Ria held her hair back as she threw up the remains of her hurriedly eaten breakfast from morning. Her stomach didn’t sit well with her rising anxiety and she kept dry heaving till her eyes watered. She splashed the cold water on her face and as she looked into the mirror, she saw her tear stained eyes even as the tears flew freely mingling with the water on her face. She wiped her face with the tissues kept there and emerged from the washroom only to almost collide with Keith who held her arm to stabilize her.
“What is it Ria…? Are… you …Ok…?” He asked softly with concern filled voice and that only made her breakdown further. He pulled her towards him as she cried into his chest and he patted her head. “…Shhh… Its alright Ria… you have all the right to vent out…”
After a minute she stood apart with folded hands still sniffling. “…Keith…I… I am so confused… and No… I don’t believe Swara because I know she is lying through her teeth…”
“…then what is t Ria…?”
“…Keith are you serious…? What was all that…? I mean …I know nothing about that man…” Ria said in an exasperated tone.
“…Ria… look I get it from your perspective… but I have known Gaurav sir for years and trust me… he isn’t what he is portrayed to be… I wont tell you to believe me but just go with your gut instinct OK…?”
“…Keith I don’t know what to believe and what not to believe anymore….”
“…Just… Just… don’t hate him Ria… I know he hasn’t been open with you as yet…”
“…Why should he open up to me Keith…? I am just an employee…” Her voice cracked on the last word.
“…You are a lot more than that Ria… and you know that as well… nonetheless… I only have to say… Think with a cool mind…its going to be tough out there. That prosecutor has dug deep… he is caught everything with his tight claws… Just… remember when I say, Gaurav sir may not admit it… but he needs us more than anything…for being there for him…he needs you Ria… he needs you to trust him… Its far-fetched to expect that now, but I can only try…” saying that he left and entered the courtroom.
Ria stood right there taking in deep breaths and going towards the railing glanced down at the ever- swelling sea of reporters. Gaurav was kind of haunted by them… they had already pronounced him guilty via media trial in two days. Her heart went out for him and she remembered the times she had spent with him after the accident. He had been nothing but honest with her… He was a closed- up man never revealing his emotions… she had expected too much. She wiped her cheeks and decided, come what may she was going to see this trial through and… stepped into the court room with the new found determination. She walked in to see the despicable Swara still shedding tears which made her angrier. The prosecutor must have just finished leading Swara on completing some sob story she had built up. Ria wondered how the woman could so blatantly lie about something so important and put her own reputation at stake not to mention.
As she sat on her seat, Gaurav turned back and looked at her frowning his face full of tight concern enhanced further by the light beard… and she nodded to him. His shoulders suddenly drooped as the expressions on his handsome face changed from the concern to confusion–anger combination to relief. She understood what Keith meant and was now firm in her resolve. She didn’t know about his past but she would stick to the truth about the present.
The prosecutor continued his tirade with Swara. “…So Ms. Sawant, what do you have to say about your so-called affair with the defendant…?”
“…OBJECTION …your honour…” Khatiyal sprang up from his seat.
“…Overruled… Ms. Sawant, please continue…” the judge sternly looked at Khatiyal and then softened her expressions at Swara.
