'You don't want to admit that it is your wife in the video because she said you were arrested on Wednesday (August 19; Shyamvar Rai states he was arrested on August 21, a Friday).'
Savera R Someshwar reports from the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
There was a joyful giggle.
It was a sound one does not associate with the city civil and sessions court and the young man, seemingly the father, shushed the little girl gently but quickly.
They were a family of four, sitting on the floor of the sessions court building, grabbing a moment of normalcy in an atmosphere soaked with crimes that range from cheating to piracy to injury to murder to mass murder.
Four floors above, on the fifth floor, there was an air of expectancy outside Courtroom 24. Judge S D Takale, who had presided over an in-camera trial, was scheduled to deliver his judgement in the Malegaon bomb blast case.
The accused, however, were yet to arrive.
The floor below -- which housed the Office Of Designated Court TADA (P) Act 1987 for Bomb Blast Case Greater Bombay -- was eerily quiet.
On the third floor, Shangon Das Gupta stood at the head of the staircase, looking out of the window, waiting for her brother, Peter aka Pratim Mukerjea, Accused No 4 in the Sheena Bora murder trial.
Like the accused in the Malegaon blast case, the accused for this trial too were yet to arrive.
Shrikant Shivade, Peter's lawyer, was calmly seated on a bench facing the staircase, his back to a large, grilled seven by five feet window, going through a sheaf of papers, pages of which had been marked in bright orange and pink post-its.
Occasionally, he would discuss a point with his team, Vishal Gupta, Anoop Pandey and Amit Ghag.
At 12.37 pm, one hour and 37 minutes after their scheduled arrival, the accused walked in. First Peter, in his now trademark khaki and white. Then Indrani Mukerjea, in a sleeveless purple kurta, embellished with sequins and embroidery, a pale coffee-coloured Patiala salwar, dupatta artfully draped across her shoulders, eyes lined, lips glossed and hair left loose. Finally, a stubbled Sanjeev Khanna in a yellow shirt and khaki trousers.
More than 10 minutes later, Accused No 3 turned approver, Shyamvar Pinturam Rai, escorted by a single bearded policeman, eyes straight ahead, walked quickly past his three co-accused.
As the day's hearing begins, Shivade clears his throat for a request from his client. Peter wants to stand near his lawyer so that he can hear Shivade cross-examine Rai, a witness who is mostly so soft-spoken that the lawyers who are seated barely a few feet away from him have to sometimes struggle to hear what he says.
"Why break a tradition?" asks Judge Jayendra Chandrasen Jagdale with his now familiar smile and the matter proceeds with the three accused still in their by-now self-designated spots -- Sanjeev seated between the warring Peter and Indrani.
Shivade begins with a simple question: How many years has Rai worked for the Mukerjeas?
Rai takes his time, counting slowly on his fingers and occasionally focusing on his favourite thinking spot -- the ceiling. It is a while before he answers, "Eight."
Shivade moves ahead to establish Rai's familiarity with Marlow, the building where the Mukerjeas stayed in a sprawling apartment. He walks Rai through the 24-hour security, the security cabins at both gates and the register where outsiders who enter the building have to sign in.
"Gaadi aur kaamwale ke liye (A register for the cars and the servants)," an answer reinforced by Public Prosecutor Kavita Patil. "He said kaamwale, not baharwale (outsiders)."
Was there a separate register for guests then, Shivade wants to know.
"When saab (Peter) comes in, he goes directly," says Rai.
But hasn't he noticed a register for the guests since he spends a lot of time waiting in the compound?
"Dyaan nahi diya (didn't notice)," says Rai and explains he would wait in the drivers' room located between the row of garages, from where the security cabins were not visible.
Rai's cross-examination continues to be a slow process, with each question having to asked multiple times, and sometimes in multiple ways, before the defence lawyers can either move past vague responses or butt their head against a "Yaad nahi; Maloom nahi (Don't remember; Don't know)" and "Dhyaan nahi diya" and occasionally get the fruit of a clear answer.
A question about how many garages were there in Marlow compound would, after much thought and a theatrical exhalation, get an answer of "5 or 6" while a question about garage no 2, adjacent to garage no 1 which belonged to the Mukerjeas, had a washing machine is met with a ponderous "Yaad nahi."
