl around the death of Swathi Tirumalagiri, 26, who was pulled from the ocean near Margate on 04 October – some 75 miles from her marital home in Ilford, East London.
She was pronounced dead at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Margate although a coroner’s report dated 09 October declared that the cause of death is yet to be established.
Her husband Rajesh Sripathi, an IT consultant with Cognizant in London, discovered her missing on his return from work and informed police in East London. She was eventually tracked down to Margate using her Oyster travel card number.
Swathi’s devastated father Swamy Nadhan Tirumalagiri described his daughter as a “loving” and “bubbly” person who was a “humble” and “devoted to her family”.
Mr Tirumalagiri told the UKAsian that he and his wife were “completely devastated” at their daughter’s death and said that Swathi had been driven to despair due to severe “mental, emotional and physical” distress caused by her husband and his family.
Mr Tirumalagiri claims that he had last spoken to Swathi on 02 October. He claims that she had been “barred” from calling her family for several weeks prior to that.
That, Mr Tirumalagiri says, was because Swathy’s in-laws had been upset after he had visited them without his wife during a religious festival in August.
Swathi Tirumalagiri with her husband Rajesh Sripathi.
Mr Tirumalagiri claims that Swathy’s in-laws had been “affronted” that he had turned up to “pay his respects” to them without his wife.
According to Mr Tirumalagiri, Swathy had been repeatedly harassed as a result in the weeks leading up to her death, in particular by her sister-in-law Swathi Nallella who lives close by to Swathi and her husband in Ilford.
Mr Tirumalagiri says that his daughter’s in-laws have left their home in Telangana and are “absconding” since Swathi’s death.
At her funeral, which took place on Sunday 15 October, neither Swathi’s husband nor his parents were present.
When asked by the UKAsian as to why he did not accompany his wife’s remains to India and attend to her last rites, Swathi’s husband Rajesh, 32, said: “The only reason I could not travel is due to the aggression Swathi’s relatives had. They already did couple of physical attacks on my house and also filed few cases against me which could lead to my passport being temporarily seized which would then lead to my losing my job. That would be another bigger issue as this is the only source of income for me and my dependant aged parents. This is a big loss for me and my in-laws and the aggression they currently have has to be understood at the same time I will have to safeguard myself and my aged parents.”
Swathi’s father also claims that Rajesh had failed to communicate with him in the days after Swathi’s death. “We had to hear from a third party, a mutual associate from Telangana who lives in London, about my daughter’s passing. We tried to obtain information about our darling daughter but it was a constant struggle. It was a horrible thing to put us through”.
Rajesh claims that he had kept the Tirumalagiri’s “frequently updated” and could not directly communicate with them due to the “aggression” shown by Swathi’s family in the wake of her death and as he was not in a “good state of mind”.
While it appears that Swathi took her own life, questions remain about the events that may have led her to take such a drastic step.
Mr Tirumalagiri and a number of other relatives of Swathi’s that the UKAsian spoke to claim that the issue of dowry was the reason for the harassment she faced in the months since her wedding to Rajesh in November 2016.
Soon after the wedding, the couple flew out to Singapore where Rajesh was working. Swathi returned to India in January 2017 before traveling back to Singapore together with her mother-in-law and father-in-law.
Swathi with her parents
According to Swathi’s family, it was then that the trouble began for Swathi. In the first example, Swathi was not allowed to visit a distant relative who lived in Singapore nor receive any calls from her.
Swathi, Rajesh and his parents then returned to India in February 2017.
In March 2017, Mr Tirumalagiri alleges that he was forced to intervene on his daughter’s behalf after she was “barred” from meeting her father and mother.
He claims that Rajesh’s mother had told him to “take his daughter back”.
Rajesh, according to Mr Tirumalagiri, was still determined to save his marriage and had promised to send Swathi’s visa documents as soon as he reached the UK.
His mother, however, is alleged to have said that the only documents she would receive would be “divorce papers”.
Mr Tirumalagiri says he wasn’t going to send his daughter to the UK after seeing how she was being treated.
For the next few weeks, Swathi stayed with her family. Rajesh however, called on a daily basis, says Mr Tirumalagiri, promising to “look after her” whilst also, strangely, castigating her for becoming “influenced” by her college friends and speaking to them too much.
Despite the troubles, Swathi is said to have agreed to move to London in May 2017, only to find that her “overbearing” sister-in-law lived adjacent to the home she would share with her husband.
Mr Tirumalagiri says, “When she was in London, she had a phone with her. Rajesh had put a software on her phone. As soon as Swathi called or sent a message to us, Rajesh would get an alert. He mostly worked from home which gave Swathi no chance to do what she liked. She was made to do all the house chores and her sister-in-law would come to her home as soon as her husband left. She was even used as a servant at his sister’s house when there were parties. Swathi on numerous occasions complained to us how she was being treated. In August she told us that she wanted to come back to India”.
Swathi also told her father that all her educational documents – she held a Masters Degree – were taken away by Rajesh.
Swathi with her brother Karthik. She was adored by her everyone, her heartbroken father says.
From around the 25th of August until her last fateful call on 02 October, Mr Tirumalagiri says he had no contact with her daughter.
