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Sheena Bora Trial: 'There's something fishy going on'

Last updated on: June 23, 2022 12:45 IST

When Sheena got down from his car on the evening of April 24, 2012, Rahul says she told him, "Bye. Love you. See you later."
Savera R Someshwar/'s fascinating report from the Sheena Bora murder trial.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

"How do you know if she's dead or alive?"

Emotions -- fear, anger, desperation, frustration -- roil within the question.

Thirty-nine-year-old Rahul Mukerjea hears his 29-year-old self, his face impassive.

Indrani Mukerjea -- not the alert 49-year-old version in the cream-and-gold printed sari, accused of murdering her daughter, whose sharp eyes dart around the courtroom as her nimble fingers take notes and whose expressive face tell you exactly what she thinks of each witness's deposition, but the 39 year old who is "property-hunting" in Goa with her then husband, Peter Mukerjea -- is silent for a heartbeat.

Then comes her agitated reaction. "Why would you think that she is dead?" she asks her stepson.

Rahul's mother is Peter's first wife, Shabnam; a dignified looking woman who sits outside the sultry Mumbai courtroom -- she's not permitted inside as she could be a witness -- lending her younger son a sturdy backbone to lean on.

Rahul is considered by both the defence and the prosecution to be one of the most important witnesses in this murder trial.

Other than Accused No 1, Indrani; Accused No 2, Sanjeev Khanna who is her ex-husband and the father of her youngest daughter, Vidhie, who has been adopted by Peter; and Accused No 3, Shyamvar Pinturam Rai, the driver of the car who drove them to Pen, where Sheena's body was allegedly buried; Rahul is the last person to have seen Sheena alive and the one most anxious to find her after she went missing.

There has, over the years, been much bickering between the prosecution and the defence about when Rahul would take his place on the stand; not the least because Indrani and Accused No 4 Peter Mukerjea's bail applications have been negatively impacted with the prosecution stating that they could influence this particular witness if released.

Rahul's testimony is significant as he is also witness to Sheena and Indrani's somewhat unusual and acrimonious relationship; Indrani initially introduced Sheena as her sister to Peter and their social circuit.

Sheena, who was actually Indrani's daughter and unhappy that she had to pretend to be her sister, met Rahul on her regular visits to the Mukerjeas.

Friendship bloomed, then love blossomed and Sheena moved in with Rahul in 2008. They got engaged in 2011.

In 2012, she disappeared.

Shyamvar Rai, arrested on an entirely different matter in 2015, spilled the beans on the grisly murder of a daughter by a mother -- he was driving the car in which Sheena was allegedly murdered by Indrani and Sanjeev Khanna.

He said he later drove them and the body to Pen in Maharashtra's Raigad district so that it could be safely disposed off; the cold-blooded nature of the murder, and the fact that the accused were high-profile and the victim was a pretty young girl, made the Sheena Bora Murder Trial front page news.

In the last five-and-a-half years, 68 witnesses have been examined; Rahul is the 69th.

It is nearly the end of a long day in court; one is also nearing the end of what Judge S P Naik-Nimbalkar, who has taken over as the Mumbai CBI judge at the civil and sessions court at Kala Ghoda, south Mumbai, calls File Voice No 10. This file, at 25.43 minutes, is one of the longer ones.

Rahul, unhappy with the responses he was getting from Indrani and his father regarding his fiancee's disappearance, had started recording the telephone conversations the three of them were having about Sheena.

Eleven more files had to be heard and they were played the next day, June 18, on the same set-up -- a laptop with a CD drive and external speakers provided by CBI Special Prosecutor Manoj Chaladan and a court mike -- normally used by the defence lawyers -- for additional clarity, as suggested by Judge Naik-Nimbalkar.

Chalandan is the third prosecutor in the long-running Sheena Bora trial; he has taken over from the tall, slightly-reserved looking Ejaz Khan, who in turn took over the white-haired, mercurial Bharat Badami.

Judge Naik-Nimbalkar too has had two predecessors in this case -- Judge H S Mahajan and Judge Jagdish Chandrasen Jagdale.

Courtroom No 51, where the case is being heard since February 17, 2017, has changed as well.

During the pandemic, the repairs to the courthouse have been completed and courtroom itself has had a fresh lick of cream paint. The rickety chairs are gone, replaced by sturdier wooden relatives.

A long thick sheet of plastic, broken into three panels by black-metalled borders, separates the judge and his team from the rest of the courtroom. Two small rectangular windows -- just large enough to pass files and other evidence -- have been cut into the plastic sheet.

The witness box too has a three-panel add-on.

Four mikes -- for the judge, defence, prosecution and witness -- are a new addition as well.

The courtroom continues to be hot and humid; no one is masked -- not the judge, not the lawyers, not the accused, not the cops. Almost everyone was damp with sweat.

Peter Mukerjea, who was the last to be arrested, was the first to get bail and walked out of jail in March 2020.

Indrani, who is the prime accused in the case, got bail last month -- and you can see the difference in their demeanour.

Sanjeev Khanna was granted bail on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. Shyamvar Rai continues to remain in prison.