When asked about the windows facing the row of garages, Rai replies, "Khidki toh hai na, building hai (There will be windows, it is a building)" and volunteers (a word Patil and CBI Prosecutor Bharat Badami want included in the court's transcript) that they are "closed".
When Shivade wants to know if the windows are -- with some help from co-lawyer Anoop Pandey he comes up with the word "paardarshak" -- transparent -- Rai says they have "big curtains."
Asked if the adjoining building, Cliflet, which shares a compound wall with Marlow, also has windows facing the row of garages that abut this wall -- Rai in his earlier testimony said that on the day of the murder he parked the car in front of garage no 1 and, on Indrani's instructions, helped stuff Sheena Bora's body into a suitcase that he removed from the "dicky (boot)" of the car and then stored the suitcase, again on Indrani's instructions, in the garage -- Rai said it did but "there were a lot of trees", implying that the view was not clear.
While Rai's attempt to evade the point Shivade was trying to make -- that with so many windows, someone would have noticed what was happening -- raised a few smiles in court, including a couple from the prosecutors -- a clearly unhappy Shivade requested the court to ask "the well-tutored witness to answer his questions" and not go beyond the scope of the questions.
Rai admitted that "one or two windows" in the Cliflet building faced the garage and that, not only was the compound well-lit but that there were tubelights over each garage as well, that a flat on the ground floor had a balcony with a clear view of the garage, and that located immediately outside the building's gate was the Mumbai traffic police headquarters where people would come to pay their challans as well as a police officers' mess.
Shivade: "So a lot of people would come to the traffic police headquarters?"
Rai: "I can't say if a lot of people come, but people come."
"And there are a lot of police log (personnel) there?"
Shivade, establishing his point without stating it, moves on with two names, Nazia Mohammed Arif Shaikh of Bainganwadi, Govandi -- "Yaad nahi aa raha (I don't remember) -- and Pramod Salvi ("He worked with INX.")
While Rai could remember that Salvi stayed in Santa Cruz, north west Mumbai, he could not recall his cell phone number. "Yaad nahi."
"Tumko bhoolne ki bimari hai? (Do you have a memory problem?)," Shivade asks, his tone dripping sarcasm.
"Who can remember so many numbers?" Rai replies, his manner implying that Shivade was expecting something extraordinary from him.
"Do you have a memory problem?" asks Shivade again.
"Aapko aisa lagta hai? (Do you think so?)," asks Rai.
"Do you take medicines to weaken your memory?"
"Bhoolne ki aadat bachpan se hai? (Have you been forgetful since childhood?)"
Judge Jagdale chivvies Shivade on with his gentle smile. "He is not going to answer that. Whichever way he answers, it will go against him."
Rai says he may have bought a SIM card "shayad mere liye ya biwi ke liye (either for me or my wife)" using Salvi's documents as proof because he personally didn't have the necessary residence documentation.
"No rent receipt, electricity bill?" Shivade asks.
"I have my Aadhaar card, driver's licence..."
As Shivade begins to look visibly irritated with Rai's prevarication, Judge Jagdale jumps in.
"Did you have the necessary documentations then?"
Shivade then asks about the SIM card Rai bought using Nazia's documents. He reads out a cell phone number. Is it familiar?
Shivade: "Bhool gaye kya? (Have your forgotten?)"
"Yaad nahi aa raha."
Shivade, again: "Bhool gaye kya ki yaad nahi aa raha?"
Rai's reply has an aggressive tone: "How is it different?"
Shivade keeps up his questions, but as far as this number is concerned, Rai has only one answer. "Yaad nahi."
Shivade wants to know if Rai bought the SIM card before or after the murder.
"I might have purchased after 2012."
Shivade appeals to the judge: "My question is specific... before or after the murder?"
"Murder ke baad (After the murder)."
Shivade then wants to know how many days after the murder was the SIM card bought?
"Some days later."
"Andazan toh bolo (Give an approximate date)."
"After the murder and before (his arrest in August) 2015."
Shivade wants to emphasise that it is a "sangeen (serious)" crime to buy a SIM card with the wrong documentation and his choice of words makes Judge Jagdale smile.
