A Verulam man who allegedly hacked his sister to death in full view of her five-year-old son, during a bizarre midnight ritual on Saturday, is a Hare Krishna devotee who often spent hours reading spiritual books and meditating with japa (chanting) beads.
Unemployed Ravin Baruthwaj, 44, of Oleander Road, Mountview, was nabbed by members of Reaction Unit South Africa (RUSA), moments after he had allegedly killed his sister Rhona Chetty, 38, a machinist, with a panga.
He appeared in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court on Monday on a charge of murder and was remanded in custody to the Verulam Police Station. The matter was adjourned to March 18 for further investigation and a bail application.
RUSA spokesman Prem Balram said a neighbour contacted their control centre at around 11.50pm, after hearing “faint screams” coming from the Baruthwaj home. He said when they arrived at the scene, Ravin Baruthwaj was standing outside the house, covered in blood and carrying his nephew, Ashirvad, Rhona’s son.
Said Balram: “He appeared disoriented and kept saying that God told him to do it. He said the voices told him to sacrifice his sister at midnight and to wake his nephew up and make him watch the act. We were confused and only realised what he was talking about when we went inside the house.
“We found a woman lying on the bedroom floor. Her face had been hacked and part of her skull chopped off. A panga was lying across her chest. She was already dead.” He said a personal diary, believed to belong to Ravin, was found at the scene.
A police source said the diary contained information about Ravin’s “relationship” with God and his frustration at his disability grant being stopped. The source added that since his arrest, Ravin had tried twice to end his life while in police custody. He is now under 24-hour police guard.
Ravin’s sister-in-law, Dr Judy Baruthwaj, of Benoni, said he (Ravin), formerly a self-employed welder, had been on anti-depressants for many months and could not work. She confirmed he received a disability grant from the State.
She said his depression worsened when his wife moved out of their home to pursue a relationship with another man and left him alone with her children from a previous marriage.
“Ravin remained in their marital home (in Verulam) but became very depressed and isolated himself from all of us.”
Baruthwaj said Ravin was admitted to hospital in December after a friend found him unconscious at home.
“We believe he tried to end his life then. He never confirmed or denied this to us. While in hospital (after being found unconscious), he suffered a massive heart attack. At the time, doctors said he was emotionally unstable and advised he should undergo six months of treatment and observation at the psychiatric ward.”
Baruthwaj said Ravin was “mysteriously” discharged from hospital and never went for the psychiatric observation. He subsequently moved in with his mother Sominthra, 64, (and Rhona), at her Oleander Road home.
“I was worried about his mental state but my mother-in-law reassured me he was fine. She said he seemed happy and showed no signs of emotional instability. Also, he did not have any problems with Rhona. They had their occasional argument, but nothing that would have suggested he wanted to kill her.”
A distraught Sominthra Baruthwaj said her son became a vegetarian and quit smoking and drinking at the end of December.
“He started attending regular satsang (prayer service) at the Phoenix Hare Krishna Temple read book after book of spiritual literature. He also spent hours meditating with his japa. I was so happy because prior to this he had been going to church. He finally seemed to be on the right track.”
She said she was not at home on Saturday night as she had gone to a relative’s home in Chatsworth for a funeral.
“Ravin must pay for his sins. I don’t ever want to see him again as I am afraid of him.”
Dr Baruthwaj said she became concerned when Ravin went on a “spiritual high” but was reassured by family members that he was fine.
“Because this has now happened, we are living with regret. If I had acted on my gut feeling, maybe this horrible, unimaginable tragedy could have been prevented.”
She said Ashirvad, who was receiving trauma counselling, had described in detail to them what had happened.
“He is traumatised and has been drawing pictures of the killing. We are very concerned about his future.
“He was born out of wedlock and all we know is that his father is a Pakistani national believed to be living in the Tongaat area.
“He was registered under Rhona’s ex-husband’s name but he (the ex-husband) is not the biological father. Right now our only concern is Ashirvad and my mother-in-law.”
NOTE: At ISKCON News, we are working with local devotees to investigate this story and obtain accurate and confirmed information. We are providing this preliminary report from the secular press in South Africa in order to keep our readers informed . However, please be aware that we cannot confirm that the information about the suspect’s connection to ISKCON is accurate. As we learn more, we will update our coverage of this tragedy.
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