WHEN I MET DILEEPAN MAHENDRAN, in February this year, he seemed a man obsessed. His small one-room home on the outskirts of Chennai was overflowing with paper clippings. His laptop had at least a dozen case files open and a Facebook page pinging occasionally. The place resembled the den of an investigative journalist who had hit upon a big story or that of a private detective in a noir film. However, it belonged to the proprietor of a struggling biryani shop.
The case that so obsessed Dileepan—he spent nearly every evening, after a sweaty day at work, combing through the details and filming videos for his YouTube channel—was one of the most sensationalised murders Tamil Nadu had seen in decades.
On the morning of 24 June 2016, S Swathi, a 24-year-old IT professional from a Brahmin community, was murdered in broad daylight on a platform at the railway station in Nungambakkam, one of Chennai’s most upmarket areas. Her body was left unattended for nearly two hours, till senior police personnel came to the spot. The police soon reported that the she had been killed by P Ramkumar, a 24-year-old man from the Pallar caste—classified as a Scheduled Caste in the state. They claimed Ramkumar had stalked Swathi for several weeks and that she had spurned his advances.