But there is no answer forthcoming from Rai.
Shivade: "Suna nahi aapne? (Did you not hear the question?)"
Rai: "Suna, dhyaan mein nahi aaya (I heard it. I did not understand it)."
It is the most belligerent the driver has been in his many days of testimony.
As Shivade repeats the questions, Judge Jagdale interjects, "Like many people, he has his own interpretation of the law. You have studied the law so you have a different interpretation."
Shivade explains that he wants "to get it on the record that Rai is not bothered about the consequences of his actions."
Peter's lawyer now tries to establish Rai's familiarity with Mosambi Chawl, Vakola, north west Mumbai, where the driver lived and his movements during the day of his arrest. Rai does not give much, indicating he knows the area, but not the names of the roads.
Shivade: "What time did you leave home on the day of the arrest?"
Rai: "Dopahar ke baad (In the afternoon)."
So Shivade tried to establish what Rai's understanding of afternoon was -- "Aapka naam Shyam hai toh shyam toh pata hoga (Your name is shyam -- evening in Hindi -- so you will know what evening is)" -- and if Rai left home on August 21, 2015, the date of his arrest, before it was evening.
Rai remained rooted for many minutes in "dopahar ke baad" before conceding he left his home "shyam ke pehle (Before the evening)."
As far as his movement on the two days preceding his arrest -- August 19 and August 20 -- were concerned, Rai "may have roamed here and there", but "did not have a job for at least 10, 15 days."
On these crucial days, his "wife and children were at home" and he was using "one mobile phone."
"Was it gifted?" asks Shivade.
As the seconds tick by and Rai continues to think, Shivade says "Chodo, shyam ho jayegi (Forget it, it will be evening by the time you answer)."
Shivade proceeds to establish that the handset had a silver back, that Rai does not know which brand it was nor the number of names in his phone directory.
He then wants to know if Rai received or made any calls on his way to Carter Road in Bandra, north west Mumbai, where he was arrested or on the previous day.
"Kiye honge, aaye honge (I may have)" is Rai's insouciant reply and the court breaks for lunch.
As Peter, Sanjeev and Indrani take their places in the dock for the accused post-lunch, another case is being argued before Judge Jagdale where the accused has missed a final payment of Rs 90,000 in what seems to be a case of fraud.
As the lawyers bicker back and forth, with the defendant's lawyer promising the final payment on January 6 and the judge admonishing the accused, one wonders what is going through the heads of the accused -- two once powerful media executives and a former businessman who are being tried for the gruesome murder of a young woman, the daughter of the woman who one man was, and the other is, married to.
The financial matter is quickly disposed off -- with the judge stating he will issue a warrant for arrest if the Rs 90,000 is not paid up by January 6 -- and the spotlight is once again on the murder trial.
Shivade wants to know if Rai is aware of the day on which he was arrested -- "Somvar, Mangalvar, Budhvar (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday)...." -- and what he did during the first half of the day.
The answer to the first is Dhyaan nahi diya" and to the second is that he did "step out around 10 am and roamed in the vicinity" of his home.
Niranjan Mundargi, Sanjeev Khanna's lawyer, had suggested that Rai had been arrested days before August 21, 2015, the stated date of his arrest, and coached by the police during this interim. It could be that Shivade was trying to establish the same.
Peter's lawyer then wants to know about the two earlier occasions when Rai stepped out to try and dispose the incriminating "thaili (bag)" which contained a country-made gun and bullets, and how long each of those trips were.
"5, 7 minutes."
"Did you think where you would dispose the bag?"
"You must have thought of a place."
"No, I just went where my mind dictated."
"Why didn't you think about this?"
"Did you make any plan the third time at least? Did you think you would go to a sunsaan (isolated) place? Where does one dispose such a thing? In a sunsaan place or where there is a lot of bheed (crowd)?"
"I only thought I would dispose it in a place that I felt was the ideal spot."
Shivade shrugs. "My position is so vulnerable," he tells the judge. "I am the third cross (after Indrani's lawyer Sudeep Pasbola, who conducted the main cross-examination, and Sanjeev Khanna's lawyer Niranjan Mundargi, who was next) and the witness is now experienced."
CBI Prosecutor Bharat Badami grins: "He is seasoned now."