Swara sniffed into her dupatta covering her head and spoke with a heavy voice. “… Actually, it began about three years ago and went on for two long years… you can’t call it an affair though… He would always use me… I had to be at his disposal whenever he needed me… In the hospital, it was impossible before a lot of people but he would… he would… barge into my home late hours which is close to Karma… and have his way with me… and then leave immediately… I couldn’t help it…” Swara cried into the cloth and said, “…I…just couldn’t do anything because I needed the job… and the extra money he often paid me… and then one day about a year ago…I…I drew courage and ended…everything… threatening him to leave my job… and he relented thankfully….I thought… he was done and I was free… but I was wrong… He once called me to his cabin on my birthday recently when Karuna wasn’t there… and tried…to have his way with me again… and when I pushed him away, he threatened to throw me out… I just ran out of the cabin…and just a few days later, was the party night… and I told you what happened…”
The prosecutor spoke to the judge. “Your honour, as you see the rich and the powerful always take undue advantage of the situation. Our Dr. Chopra here is not new to offenses… right from adolescence he has got away with everything… rather got bailed out by his powerful parents and probably the same happened in Dubai as well… of which we have no details… Nonetheless this time he went too far and even the board of directors and close relatives have washed their hands off… probably they had enough of his antics as well. It is an open and a shut case actually your honour and I demand the strictest punishment for Dr. Chopra under section 375 and 376A and also to add on sexual harassment of women at workplace act 2013. It will be a deterrent for those privileged who think they are above the law and can do as they please…”
He gave a snicker and went back to his seat as Khatiyal stood rubbing his reading glasses. Ria could sense the man had something up his sleeve. She waited with bated breath as Katiyal took the floor before Swara. “…well…well…looks like the prosecutor is in a hurry to finish the proceedings…Anyways, so are we. Your honour with your permission I would like to cross question the complainant…”
The judge nodded and Khatiyal began. “…So, Ms Sawant, you just said you were forced by Dr. Garav and still you continued with your job at the hospital for over two years… isn’t that too much…? You are qualified enough to get a job as a receptionist in any organisation with pay at par with this, so why didn’t you complain then? or why didn’t you leave the job…?”
“Objection your honour…” this time it was Khandagale. “…The complainant has already informed the court that she was in dire need of the job for the money it offered… how many times does she have to answer the same question…?”
“…your honour, all that I am trying to say that it seems far fetched that she would bear the so-called atrocities for such a long period… I have some evidences to prove otherwise, which I would like some clarifications from Ms. Sawant…”
“…Objection overruled… Proceed Mr. Khatiyal.” Rias thumping heart slowed in ace as she heard the judge.
“Ok…Ms. Sawant, you said you were in the job for the money, but I have proof of some of the purchases you have made in the last few months…er.. about last 8 months to be precise and I have not only receipts but also CCTV footage from the stores and they are mind you… very clear. The shop owners too can be brought here for identification if need be… so here is the list of the purchases…” Khatiyal took three sheets of paper and gave one to the judge and another one to Khandagale. Holding his copy up he added, “…As the list suggests your honour, Ms. Sawant is fond of diamond jewellery and especially visits the Joyalukas store at the Tiara mall from where she has purchased tiny pieces of diamond jewellery worth lakhs… uh… to be precise about 8 lakhs… all paid in cash…. And don’t you deny it Ms. Sawant, we have the receipts with the dates…. All paper trial can’t be hidden Ms. Sawant…” Khatiyal looked at Swara who appeared stunned, as he continued. “… your honour, She has also purchased High end electronic music system for her home having awesome features like …Multi Channels and sound output, with 1000w power output and a Subwoofer with two tall boy rear speakers… amazing taste Ms. Sawant… and the total cost for this purchase was about forty-five thousand… the list doesn’t end here your honour… Ms. Sawant has very recently invested in a plot in partnership with her boyfriend who goes by the name Monty… on the outskirts of Talegaon, which they got for a throw away price, yet the cost was 25lakhs. There was a loan taken for fifteen… so that means she arranged for the remaining ten lakhs. Monty as we have found is an unemployed youth who takes up contracts for the banks as a recovery agent…and heaviky into betting…so he has zero saving… ” Looking back at Swara he said. “…and Monty thought you were a sales executive…working for a corporate firm and doing well… Surprising he didn’t know anything about the alleged affair or the rape… isn’t it…Ms. Sawant…?”
“Your honour where does the boyfriend feature in all this… for all you know the defence has made him up…” Khandagale was hanging by a thin thread…
“…your honour, we have the coffee shop’s and a Phoenix mall footage for the last month where the lovey -dovely couple can be seen walking hand in hand and setting couple goals… I can arrange for the witnesses as well… frequent customers aren’t forgotten… though I have to say she was careful enough not to use her phone… but then we have records of Monty receiving calls from public booths and given the paucity of such booths in today’s times it wasn’t difficult to find them… So anything else… you need Mr. Khandagale…?”
