Continued from “Mind of the Maligned”
Chapter 4, Book One, Artha and Kama, Jewel-less Crown: Saga of Life
The concerned and the curious alike thronged to the gates of Tees Hazari to witness the trial of the Mehrauli Murder Case. As the doors were thrown open that morning, everyone jostled to reach the designated courtroom for a vantage position. The crowd was seemingly dying to see the accused and his mother.
Partly addressing their curiosity, Gautam walked in with a posse of lawyers led by Mehrotra. As they took much of the front row, the gathering, though felt let down by Sneha’s absence, looked forward to Suresh’s arrival with bated breath. Thus, calm reigned in the courtroom until the clock struck ten when Suresh was brought in. And agog with excitement, the crowd rose as one man. The commotion continued for long with people falling over each other for a better view of the handsome youth. Used as he was to the trials involving celebrities, the daftari felt he had never seen such a disorder in the courtroom before. But as he yelled out for order before ushering in Justice Ms. Sumitra Choudhary, it was pin drop silence.
As the father and the son couldn’t take their eyes off each other, the crowd could discern the pathos of the former and the agony of the latter. In vain, Suresh’s eyes sought for Sneha, and Gautam’s gaze seemed to solicit an understanding on her behalf. Before Gautam could gesticulate to his son to relax, Justice Choudhary entered the arena to take her exalted seat. Even as the assembly rose to a man to fulfill the norm, Suresh bowed to her as though to his destiny. As the Justice took the chair, Pradeep Paranjape, the Public Prosecutor, got up to present the case of the prosecution.
Having received her nod, Paranjape was unequivocal in his eloquent condemnation of the accused.
“Ms. Justice, this is an open and shut case of kidnap, rape and murder, committed by the accused, Mr. Suresh Prabhu, the vagabond son of the formidable Mr. Gautam Prabhu. In this regard, I would like to draw the attention of this court to the F.I.R No. 420/1974 of the South Extension police station, New Delhi. The written complaint of Mr. Saurav Swaroop, the father of Ms. Shanti Swaroop, the murdered woman, is enclosed with the F.I.R.
Ms. Justice might peruse from the Exhibit No. I that at 10 PM on 31 December 1974, Mr. Saurav Swaroop went to the police station to lodge a ‘missing person’ complaint regarding the disappearance of his nineteen-year-old daughter Ms. Shanti. In the said complaint received by Mr. Pramod Rawal, the Station House Officer, Mr. Swaroop had clearly stated that his daughter, Ms. Shanti, habitually returns home by seven in the evening. But on that fateful day, she failed to reach home even by nine. When he failed to trace her at any of the likely places, he feared for her life at the worst and harm to her limb at the least. Then, he went to the said police station to lodge a ‘missing person’ complaint. A worried father that he was, Mr. Swaroop sought the intervention of the police to help trace his daughter. Considering the gravity of the law-and-order problem in our lawless metropolis, the police went on overdrive to find out Shanti’s whereabouts.
Past ten that night, a patrol party at Mehrauli noticed a speeding Mercedes, and signaled the driver to stop. When the car came to a screeching halt, they found a dazed youth at the wheel sounding incoherent on questioning. When the police resorted to a routine check, in the back seat they saw a young woman in the sleeping posture. As the lad who identified himself as Suresh Prabhu, s/o. Mr. Gautam Prabhu, failed to explain what was wrong with his companion, the police naturally got suspicious. Upon his questioning, as the matter got curiouser and curiouser, the police tried to wake up the girl to ascertain the situation. It was then that they realized they had to contend with a murder case, and detained the indicted as the prime suspect.
When Pramod Rawal, the SHO of the SE-PS, reached the place, he found that the deceased resembled the girl in the photograph left behind by Mr. Swaroop. Thereafter, the police acted as per the laid down procedures when Mr. Suresh Prabhu was apprehended and the Mercedes with the body was moved to the SE-PS. Losing no time, the SHO sent for Mr. Swaroop for identifying the body. As feared, Mr. Swaroop readily identified the dead girl as his daughter, Ms. Shanti. In the meantime, the indicted too made a clean breast of himself confessing that it was he who had raped and murdered her. He also owned up his culpability in kidnapping her that very evening. The confessional statement of the accused and the related documents form Exhibit No. II.
