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May 10, 1999


E-Mail this column to a friend Varsha Bhosle

Woe to the status quo

I'm happy to report that Sanjeev Nanda languishes in Tihar. However, advocate R K Anand is busy as ever. He's now defending Tony Singh Gill, charged with harbouring Manu Sharma, causing disappearance of evidence, and criminal conspiracy in the Jessica Lal murder case.

I've nothing against advocates doing their job as they see fit. But I'm not so generous with the glitterati: My bias began with the Miss World pageant in Bangalore, where the usual gang of pinko and saffron idiots protested against the firangi aberration. Only, whatever perversion there was, oozed forth from the desi sponsor of the show. The sight of socialite Parmeshwar Godrej dropping her pallu on stage and off, standing up or seated, raised my hackles. That the kink was telecast to the whole world, further incensed me. A minor incident, perhaps. But that's when I started scrutinising our "beautiful people."

Don't get me wrong -- I've nothing against kinks; hey, whatever turns you on. For instance, I understand that where there's man, there will be prostitutes and pimps. Thing is, the whore of Foras Road has less to be ashamed of than the thriving lawyer or politician -- she barters and debilitates only what is hers. She suffers from it and she dies of it; hers is a tragic condition. To a lesser extent, I feel the same about the high class hooker: She uses the system to make a quick buck, yes, but she puts her own pound of flesh in it, too. These are women who are in the trade to earn their livelihoods. They have WHORE tattooed across their foreheads. They are forever cast aside by society. They forever pay for the choice they made.

But what about the jet-set businessperson who lays out the party girls for the useful politico or industrialist? What about the affluent star who sells herself for a diamond Piaget? What do I feel when visiting Pakistani cricketers urge their wealthy hostess, "uske liye try karo na," and she replies, "kal raat ke party mein "? Plainly put, I'd rather let the syphilis-struck woman of Foras Road lie on my sheets than have the "networking" rich cross my threshold. Theirs is a different world, one not to my taste.

Ach, as usual, I wandered away. Let's return to the murder which occurred at the last of nine weekly private parties where the guest list included politicos, bureaucrats and industrialists. Jessica Lal, who'd tended the bar at Bina Ramani's restaurant, had a brief stint at modelling in the '80s; she was down to catalogue shoots within two years. Sanjay Austa writes, "No one knew exactly what she did for a living." Model Ayesha Prem says, "I used to see her frequently at parties. But I didn't know who she was." She was a girl who was trying to make two ends meet, and who died when she refused, not a proposition, but a drink. Joint Commissioner of Police Amod Kanth has taken great pains to emphasise, "Altercations definitely took place between Jessica, Malini and Manu, but it was merely for a drink."

Earlier, a senior police officer had said, "It is too early to say if refusal of a drink was the cause for the incident. There has to be something more to it." During his interrogation, Tony Gill admitted, "We went there for the young pretty faces -- certainly not those in the 30s -- and the generally relaxed ambiance." Another senior officer said, "(Tony) said the place was frequented mostly by women in their 20s." According to eyewitnesses (as related by yet another senior officer), Jessica had complained to Ramani about Manu, but had been asked to ignore the "boisterous group" as they had been there before. [" We cannot say whether they are among the thousands who visit the Qutub Colonnade but we are not aware of this."]

JCP Kanth declared that action would be taken against Ramani *if* it was found she had tampered with the evidence... The Mehrauli police reached the restaurant within seven minutes of the crime being *reported* [" They finally came 45 minutes later "]. They found all the physical evidence destroyed -- fingerprints couldn't be lifted from the washed counter, and the spot of murder couldn't be established from the cleaned floor. A senior police official maintained, "She also tried her best to destroy the evidence. In fact she also went to Jessica's family and stated that they all should stick together and give one statement to the police". [" But there is no case against me. None at all."]

Manu has surrendered. Justice, I hope, will be done. But what about the woman who, from 11 pm to 2 am, illegally supplied Manu with alcohol (8 pegs), enabling him to get imbalanced and pull the trigger? [" I could explain to you that technically I also have a home at the Colonnade, and so there was nothing wrong with serving liquor there."]

Two years ago, Virendra Kapoor wrote, "Socialite Bina Ramani knows which side her bread is buttered. And if the bread is not buttered at all, you can rely on her to get it buttered. The lady is a genius at staying on the right side of politicians, businessmen and all who matter -- and sure enough, sooner or later, her contacts pay off."

Chandra Swami is caught in a FERA case related to laundering of $ 200,000. The Enforcement Directorate, in its complaint before the magistrate, contends that Chandra Swami transferred the money to a company owned by Bina Ramani, then of New York. Ramani turns approver. [JCP Kanth: " Bina Ramani and Malini have now decided to help the police with investigations."]

The Qutub Colonnade is allowed to come into existence. Despite serious objections by the Archeological Survey of India. [" We have been unfairly portrayed as people who have no regard for the law."]