And so, under Shivade's constant questioning, Rai says that, on the day of his arrest, he stepped out of his house but did not tell his wife where he was going or when he would return nor did he know how long or how far he walked.
He is not aware if he passed any police station other than the one at Vakola nor did he notice if there were any policemen there. He estimated the distance between his home in Santa Cruz East and Carter Road to be a distance of 3 or 4 kilometres (it is approximately 5 kilometres).
Shivade: "Did you get tired? Most people will."
Rai: "People may."
Shivade: "Aren't you human?"
Rai: "You asked generally."
Rai, under Shivade's relentless questioning, says he does not know how much time lapsed after he left home before he was arrested but that the sea was to his left.
Shivade: "Did you see the police (who arrested him) or the car (while he was walking around Carter Road, which is a crowded stretch of road but has mangroves at one end)?"
Shivade: "Were the police walking or in the car?"
Rai smiles sarcastically. "The police were in the car" which he identified as a Tata Sumo, a vehicle regularly used by the Mumbai police.
He also admits that it was evening when he was arrested, at which time Carter Road is very crowded.
The police, he said, did "poochtaach (grilled him)" for two hours and his statement was taken the next day. He remembers a cop named Dalvi but does not know if it was a policeman named Dinesh Patil who took his statement.
Did he sign the statement?
Did the cop sign the statement before him?
"Mujhe dhyaan nahi."
Did the cops take a second statement?
After he was arrested did he tell the cops the whole truth, "everything"? Shivade reads from the statement for emphasis.
"They did not ask me to say everything."
Was he asked if he had a licence for the gun?
"Dyaan nahi aa raha."
Was the statement read out to him?
And then Shivade drops his bombshell for the day.
He wants to show Rai three videos and ask him if the lady featured in those videos was his wife.
This upsets the easily affronted Badami, leading to a verbal skirmish between the two lawyers.
"The public prosecutors should know what is being shown to him (Rai). We should know the contents of the CD."
Shivade: "Then you can coach the witness."
Badami: "If there is no process, then I should leave the courtroom and he can continue the cross."
Shivade, to much laughter. "Leave then."
Peter's lawyer then explains that, like photographs, the video was a "new method of document."
Badami argues that he "would leave it to the honourable court but this is wrong" and that "he should have at least been given the videos during the lunch hour."
"Why?" asks Shivade. "So that you can coach the witness?"
Badami says he needed to "take assistance" in this matter from the CBI officer waiting outside the court.
"Don't be under the officer," shoots Shivade.
Judge Jagdale allows the arguments to proceed only for a few minutes. After recording the public prosecutor's objection, he permits Shivade to proceed.
As lawyer Vishal Gupta sets up the video on the laptop, Indrani and Sanjeev move closer to Peter so that they can get a glimpse as well.
But Gupta moves his laptop to the railing of the witness stand as lawyers and reporters crowd behind him.
Three videos -- from the Zee 24, ABP News and India Today channels -- are played for Rai. The first two are interviews with Rai's wife Sharda, and the third an interview with Rai's landlady who wanted Sharda to move out of the rented home.
In her interviews, Sharda says her husband has been falsely accused and a man who is "afraid of the dark" and "scared to talk to women" could not have committed such a crime.
Rai's expression as the videos are played and he watches his wife staunchly defending him, is deadpan. Not a muscle moves on his face. His eyes remain blank.
Shivade: "Is she your wife?"
Rai: "How can I tell? I was in jail."
Indrani lets loose a shocked "Haain". Her eyes roam around the courtroom and she smiles.
The accused-turned-approver has clearly tuned into the public prosecutor's objections.
Shivade: "Does she look and sound like your wife?"
"I can't say about the voice," says Rai who married Sharda in 2007 and has two children.
Shivade: "Is your wife's name Sharda?" The reporters in the videos have identified the lady they were speaking to as Rai's wife Sharda.
"And you have two children?"
Rai says he has a daughter who was born before the murder and a son who was born after the murder.
"And," Shivade clarifies to the judge that his question is not a comment on the driver's character, "You have one wife or two?"
Shivade: "We are saying that the woman in the videos is your wife."