Ms. Justice may please peruse Exhibit No. III containing the forensic reports that conclusively prove that the accused had assaulted and raped Ms. Shanti. That the semen of the indicted was the same as that which was swabbed from the victim’s vagina would prove the incidence of penetration. That it was not a case of voluntary surrender on the part of the deceased to the accused is proved by the fact that the former was badly bruised. All this would establish beyond reasonable doubt that the victim resisted the indicted's molestation bid before she succumbed to him against her will.
And the accused’s guilt in the murder of Ms. Shanti is borne out by Exhibit No. IV. The post-mortem report adduces that Ms. Shanti's death was caused by strangulation at around 09 PM on 31 December 1974, i.e. an hour or so before the indicted was apprehended carrying her corpse in his car. Hence, the forensic proof of his raping her and the circumstantial evidence of his murdering her that would incontrovertibly corroborate with the confessional statement made out in his own hand of his own volition.
Thus, Ms. Justice, the detainment of the indicted with the victim’s body, the forensic reports confirming his violation of the victim, his confessional statement owing up his guilt in the kidnap, rape and murder of the deceased besides the corroborative evidences of his involvement in these crimes, together establish the culpability of the accused, Mr. Suresh Prabhu in the kidnap, rape and murder of Ms. Shanti Swaroop on 31 December 1974.
It is submitted that it is the case of the prosecution that the guilt of the indicted is proved without an iota of doubt, which is by far a better proposition than the dictum of beyond reasonable doubt. Taking cognizance of these premeditated offences by a spoilt brat, the court may deem it fit to convict the indicted and award him an exemplary punishment. It is only thus the society could be ridden of the menace posed by this habitual offender who is a criminal by his very instincts. If ever set free, given his savage mindset, he’s bound to be a scourge to the fair sex. Ms. Justice would agree that it in itself would be a miscarriage of justice, which the court would like to avoid. That’s all Ms. Justice.”
As tutored, Suresh had pleaded not guilty and accused the police of extracting the confession under the third degree. For better effect, he repeated the concocted story that Mehrotra had helped him memorize at Tihar. As Shanti’s father too went with the indicted, and maintained that his complaint to the police was made under duress, the case of the prosecution seemed to collapse. As though to drive home the last nail in the prosecution coffin, Mehrotra got up triumphantly to sum up the inviolability of the defense’s position.
“Ms. Justice, the averment of the victim’s father before this honorable court that she was all set to be betrothed to the indicted should be noted. Does it not give lie to the prosecution’s accusation of rape in the first place? Besides, it is preposterous for any to suggest that the indicted murdered his own beloved, that too hours before they were to be betrothed! It is submitted to this honorable court that there was no motive whatever for the indicted to murder the deceased.
Though the forensic report confirms the victim’s death by strangulation, it is worth noting that it did not indicate any hand of the indicted in it. This aspect of the murder alone would lend credence to the averment of the indicted that it was the handiwork of some unknown miscreants. On the contrary, it exposes the shallowness of the prosecution that seeks to condemn an innocent youth caught in the vortex of business rivalries. When it comes to the bruises on the victim's body, decency demands one wouldn’t probe them any further.
As we all know, Mr. Gautam Prabhu, the father of the indicted, is a leading light of New Delhi. It is a common knowledge that he was in line to get the coveted nomination to the Rajya Sabha. The sordid episode of Ms. Shanti Swaroop’s murder was a product of a diabolical conspiracy of Mr. Gautam Prabhu’s detractors out to hurt him politically and otherwise too. In the prevailing cynicism, how does it matter if hitting the opponent below the belt involves the murder of a young girl and foisting the crime on her lover? And the way the yellow journalism targeted the indicted’s mother for no fault of hers save her God given charm! Won’t that make one wonder whether it’s a curse to be born a beautiful woman? Well, who suffers from qualms anymore these days in besmirching the fair name of a spirited woman, if only to make her man bite the political dust?”
