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May 13, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/Bina Ramani

'We are not covering up anything!'

Manu Sharma, Congressman Vinod Sharma's trigger-happy brat, has surrendered. D P Yadav's is absconding. Yet the Delhi police seem less inclined to punish the rich brats of politicians who shot dead Jessica Lal than intimidating Bina Ramani in whose glamorous café the crime took place.

What is a more heinous crime? To serve whiskey without a licence or shoot dead an innocent girl because she refuses you a drink? Is this an attempt to protect influential netas? Ramani, in a telephonic interview with Pritish Nandy reconstructs the crime and promises to help nail the guilty. An excerpt:

What exactly happened? Can you recall the precise sequence of events on that fateful night?

It was 2 am on Friday, April 30. Our party had ended and only about 30-odd guests were hanging around in the Tamarind Court cafe. Before retiring to my flat upstairs, I decided to take one last look to ensure that all the guests had gone. Only then can our boys carry on with their routine cleaning up and go home.

What did you see?

As I approached from the courtyard I noticed that there were some five or six people near the counter. I recognised Jessica with about three of her friends. They were talking to someone behind the counter. The person they were talking to was not visible from where I came in. Suddenly I heard a shot.

The gun shot?

Well, it sounded at that time like a balloon popping. Then I heard a second shot and saw Jessica fall to the floor. The blue door leading to the inside opened and a stocky man, about five feet six inches tall, fair, with a round face walked out. He was dressed in a white T-shirt with red stripes. Jessica's friends pointed at him and said: "He shot Jessica!"

What did you do?

What could I do? There was panic; my mind was reeling. Yet I ran and blocked his way as he tried to leave. I demanded that he give me the gun and reveal his identity. I tried the best I could to prevent him from leaving.

At the same time, even as I was grappling with the accused, I was shouting to anybody who could hear me to call the police, the ambulance, the doctor. But he managed to push his way through and ran into the courtyard, towards the main exit.

You could not stop him?

I tried, Pritish. I ran behind him for about a hundred yards when I spotted my husband near the gate. I yelled to him: "Chase him! He has shot Jessica! Note his number plate and car description!" George Mailhot, my husband, and the driver chased the accused into the dark, as he ran towards Mehrauli.

Would you recognise the chap if you saw him again, say, in an identification parade?

If he is brought before me, yes, I will be able to identify him.

What happened after that?

In total shock and despair I came back towards the restaurant. I was then worried about how to save Jessica's life. Meanwhile, the boys in the restaurant had wrapped Jessica in a sheet and Dr Alok Chopra had been contacted at Alok Hospital.

We took Sanjay Mehtani's car and drove as fast as we could to the hospital, praying to god to save her life. Unfortunately, she could not be saved and died about three hours later in Apollo Hospital where she had been taken for further efforts to save her life.

Believe me, I am very deeply shaken by this senseless tragedy and am ready and willing to co-operate in every possible way to help punish the accused.

In that case, why are there so many reports in the media about your non-cooperation with the police?

Frankly, I have no idea whatsoever. I have done my best to help the police in every possible way. You must remember that such incidents also affect those beyond the immediate family and ought to be a matter of concern for all responsible and right thinking people.

A cult of violence is threatening our society, this city and it is in fact a threat to every civilised gathering, as ours was.

Why is there a feeling that you are covering up, to hide the fact that a party was going on at the Tamarind Court cafe, a party without an appropriate liquor licence?

We are not covering up anything. We are trying to help the police catch all those people who are responsible for this ugly crime. We have admitted there were some irregularities committed in holding this party and we are ready to face the consequences for that.

But it is a fact that signs, not one but two signs, indicating that we were holding a private party inside were posted at the gate. The restaurant had obtained necessary permissions as an eating house and the extension of the licence was almost complete.

Police extension had already been obtained. It is also a fact that we had received four out of the five permissions required for obtaining the liquor licence. Everyone knows that these things take time.

Is that an excuse?

No, it is not an excuse. It is an explanation because somehow we are being unfairly portrayed as people who have no regard for the law. We do.

We have taken every permission into consideration and have done our best to ensure that it is in place. It is unfair and untrue to suggest otherwise.

Who ordered the removal of the bloodstains from the floor, the destruction of crucial evidence?

The party, like all parties here, was to close at 12.30. A sign to that effect was conspicuously posted. As always the procedure at the cafe, once the guests start drifting off, is for our staff to begin cleaning up so that we are ready for business next morning.

Anything that was removed at that time did not constitute evidence since the incident had not yet occurred.

The bloodstains?

I cannot comment on that except to say that we did not order it. The restaurant floor remains dirty and littered to this day and does not show any sign of a clean up.

You must understand the simple fact: we do not know the suspect. We have no interest in protecting anyone. On the contrary, we are keen that the guilty be brought to justice.

It was we who identified a suspicious vehicle parked nearby which turned out to be the suspect's Tata Safari. My first statement to the police was given within an hour of the incident, on returning from the hospital.

My husband also gave his verbal statement at that time and another at 7 am. Since then, Malini, he and I have spent hours and hours with the police, in our home and at three police stations to assist in unravelling the sequence of events on that fateful night.

Our staff has spent many times that number of hours in custody. If that is not being co-operative, I wonder what is.

Do you think you are getting the rough end of the stick while the real culprits, the murderers, are getting away because of their political power and influence?

How can I comment on that? All I can say is that we are doing our best to support the police and all insinuations otherwise are wrong, unfair, unjustified.


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