Rai: "I know my wife but I cannot say it is my wife in the videos."
Shivade repeats the question.
To the increasing amusement, and amazement, in the courtroom, Rai says, "Video dekh ke toh nahi bata sakte (I can't make an identification after seeing a video)."
Shivade: "You've been coached not to admit anything."
Badami: "This allegation is always there."
Shivade: "Because it is true."
And then to Rai, "You don't want to admit that it is your wife in the video because she said you were arrested on Wednesday (August 19; Rai states he was arrested on August 21, a Friday)."
Rai: "She will say anything."
Shivade: "And that is why you don't want to identify her."
Shivade's next topic of attack is Rai's trips to Lonavala.
Rai agrees that he made two trips to Lonvala, on April 22 and April 23, 2012. Sheena Bora was allegedly murdered on April 24, 2012.
On being asked, he says they encountered the same volume of traffic on both days and was fairly familiar with the old Bombay-Pune highway, which was part of the route he had taken to Lonavala.
It took Shivade some amount of prodding -- at one point, even a sarcastic -- "Was it only you and the roads" -- before Rai answered.
Rai said he did not know at when time on April 22 he left the Mukerjea building on the morning and by what time they returned.
On April 23 he said they left in the morning and returned in the evening.
Pushed for an approximation, he replied, "We left after 8 (am) and returned before 8 (pm)."
"Since Lonavala is a tourist spot, there is a lot of traffic on Saturday and Sunday," says Shivade.
"Rehta hoga (there may be)."
"April 22 was a Sunday."
"Did you take the same amount of time to travel to Lonavala on April 22 and 23?"
"Unees-bees hua hoga (More or less)."
Shivade went to great detail about whether they visited Bhushi Dam (in an eerie coincidence, it is built on the Indrayani river in Lonavala) on both days -- "Yaad nahi" -- and if they found any isolated spot appropriate for dumping a body.
Rai says "Yaad nahi" and Shivade points out that is part of his statement dated September 6, 2015.
From then on, it is a detailed cross examination of the route, villages (Chowk), towns (Khalapur, to which much time is devoted and Khopoli, near Pen where Sheena's body was ultimately burnt), distances and the time taken, most of which Rai either does not know or can't remember.
Rai does admit that that they reached Lonavala at 11 am on August 23. And Shivade wants to know how he made a call to Pradeep Waghmare who worked in the INX office, at 10.37.45 am, where the call records pinpoint his location near the Worli-Bandra Sea Link, more specifically near the Podar hospital, Dr Anne Besant Road, Worli.
Podar Hospital, Shivade gets Rai to admit, is barely a kilometre from the Mukerjea residence and is an area that Rai knows well.
Pressed again for specific times around the route to Lonavala, Rai again says he does not know.
"But the car had a clock," points out Shivade.
It has been a long day and, at 5.30 pm, Shivade says he has another hour of cross to go through.
Judge Jagdale would like to finish, but Shivade requests a fresh date.
As the gloves are hung up for the day, a seemingly relieved Rai is ready to leave. Unlike his three co-accused, he does not want to spend a moment more than necessary in the courthouse.
Sanjeev examines a pair of socks among the other things handed over to him by his cousin who makes it for almost every hearing.
Indrani and Peter are not yet ready to leave. Standing in the dock, they talk to Shivade. The waiting cops are ignored.
After about five minutes, the impatient court clerk wants them out. "Chala, chala (Move out)."
Outside, a discussion continues between Peter and Indrani, but does not seem as amicable as the one they were having a few minutes earlier. She warningly waves a handwritten paper at him a few times, making sure the written part faces away from him.
Her previous application against Peter has been rejected by the court, but Indrani seems to working on her next step.
The cops, though -- some of them sniffling though the cough-cold-fever viral that thas been plaguing Mumbai -- are no longer prepared to wait.
The next date, December 27, will be interesting for both the Malegaon blast case and the Sheena Bora murder trial -- while the verdict will be pronounced in the first, Accused No 3-turned-Approver Shyamvar Pinturam Rai -- who had by turn appeared abject, aggressive and angry -- will make what might be his final appearance nearly five months after he first entered the 3 feet by 3 feet witness box.
- MUST READ: The Sheena Bora Murder Trial