Mehrotra paused to let the woman in the judge develop empathy for the indicted's tarnished mother.
“Ms. Justice would appreciate how all this might affect the psyche of the unfortunate son,” said Mehrotra resuming his argument. “On top of it was the trial by the media, conducted by the plants of the conspirators in the fourth estate. Hadn’t the indicted stood condemned already? And sadly, the reputation of an elite family was callously colored with infamy. It is a travesty of justice that Mr. Gautam Prabhu’s adversaries achieved what they wanted. Why, his political career lay shattered and his personal image got tattered. Now it is left to this honorable court at least to salvage the indicted’s honor by setting him free forthwith.”
As though riding a tide and carried away by his own rhetoric, the redoubtable Mehrotra took on the law enforcing agencies in the same breath.
“The right thinking people ought to condemn the shady role the police played in this sordid episode,” thundered Mehrotra. “Their lazy surmises are being thrust upon this honorable court as the results of a painstaking investigation. No civilized society should feel safe under such a bunch of the custodians of law who subserve their conscience to the dictates of the powers that be to implicate the innocent. Having failed to apprehend the culprits who murdered Ms. Shanti Swaroop or out to protect the authors of the heinous crime, the police have given the color of rape to consensual sex between two teenage lovers on the verge marriage.
And the police, to either save their skin or to serve their political masters and/or both, shamelessly made the indicted, the victim of the tragedy, as the villain of the piece in this in this case. Whither went the conscience when he who had the misfortune to witness the murder of his beloved was pictured as the perpetrator of the crime itself? Thus, Ms. Justice, I implore upon this honorable court to dismiss this fabricated case foisted upon the indicted with the contempt that it deserves. Ms. Justice may deem it fit to set Mr. Suresh Prabhu free with due honor so that he could lead as dignified a life as possible under the circumstances.”
Bowing to the judge, Mehrotra had a supercilious stare at the dumbfounded Paranjape. And then to the welcome gesture of a grateful Gautam and the muted congratulations of his own juniors, he strolled like a colossus to take his seat. When Gautam looked at Suresh with relief, the latter was confounded with mixed feelings. Though elated at the prospect of an acquittal, Suresh was uneasy that he and others had to lie under oath for his reprieve. At the same time, Paranjape’s shoulders drooped, suggesting that he was out of depth to press for a conviction. As though the despair of the prosecution got spread in the courtroom, it was filled with murmurs of an inevitable acquittal. As the press-wallahs were excited about the twist that the case took for bettering their copy, there came a turn to the proceedings from an unexpected quarter.
In that state of willing suspension of disbelief, no one took note of a burka-clad woman from the back row going near the sulking Paranjape. When she handed over some paper to the public prosecutor, the gathering stood up as one man to see what was on hand. As Paranjape poured over her note, the crowd whispered in wonderment whether it had anything to do with the trial on hand. Noticing the nuances in his demeanor at every turn, the gathering got expectant and waited with bated breath.
When an elated Paranjape jumped up to the judge to confabulate with her, even Gautam felt nervous fearing the import of the intruder on the trial. As Paranjape confabulated with Her Ladyship, from his body language Mehrotra sensed that the stranger could spell trouble to the defense. And, Suresh too had a premonition that the woman could be one of his victims who had come to testify against him.
Justice Ms. Sumitra Choudhary adjourned the hearing to the post-lunch session that flummoxed the defense team and mystified the gathering. When Paranjape led the stranger to the court chamber, Suresh envisioned his being led to the gallows. And it was conjecture all around about the relevance of the intruder to the case on trial that she could be an eyewitness to the crime who waited in the wings till the very end. That the trend of the trial indicated an acquittal, she might have decided to stop the tide for the cause of justice, so felt some. Thus, the expected drama of the post-lunch session whetted the appetite of the public to the hilt. But, as things turned out, the gathering had to leave the courtroom without satiation.
Continued to “Trial in Camera”