He says he had visited Rajesh’s family home on 25 August without his wife.
“My wife didn’t accompany me because she was so distressed due to the way Swathi was being treated in London. Rajesh’s mother got very upset and I’m certain caused trouble in Swathi’s home in the UK.
“When we spoke to her on 02 October, she said that her life was of “no use” and that they – meaning Rajesh and his family – were not letting her live. She lived in constant fear and every part of her life was controlled”, Mr Tirumalagiri says.
Rajesh, unsurprisingly, denies all the claims. “I’m not really sure if Swathi was under stress. I have never restricted my wife in any way and I do not understand how I could stop her. I would be too busy all weekdays with work. Furthermore, I cannot believe that her parents would silently watch if they know I am not allowing them to talk to their daughter. If that was the case, I am not sure why her parents never questioned me or my parents or the elders who arranged our marriage”.
Mr Tirumalagiri says he believes that the primary cause of all of his daughter’s troubles was Rajesh receiving a new job offer in London.
“Rajesh was offered more money for his new position in London which led to Swathi’s mother-in-law taunting my daughter because she felt that she could have demanded more dowry from us. Instead of being happy that my daughter had brought good fortune to Rajesh’s life, her mother-in-law decided that it was a ‘missed opportunity’ to make more money”.
According to Mr Tirumalagiri Rajesh had been given £10,000 in cash – in the form of a Fixed Deposit which was in Swathi’s name but which was re-assigned in Rajesh Sripathi’s name soon after the wedding – as well as 50 grams of gold and 2 kilograms of silver.
Mr Tirumalagiri says he found out after Swathi’s death that the cash in the Fixed Deposit had been drawn out by his daughter’s in-laws.
Rajesh however, vehemently denies that the cash and precious metals were a “dowry”.
He told the UKAsian: “I am educated and waited to get settled before I decided to look for a girl. Every penny I have with me is hard earned and I have lot of respect and value for money. I do not expect any monetary or any other benefits from others. Anyone who knows me well definitely knows this fact. I never asked for any dowry. It was my in-laws who wanted to gift her daughter something and it was all left to their wishes. They did an FD for Swathi and gave her some ornaments which I heard is altogether worth 20 lacs (approximately £20,000). Now this is being called as dowry.”
Rajesh also claims that Swathi’s family had “praised” the fact that neither he nor his parents had ever “demanded a dowry” but have changed their views about him.
Mr Tirumalagiri insists that Swathi’s in-laws and other members of her husband’s family are to blame for driving his daughter to suicide.
“On the rare occasion Swathi had the opportunity to call us, she would call in distress saying that her in-laws was upset with her for minor or unnecessary things. For instance, on every religious occasion, we were obliged to visit Rajesh’s parents and touch their feet and pay our respects to them, which is completely unnecessary. If we didn’t comply, Swathi would feel her mother-in-law’s anger for weeks. It was almost as if we were the serfs and they were the landlords. As if it was a burden that their son had married our daughter”, Mr Tirumalagiri says.
A life tragically cut short. But what led her to travel 75 miles to take her own life?
A clearly distressed Rajesh also dismissed claims that his sister, Swathi Nallella, and his mother harassed his wife.
“A few days before Swathi took her own life, we went out for lunch with my sister and her husband. Everything was absolutely fine. We frequently visited temples and also went on a couple of road trips. I can’t imagine what has happened”.
Whilst the accusations and counter accusations and the defences go up, a bright young woman with everything to live for remains dead, the circumstances surrounding her untimely and gruesome end a mystery.
It is an end that has been heard of before – harassment by partner or partner’s family and the scourge of dowry and the lengths to which families are forced to go to.
While dowry remains illegal in India, it is still widely practised and remains culturally and socially acceptable.
The issue of dowry however, has led to widespread abuse of women especially from regions such as Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
“I have dealt with so many women from this particular part of India who have been driven to suicide, who have been harassed, abused and often abandoned in India because the husbands or the husband’s family is dissatisfied with the amount of dowry paid by the girl’s family”, said Poonam Joshi, founder of the campaign group Indian Ladies in UK which has worked with countless such victims.
“This is our worst nightmare come true. This is why we make so much noise and campaign so much through our organization, raising awareness among our members. But there are thousands out there who live in fear and are being enslaved by the people they have placed their trust in. The worst part is that these are not uneducated women from rural parts. They are IT workers, bankers, doctors, people who do well academically and yet fall prey to the greed of families”, Ms Joshi added.
“These men choose the UK because of how relaxed the laws are here. There are too many loopholes which allow these men to walk free while victims who are mostly women suffer. There is no knowledge among local councils and police departments about dowry and the mental and emotional harassment that these women go through. Britain and India need to work together to prevent tragedies such as Swathi’s from happening again and again”.
That sentiment was echoed by Swathi’s father who called on London’s Metropolitan Police to investigate his daughter’s circumstances in the run up to her death.
“Our lives have been devastated by the loss of my daughter. It is something I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through. I would like to appeal to the authorities in England to take the necessary steps so that another father will not lose his daughter”, said Mr Tirumalagiri.