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Murders that shocked the nation

Avinesh Gopal
Monday, April 07, 2014

WHAT happened in the area two decades ago still remains fresh in the minds of some residents.

It is something that cannot be forgotten because a woman and her five children, including a two-month-old baby, were murdered.

The gruesome killings not only sent shockwaves through the canefarming community but also the nation.

On the front page of the January 10, 1994 edition, The Fiji Times reported the gruesome murders at Togomasi in Nadi between 10pm and 10:30pm on January 8.

Ram Chandar, a farm labourer/canecutter, killed his wife Suruj Lata, 33, and children - Soni Ram, 14, Rajni Lata, 13, Roshni Lata, 11, Roselyn Lata, 15 months, and two-month-old Shalvin Vikash Ram.

It was reported on that day's newspaper that Suruj Lata was hacked to death as she lay on the bed; her head was severed from her body.

Roshni, Roselyn and Shalvin were killed while they slept on mattresses on the floor. Roselyn's head was also reported to have been severed.

Soni and Rajni's bodies were found near the door of the lean-to house, as they had tried to escape but were hacked to death by their father.

Chandar told the police he committed the murders in a fit of rage as his wife was seeing another man, whom he had planned to kill but who escaped on the night of the murders, it was reported.

It was also reported that Chandar told police it took him about two minutes to murder his wife and five children.

The house they lived in was dismantled about two weeks after the murders and what remains now is the foundation.

During a visit to Togomasi last week, some residents revealed to a team from this newspaper what they knew about the incident.

Vijay Kumar, 59, a shopkeeper, who lives about 100 metres from where the gruesome murders happened, said he learnt about it on January 9.

"I was going to harvest sugar cane in the morning when I saw a crowd in the area and police vehicles moving up and down," he said.

"When I knew what had happened, I was shocked. No one knew much about the family as they were quite new to the area.

"There was blood everywhere in the house when we went in after the police officers had taken the bodies away."

Mr Kumar said the family lived on someone else's land and their house was dismantled about two weeks after the murders.

He said as far as he could remember, it was the worst incident that happened in the Togomasi area, where a murder was also reported few years earlier.

"The woman and her five children were gruesomely killed and such things normally haunt. But to be very honest, I've never heard of any haunting in the area," he said.

Vivekanand Reddy, 70, said Togomasi residents did not know much about the family as they had moved to the area from Vaivai in Lautoka.

"I had finished grog and was walking home with my two-year old daughter on my shoulders when I saw someone on the road at about 11pm," he said.

"When I heard about the murders in the morning of January 9, then only I realised that it was Ram Chandar walking on the road and going towards Nadi Town."

Mr Reddy said thousands of people attended the funeral of the woman and her five children. He said some people also collected money for the funeral and other rituals.

"While Ram Chandar said he committed the murders because his wife was seeing another man, I believe the reason could have been poverty," he said.

"After those gruesome murders in 1994 and the murder of a woman about seven years ago, no one wanted to give their daughters for marriage in Togomasi."

Shalendra Kumar, 44, an electrician, said he was returning from work and was walking from Nadi Town to Togomasi when he met Ram Chandar near the Qeleloa bridge about 11pm on January 8, 1994.

"I greeted him and he replied and kept walking. He was holding a caneknife and was walking towards town. I didn't know then that he had killed his entire family," he said.

On January 10, 1994, this newspaper reported that after killing his family, the canecutter (Ram Chandar) cleaned his knife and walked about seven kilometres to Nadi Police Station where he reported the matter.

It was also reported that when he arrived at the police station about midnight, he was reportedly calm but later broke down and cried as he confessed what he had done.

On January 11, 1994, this newspaper reported that Ram Chandar, 34, appeared in a packed Nadi Magistrates Court a day earlier charged with six counts of murder.

He was remanded in custody and his case went on trial in the High Court in Lautoka on April 24, 1995.

On April 25, 1995, this newspaper reported on Chandar's statement to police, which was read out in court by the police officer who interviewed him under caution.

Chandar told police that he left home on the evening of January 8, 1994 after telling his wife he was going to a wedding. But instead of going to the wedding, he waited on a slope near his home because he suspected his wife was having an affair, it was reported.

He told police he went home about 10:30pm and looked through the window and saw his wife and a man sitting on the bed.

Chandar told police that when he entered the house, the man fled. He then picked up a knife and attacked his wife.

"I struck her once in the neck but she did not fall so I struck her again on the neck and she fell down," he said in his statement to the police.

He also told police that when he first hit one of his daughters, she cried, "'Daddy, don't hit me'. He said none of his children raised the alarm when he attacked them.

After killing his wife and children, he washed the knife in a nearby river and walked about seven kilometres to the police station to report the killings.

While giving unsworn statement in court, Chandar said he could not control his anger and became angry when he found his wife with another man in his house.

"This tragic and unfortunate incident would not have taken place if my wife was not involved with another man," he told a packed courtroom, adding that he had loved his wife and children.

On May 2, 1995, this newspaper reported that Chandar was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The court sentenced Chandar to 20 years for each of the six counts of murder and called for a change in the law that would guarantee the serving of the full jail term.

"This is one of the most gruesome and brutal killings to come before a court in Fiji," said presiding judge Justice Sarvadanand Sadal while sentencing Chandar.

Justice Sadal recommended a minimum period of 20 years and told Chandar: "I hope you will never see your freedom again for this brutal and senseless killing."

Mr Reddy said the gruesome killings were still a topic of discussion in the Togomasi community.

Whatever the reason may have been, the murders shocked the nation as a whole and residents say it was evident from the number of people who attended the funeral from across Fiji.

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