The Delhi Development Authority issues demolition orders after Bina Ramani changes the facade of the original old Haveli. The officer who had ordered it is transferred to the Andamans. [" The god within me is very strong."]

From 1993 to 1996, Ramani manages the Hauz Khas premises where Malini runs the disco, No Exit. No liquor licence. No Excise Act. Complaints from local residents lead to the disco being quietly wound up. [" Look at how we are being portrayed by you journalists."]

Romesh Sharma is trapped by the authorities. Out pops a link with Ramani -- his offering his "sister" the use of his farmhouse to host her wedding. Ramani swears there isn't any connection, but that "Sharma wanted us to purchase a house in Panchsheel Park whose title deed wasn't quite kosher."

Ramani's residential phone is disconnected for non-payment of dues. The chairman/managing director of MTNL, now a member of TRAI, orders DGM OP Khanna to visit Ramani and apologise. Ramani's response: "How dare you disconnect my phone? Who made a fool like you a DGM? You don't even know how to distinguish between Ramani and others." Officials protest to the CMD that they were only following the rules. The CMD retorts: "Burn the rule books." Next, Khanna is assigned to the boonies. [" I believe that journalists just hate anyone like me who is prominent."]

In March, a sub-inspector of the Mehrauli police station goes to the Tamarind Court restaurant and tells its owner to stop the private parties since they violate norms. Ramani calls up Police Commissioner V N Singh in the presence of the sub-inspector. A day later, the sub-inspector is abruptly transferred to another police station. [" I am ready to appear in the court if the police ask me to do so. I am ready to co-operate with them in whichever way they want."]

The police were all set to arrest Ramani -- and then decided against it. The decision to arrest her was taken after Surinder, one of her workers, told the police that Ramani had asked him to clean the blood. [ Rediff: " When I returned, the boys who work at the restaurant were mopping up the place."ToI: " The blood was washed away because a guest washed his face with water there, and hence diluted the blood."]

A senior officer said, "But later the decision was changed after a lot of debate." Police Commissioner V N Singh to Rediff: "We are trying to see if she can be used as a prosecution witness." JCP Kanth to The Pioneer: "Bina Ramani is the star witness in the case... A star witness cannot be made an accused, as it will weaken the case."

Senior Advocate Lala Ram Gupta: "Turning Bina Ramani into a star witness is an eyewash. It is the easiest way to bail her out from the charges of destruction of evidence. If she asked for removal of blood from the scene of crime, it amounts to tampering of evidence."

Noted criminal lawyer R P Khatana: "There is no logic in the police claim that Ramani is a star witness as even the FIR was not registered in her name... If Bina becomes an approver and agrees to depose against the accused, she would be spared from being prosecuted."

Legal eagles say that making Bina Ramani the prosecution witness would not only help her escape charges of destruction of evidence but also pave the way for Manu Sharma's acquittal: Since the integrity of the witness is questionable -- running an illegal bar, removing blood stains from the scene of crime, hiding coupons for alcohol sold -- her deposition has little value. [" The dirt, the lies, the fabrication have really upset me over the last few days."]

Ramani was finally arrested under the Excise Act. No case has been filed against her for destruction of evidence. JCP Kanth said that they didn't have enough to book Ramani u/s 201 IPC. He feels she had no motive behind cleaning the blood. Even though Manu is a Congress president's son, and Vikas is a Rajya Sabha MP's son...

Then there's the presence of JCP Y S Dadwal at the restaurant... Manu Sharma to the police during preliminary investigations: " Main Dadwal Uncle ko dekh kar chhup gaya tha (I hid when I saw Dadwal Uncle)." Virendra Kapoor: "Dadwal networks with Ramani and others of her ilk in search of contacts for his wife."

Ramani is a British passport holder, her husband is a Canadian national, and her daughter, a US citizen, all needing special visas and permissions to engage in business. A senior police official says, "The first problem, it seems, lies with the difference in the two forms Mr Mailhot has filled up. While one form filled with his visa application lists Ms Bina Ramani as a British citizen, another form submitted to the Reserve Bank of India applied to carry out trade in India, lists her as an Indian."

Manu is passé: He pulled the trigger, his life is over. But Bina Ramani? That's another kettle of fish. It spawns a Malini who attends a party the day after Jessica's murder, and is hospitalised with a "nervous breakdown" when the police want to question her the following day...

I pieced all these details from "rags that call themselves newspapers," which carried information leaked by an army of "senior police officials." Perhaps, these officials wanted to put media pressure on the decision-makers... Or maybe, they're simply prejudiced against media-made celebrities... Yes, we of the Press are whores: we can destroy what we created if that helps the sales, and resurrect it, if that gets the ads. But sometimes, we crusade. Regardless of attracting high-flying lawyers to our insolvent tails. That, gentlemen, is the beauty of the Press.

Varsha Bhosle

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