Khandagale sat with an angry thud and Ria didn’t realise she was holding her breath till then as she straightened on her seat.
Khatiyal paused as the judge skimmed through the list and then he continued. “… Well Ms. Sawant, if you continued to bear the torture meted out at the hands of Dr, Gaurav which you said you did for the money… but your salary was barely twenty-five thousand in hand… so where did you get this kind of money to splurge on diamonds and plots…?”
Swara stood in stoic silence wringing her fingers in the dupatta…
Khandagale who was staring daggers at Swara stood up and spoke. “…your honour a lot of the purchases mentioned by Mr. Khatiyal were in cash… so the money could be what she received… from Dr, Gaurav for the favours…”
Khatiyal struck again. “… I wonder if you are even listening to yourself Mr. Khandagale… your honour, if she was in dire need of money to continue working inspite of the injustice meted out to her then why would she spend on luxuries…? Ms. Sawant… do you have anything to say…?” Swara didn’t say anything.
“…your honour…” Khatiyal continued. “… Mr. Khandagale spoke about the statements given to the local police by the hospital staff about the rumoured affair… but he probably didn’t read the details of all the transcripts submitted…. There were few who spoke how Ms. Sawant boasted about Dr. Gaurav’s prowess in bed… her explicit innuendos where she spoke about how he pleasured her and even on an occasion compared him to Eros and at times mentioned he was Sex on legs…”
“…OBJECTION YOUR HONOUR… Mr, Khatiyal has outraged the modesty of the complainant…” Khandagale was panting hard.
“…No, your honour…these were the words apparently spoken by the complainant herself…as per the transcripts submitted by the local police… None of it is my creation…” Khatiyal replied coolly and Ria now knew why he charged such a high retainer. Her eyes had widened out of their sockets when she had heard about the amount but realised, he was worth every penny. He had changed the course of the case. She shot a look at Gaurav who was still expressionless….
Khatiyal continued and this time his body language was different. He stood tall with an expanded chest as he spoke. “…If Ms. Sawant was “oppressed” why did she appreciate Dr. Gaurav’s sexual attributes…publicly…? Why did she use the money for luxuries…assuming the money came from Dr. Gaurav…or… were there others Ms.Sawant…?”
“OBJESCTION YOUR HONOUR…” Khandagake bellowed startling Ria.
“… Sustained…Mr. Khatiyal… language… stick to the point…” the judge warned
“…Sorry your honour, but this is what the prosecutor did to my client by raking up his past which had nothing to do with this case… and tarnished his image. As you see… Ms. Sawant here has blatantly lied to the court about the so-called affair… haven’t you Ms. Sawant…”
“…N..n..no… I have not… he had forced himself on me many times…” Swara spoke meekly.
“…Well did he have sex with you on all those occasions…?”
“OBJECTION…your honour…” Khandagale screamed.
“…Just give me a minute your honour…I promise you this is very relevant…” Khatiyal pleaded.
“…Overruled… Mr. Khatiyal this better be good…” The judge looked annoyed as well.
“So, answer the question Ms. Sawant, did Dr. Gaurav have sex with you every time he apparently visited you and forced himself on you…?” Khatiyal asked again.
Swara nodded… her fingers tightly entangled in the cloth she was holding and Ria could sense the tension and right then she felt eyes on her and looked to see Gaurav was staring at her unmoving… Why was he looking at her…? He should focus on the proceedings shouldn’t he…? It felt as if he was trying to convey something to Ria… but his expression was somber… somehow, she knew he was aware of what was coming up next and wanted to see her reaction… God help her… what else was there…?
“…two last questions Ms. Sawant. First one, did he penetrate the very first time you had sex…?”
Swara looked pleadingly at the judge who was now waiting for the answer, so was Ria… Khatiyal spoke again. “…please answer the question Ms. Sawant… did he penetrate the first time you had sex…? Yes or no…?”