File Voice No 10 has been emotional; Rahul -- who at one point said he "felt like jumping off a building" -- still does not know where his fiancee is and the constant prodding in the earlier recordings for him to move on has left him frustrated.

At one point he snaps, "You don't actually know that she is okay. The story keeps changing, there's something fishy going on.

And he warns his father, "Later, if I come to know you have held something back, I will be very hurt."

"Cross my heart," Peter tells his son, saying that he has shared all the information he has and stressing on how important it is, information wise, that they are all on the same page.

But the story, as Rahul has pointed out, has kept changing.

The first voice file, strangely, has Rahul Mukerjea singing the happy birthday song to himself in a slow drawl.

What was it recorded? No one knows.

Why was in presented in court? No one knows.

As the giggles start, Rahul smiles and embarrassedly brings his hands together.

In the second, Rahul asks Peter if he or Indrani know where Sheena is.

It may or may not be the first call Rahul has made on this topic for Peter sounds a tad irritated. He questions her character and tells his son that it's clear "she has gone somewhere and doesn't want to be in touch."

Rahul is asked by CBI Special Prosecutor Manoj Chaladan if he recognises the voices and if he can explain the conversation he has heard.

Rahul replies that "as far as he is aware" he's asking about Sheena and his father is replying that Sheena has gone off on her own accord and does not wish to be contacted.

That particular turn of phrase sees one of Peter's lawyers, Amit Ghag on his feet -- Peter's lead lawyer, Srikant Shivade, succumbed to cancer on January 18 this year; Accused No 4 is now being defended by Manjula Rao and Ghag remains on the team -- he wants the phrase 'as far as he knows' on the record.

At the back of the courtroom, Indrani -- who sacked her team of lawyers headed by the redoubtable Sudeep Pasbola last year -- is nodding vigorously. "As far as I am concerned," she indicates Rahul with a nod and tells the judge, "is important. That's why we need a transcript."

While the defence has been provided with a copy of the voice recordings, the transcript has reportedly been provided only for the first few conversations.

It begs a question that has no answer.

Indrani also informs the judge, who patiently listens to her multiple interjections in the hearing, that, after careful listening, she had made her own transcript.

Peter's recorded voice dispenses some fatherly advice to his son. "She'll come back when she wants to."

He urges his son to move on. "You have other things to do. She'll either come back or she'll not come back. What happens if we can't find her?"

He also indicates his belief -- or it is his attempt to convince Rahul? -- that Sheena is fine. "She sent a message to Indrani the night they met (April 14, 2012) that it was 'great' meeting her."

But Rahul is dogged. "Indrani was the last person to meet her. Since then, Sheena is unreachable."

Peter tells him to come to Goa, where he and Indrani are at the moment, so that they can talk it out. Or to go back to Dehradun -- where Rahul now stays -- and get on with life.

As each fresh recordings plays, you can hear the frustration building in both Peter and Rahul.

In the second voice recording, Rahul urges Peter. "She's not in touch with her friends since the last 2-3 days. She's not been active on Facebook. She hasn't gotten in touch with people at work. Can you hear and take in what I am saying?"

For Rahul, who calls Sheena "conscientious" and "dedicated" and "diligent" -- she's even earned, he says in the second recording, a promotion (Sheena was appointed assistant manager at Reliance Mumbai Metro on June 20, 2011), and had no reason to miss work -- it a marked deviation from her regular behavioural pattern. "It's out of character," he tells his father.

It has surprised even her boss, who Rahul has communicated with.

Someone from her office, Rahul tells Peter, has called asking about Sheena.

Peter is baffled that Rahul does not have the name or the number of the person who called.

"Do you have a name that I can call?" asks Peter.

"No," replies Rahul.

"You don't know the name of the person who called?"


It doesn't make sense, especially in the age of mobile phones, that he didn't have a number to share. Until, later in the examination in chief -- as the questioned conducted by the prosecutor is known -- he reveals that he was wary of sharing information with Indrani.

All through the 'examination in chief', he strongly indicates that he does not trust her.

When Sheena got down from his car on the evening of April 24, 2012, Rahul says she told him, "Bye. Love you. See you later."

And then, she walked towards Indrani's car.

That was the last time he saw her. Sheena was dressed in a dark red top and jeans. She was wearing her engagement ring and earrings and was carrying a small purse.

They exchanged messages through the evening while Sheena was with Indrani.

The last one -- that surprised him, he said, because his fiancee was in two minds about meeting her mother -- said Sheena was going to spend the night with Indrani.

When she didn't go to work the next day, Rahul was worried. He texted her and she said she texted back that she would be home soon.

Then he got a message saying she had met "a wealthy guy", that she was going to go ahead with her relationship with him and didn't want Rahul to chase her.

Again, for Rahul, this is was so out of character for his fiancee that he could not accept the text message break-up. And he told her as much; that she had to tell him personally. 'Not now,' he says she texted. 'Maybe in a couple of months.'

Rahul says he began following up with everyone who knew Sheena.

And, because he didn't trust Indrani, he began recording the conversations he was having with his father and Indrani about Sheena's disappearance

The 20 conversations -- if one excludes the birthday song -- have strange threads running through them.

Part 2: Sheena Bora Trial: Is Rahul afraid of Indrani?