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Rediff.com  » News » Sheena Bora trial: And Peter sat next to Indrani...

Sheena Bora trial: And Peter sat next to Indrani...

March 22, 2018 09:04 IST

Much to his surprise, Peter finds Sanjeev indicating he should sit in the middle, next to Indrani.
This spot is normally occupied by Sanjeev, Indrani's former husband, who has probably found himself a willy-nilly barrier between the warring couple.
The Mukerjeas, clearly, had matters to discuss.
Savera R Someshwar reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Sheena Bora Case

A police woman wipes her brow outside Courtroom 51 at the Mumbai civil and sessions court.

Summer has been knocking insistently at the city's doors, setting the temperature notch firmly at swelter at 2.40 in the afternoon.

"Chala, chala, aaropi na aath ghya (Quickly, bring the accused in)," says a policeman from the escort detail for the accused in the Sheena mora murder trial, waving to indicate the inside of the courtroom where Judge Jagdish Chandrasen Jagdale is waiting patiently.

 

Accused No 1 Indrani Mukerjea is, unlike her usual wont, in first. She files into the boxed area demarcated for the accused and takes her usual place at the far corner.

Accused No 2, Sanjeev Khanna, is in next, after a rare reminder from the men in uniform.

Everyone waits, eyes occasionally heading towards the door. But there is no sign of Accused No 4, Pratim aka Peter Mukerjea.

As the minutes tick by, the judge's frown galvanises the cops, whose main duty outside Courtroom 51 seems to be chasing the three recalcitrant accused -- getting them from the benches outside into the courtroom before the hearing begins and getting them from the courtroom into the police van for their journey back to jail after the hearing ends.

Peter is impatiently motioned in by the police and, much to his surprise, finds Sanjeev indicating he should sit in the middle, next to Indrani.

This spot is normally occupied by Sanjeev, Indrani's former husband, who has probably found himself a willy-nilly barrier between the warring couple.

The Mukerjeas, clearly, had matters to discuss.

But not for long. The three accused were called to the stand by the court clerk.

The judge had advice for the three accused. He did not want them talking to "strangers" and he wanted them to be careful when they spoke to family members and friends who came to visit them because "you never know how it will be recorded."

He suggested they "consult" with their lawyers before speaking to anyone they did not know and issued a gentle warning about "making statements about cases that were still pending before a court."

The only person who had some clue as to what happening was Indrani who had been captured on video answering questions posed by a reporter about the Karti Chidambaram case.

The interview, which may have been recorded without Indrani's knowledge, aired on a national television news channel, leading to notices being pasted in Hindi, Marathi and English outside Courtroom 51, banning any kind of photo or video shooting outside the courtroom.

While Indrani and Sanjeev replied with "Yes" and "Okay", Peter immediately wanted to clarify his stand.

With a little bow, he assured the judge, "I have not and will not make any statement to known or unknown people without talking to my lawyer."

Back in the dock for the accused, the discussion between Peter and Indrani continued.

Witness number 1, Police Inspector Ganesh Dalvi, whose cross-examination is the next step in this case -- he has been cross-examined for just one hearing -- is present in court.

But Sudeep Pasbola, who is heading Indrani's legal team, and is leading the cross is not.

"The witness is here; when will they conduct the cross?" asks Public Prosecutor Kavita Patil as she gestures towards the defence team who have occupied most of the chairs before the long legal table in front of the judge.

Gunjan Mangla, who is also part of Indrani's legal team, explains that Pasbola is in Varanasi on an urgent matter and requests an adjournment.

A similar request on March 12, when the case was last heard, saw the normally genial Judge Jagdale sternly remind the defence lawyers that the rights of the accused, who have been in prison for over two years, had to be considered as well.

While Indrani Mukerjea was arrested on August 25, 2015, Sanjeev Khanna was arrested the next day.

Peter Mukerjea was arrested on November 19, 2015.

The trial began in February 2017.

As of now, Witness No 2 and Accused No 3 turned Approver, the driver Shyamvar Pinturam Rai, who, according to the police, was arrested on August 21, 2015, on the charges of possessing an illegal weapon has been deposed and cross-examined in court.

CBI Public Prosecutor Bharat Badami has, on the very first day of this trial, refused to reveal his list of witnesses. He did not want his witnesses tampered with nor did he want their names to appear in the media.

The CBI has, meanwhile, submitted the much awaited Karbonn phone belonging to Rai to the court. Pasbola's team had submitted their application for the phone on February 20. It led to a minor verbal skirmish a few weeks ago when the CBI, who were due to submit the phone, said it could take some time.

"The phone was sent for analysis to the Forsenic Science Laboratory at Hyderabad since the FSL in Kalina (north west Mumbai) was not able to analyse it," CBI Officer K K Singh informs the court.

However, reports PTI, the data could not be analysed at Hyderabad too since the software and hardware tools available did not support the media used in the phone.

Mangla, meanwhile, is concerned that the phone might not be charged, which might preclude the defence lawyers rom examining it or showing it to a witness.

When she requests the court to have the phone charged, Badami jumps in with an objection. "Let them file and application. Who will be responsible if something goes wrong while the phone is being charged?"

While Mangla wants to file the application the next day, Judge Jagdale chivvies them against any delay with a warning, "You cannot use it to delay the cross-examination at the next hearing." <?p>

The judge wants the application filed immediately or, at the very latest, the next morning.

The CBI, reports PTI, later filed a petition requesting that the case be taken up for at least three consecutive days in a fortnight so that the trial can be expedited.

With the lawyers finally settling on a date, March 23, for the next hearing, another request is made to the judge. Niranjan Mundargi, the lawyer spearheading Sanjeev Khanna's defence, wants a few minutes to confer with his client.

"I won't need more than five minutes," Mundargi says.

Permission is granted for the conferring to happen in the courtroom and the three accused sit huddled with their lawyers, whispering, gesturing, tapping documents.

More than 10 minutes pass. Peter, clearly unhappy, makes his way to the witness box again.

His escort detail want him to wind up and exit the building so that they can make their way back to jail.

"He keeps interrupting," Peter complains to the judge, indicating the stony-faced constable standing outside the witness box. "I am not able to finish."

While the judge explains that the policeman is only doing his duty, Badami suggests brevity. Peter plaintively tells the judge, "I am speaking as fast as I can. I need some more time."

The judge tells the constable to allow Peter some more time.

A courtroom seemingly suddenly transforms into a classroom, but as Peter, Indrani and Sanjeev finally walk out, it underlines harsh facts that can be forgotten in the humdrum and drama inside a courtroom -- that a young woman's life had brutally ended and her mother and two step-fathers, accused of the crime, have spent over two years in jail, waiting for the law of the land to judge them innocent or guilty.

Savera R Someshwar / Rediff.com