The National Commission for Women on Monday directed the Kerala Police to investigate the case of a woman who was starved to death in the state’s Kollam district.

The state police had on Saturday said Thushara, a resident of Karunagappally, was locked up and forced to consume only soaked rice and sugar syrup for days before she died at a government hospital in Kollam on March 21.

Thushara weighed just 20 kilograms at the time of her death, the police had said. Her husband Chanthulal and his mother Geetha Lal have been arrested. The police had initially filed an unnatural death case but found out that it was a case of dowry harassment after investigation.

In a letter to Kerala Police chief Loknath Behara, the panel’s Chairperson Rekha Sharma said “the commission is seriously disturbed by the reported inhuman treatment meted out to the woman”. She added: “Considering the gravity of the matter, it is requested that the matter be investigated and appropriate action be taken as per relevant provision of law.”

The alleged torture came to light only after the woman died, the police had said on Saturday. “There was not an ounce of flesh on her when she passed away,” a sub-inspector at the Pooyapally police station had said. “The doctor who performed the postmortem also confirmed that there were marks on her body which suggested that she was attacked by her husband and in-laws.”

The police said the victim’s husband and in-laws used to perform occult practices and that the neighbours claimed they never saw her.

Thushara’s family said her husband and his family moved from Prakkulam to Oyur after they were chased away by neighbours for allegedly indulging in occult practices. However, the family added that in six years of marriage, Thushara had been allowed to visit them only twice, and they had not seen her in the last one-and-a-half years.

“We had no idea that she was in this condition,” Thushara’s brother Tushant had said. “They did not like us or any relatives visiting them and they were hostile. They did not even tell us or allow us to meet Thushara when she was pregnant.”