Karnataka: A year later, a district rallies for a rape-murder victim

In the way her murder investigation has been mishandled and in the mystery surrounding her killing even one year after her death, the 17-year-old's case, to those who knew her, has many parallels to Aarushi Talwar's. While the college student's killing may have generated little interest outside Karnataka's Dakshina Kannada district, her parents' resolve for justice and a campaign on social media ensured that, last month, the state government handed over the case to the CBI.

Police have blamed the killing on a mentally unstable youth seen in the area where the girl's body was found. However, there are several holes in that theory, and her poor farmer parents have refused to accept it.

A student at a college run by the powerful administration of a local temple, the teenager went missing on the evening of October 9, 2012, while returning home to Pangala near Dharmasthala from her institute. Her father Chandappa Gowda and mother Kusumvathi searched for her till midnight that day in vain. Next morning they were told that her body had been found in a forest grove in Ujire, which they had searched the previous night without luck.

The first theory was that the 17-year-old had been raped and murdered. Some people claimed to have seen a young man roaming near the crime scene around the time of the incident. On October 11, Santosh Rao, already in custody in connection with a petty incident, was named as a suspect since he lived in a tent near where the body was found. Medical tests later determined that the 34-year-old Rao was mentally unstable.

Rao himself gave differing statements sometimes accepting he had killed the girl, denying it completely at other times. The Belthangady police, however, concluded that Rao was the perpetrator, saying they had determined this on the basis of DNA evidence from the girl's undergarments.

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