Swara nodded and looked at her hands. “Yes…”
“…And now the last question…When was the first time you had sex…was it three years ago as you said…?” Silence… “…ANSWER the question Ms. Sawant…” Khatiyal turned up his intensity…
“…YES… YES HE DID… EVERY SINGLE TIME HE FORCED HIMSELF ON ME IN THE TWO YEARS THAT HE FUCKED ME….ARE YOU HAPPY NOW…?” Swara screamed and gripped the bars of the witness box and started to sob.
“What the hell was all this your honour…?” Khandagale stood and spoke spreading his hands.
“…Mr. Khatiyal… we are waiting…” the judge adjusted her glasses as she stared at him.
“…for that I hereby submit Dr. Gaurav’s medical report your honour, this is from the renowned sexologist Dr. Sriram Tyagi from whom Dr. Gaurav has been taking treatment for five years now….” He placed the folder before the judge. “… Actually, your honour Dr. Gaurav had an… accident over five years ago after which he developed severe erectile dysfunction as a result of his heavy medications for anxiety disorder. The reports have all been attached. The doctor has issued a signed report stating Dr. Gaurav’s condition had shown considerable…er… sustainable improvement only in the last one year after he was weaned off the drugs… then in such a case how could he have penetrative sex your honour…?” The judge reverted back to the reports as Khatiyal spoke. “… So, as you see in this case your honour, the allegations of the affair as told by Ms. Sawant are baseless and just a means to unduly frame my client who is innocent. He has always been respectful towards all the womenfolk in the hospital as mentioned in the very same transcripts… and just because he has a certain past it shouldn’t prejudiced against him for what he is today…”
The judge went through the reports in silence and looked at Khandagale.
“Your honour… even if we assume that the affair allegations are baseless what about the strong circumstantial evidence of rape that happened on 29th July…? Medical evidence does prove rape and we have evidence of Dr. Chopra in Ms. Sawant’s flat…” Khandagale appeared to make one last ditch attempt to save his face.
“…Your honour, while I do not deny the occurrence of rape, it was not committed by Dr. Chopra…” Khatiyal spoke calmly. “…to prove that I will present my last set of evidence and the material witness whose testimony will change the tide of this case.”
The judge lifted up her eyes from the documents before her. “…We are done for today. The next hearing will be tomorrow and I hope we can come to a conclusion and finish this trial. Mr. Khatiyal, you may present the evidences and your witness tomorrow at 9.30AM sharp…And Mr. Khandagale you will have a chance to counter question and present your side of the story if any…” The judge banged the grovel once and stood up before turning around and leaving the court room.
Immediately the lady constables and the lady accompanying Swara came over and took Swara out of the court room followed by Khandagale and his assistant. Ria heaved a sigh of relief as she looked at Gaurav who was in deep conversation with Manek and Khatiyal. Keith came up to her, “…are you OK…? We will leave from the back door and Manek will come with Gaurav sir later… we have to escape that storm downstairs…. Come on… lets go…” Ria nodded and covered her head and Keith held her hand as they left the courtroom. While steeping outside she turned around only to see Gaurav pause in his conversation and look up to stare deep into her eyes… those beautiful blacks were tormented but something told her it was not just this case…
Ria reached the safe house and went straight to her bedroom. Keith had struggled and brought her out of the back gates safely to an auto stand from where they had hired an auto to reach home. She was exhausted both physically and mentally and after having a hot cup of coffee offered by Keith, she settled on the couch to check the news.
‘…In the fresh updates coming in, there has been a major turn of events in the rape case involving the important element of the Chopra group of hospitals, Dr. Gaurav Chopra, where in it was proved that the case of alleged affair was all made up… the medical details which nailed the apparent lie of the survivor has been thoroughly classified… the trial continues tomorrow as the defense is all set to prove Dr. Chopra’s innocence in the rape case as well…’ The reporter blabbered on the different IPCs and how they would matter to the case if the balance tilted on either side.
The bottom line was, her testimony mattered the most to swing it in their favour and she knew she had to remain strong…considering the way Khandagale acted with the other witnesses today, she was sure she was stepping in to the tiger’s lair… and Khandagale was indeed a hungry tiger.
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