The first day of the Trial involved opening statements of both, the prosecutor and Khatiyal. Fortunately, it was a closed-door trial considering the sensitivity of the case. Swara was seated in the front row with another young woman and she had covered her face. Ria tried to catch a glance of the woman responsible for the entire ordeal but couldn’t. Their judge was a stern looking woman in her fifties and just by looking at her Ria wasn’t able to guess whose side she favoured prima facie. From their side they had Khatiyal and his assistant, Guarav, Keith, Manek and Ria.
The Prosecutor in his opening statement gave a gist of Swara’s impoverished background for which she had to struggle to make ends meet and her job at the hospital was extremely important. She tolerated Gaurav’s advances towards her whenever he called her to his cabin on pretext of work but couldn’t retaliate as she needed to keep up her job. Finally, he dropped a bomb. “Your honour, here is something which will throw light on the accusations a little more. The complainant was in a physical relationship with the accused for about two years before she broke-up with him. In spite of that, the accused harassed her at work for months before forcing himself on her on the night of 29th July. The evidences have been produced. We hereby demand the harshest of punishment for the heinous crime. That’s all your honour…”
Ria was stunned the topic had come up in this manner but Preeti had told her about it on Swara’s birthday celebration at work and Swara had looked upset too… Oh God… But still, it was difficult to believe. She herself spent most evenings the last month before her accident, waiting for his summons to his cabin but she had never seen Swara at all… Ria then focussed on what Khatiyal spoke.
“…Your honour, there is no proof of the said harassment or any kind of relationship between my client and the complainant. My client is an upright law-abiding citizen. I here have signed statements of the staff from the Chopra group of hospitals, Pune branch, regarding his character… which is being unduly shredded. He had been nothing but a reasonable boss. I also have as witness his secretary Karuna who kept tabs on everyone visiting him in the cabin… As presented earlier we have a witnesses to corroborate our stand. Hence the very accusation is baseless and we hereby plead not guilty….”
Ria couldn’t help but look at Gaurav whose forlorn expressions gave away his turmoil. Khatiyal was good but so was the prosecutor… It was scary.
The judge granted permission to call in Karuna and she was brought in by another woman. When did she come? Ria wondered…
Karuna stood in the witness box as she was asked to give a general detail about the people coming into Gaurav’s cabin and in case of women if she noticed any changes in their demeanours. Karuna luckily only had positive to speak about Gaurav and that was calming enough for Ria’s nerves. Till now it was Khatiyal who was questioning Karuna and all seemed fine. Soon it was the turn of the prosecutor for cross questioning.
“So… Mrs. Karuna Sobti… since when have you been working for Dr. Chopra… or rather Chopra Group of hospitals…?” The stern looking prosecutor she now knew as Jagadish Khandagale, asked Karuna in a very casual tone. And as Karuna spoke about her journey of fifteen years with the Chopra Group and Mr. Khandagale just smiled and kept urging her to continue, Ria somehow felt it was the lull before the storm… and she was right. Once Karuna finished talking about her journey, the judge appeared bored as well.
“So… Mrs. Karuna, you have been a witness to all that happened outside Dr. Gaurav’s cabin… is it right?”
“…Yes… that’s correct. I handle his appointments and meetings and chat up with whoever has to wait before he summons them inside. At times I even walk-in during meetings to get a file or important signature… uh… Gaurav sir has given me complete liberty to do so…” Karuna spoke with an air of pride and Ria couldn’t help but smile.
“…Ok. Then Mrs. Sobti, have you seen Ms. Sawant… Swara Sawant visit Dr. Gaurav’s cabin in the last three years…?”
“…Yes, the receptionists are also in charge of sorting the mail and categorising them before getting them upstairs. Same with couriers. At times we have deliveries which come up and in the supervisor’s absence the receptionist brings the receipts for the signatures. So just like the other two, Swara would also visit the cabin…” Karuna looked a little shaken as she glanced at Gaurav. Gaurav held a stoic expression all throughout staring at the floor.
“Well… is there a possibility that he met Swara after work hours…?”
“OBJECTION YOUR HONOUR… the prosecutor is leading the witness…” Khatiyal stood startling Ria.
The judge spoke in a stern voice. “Mr. Khandagale kindly do not stray from the course of the topic…Objection sustained…”
Mr. Khandagale shook his head as a grey lock fell over his forehead, smiling as he continued. “…ok Mrs. Sobti. How many phones does Dr. Gaurav keep…?”
“Two… One for personal use which is a private number and the other is for office use…” Ria could see Karuna clasp her palms.
“Does he keep the office phone with him or does he keep it back… before he leaves the hospital…?”
“He takes the phone with him because at time there are work related calls which he has to take…especially regarding supplies or some medical emergency in the hospital…”
“What about on 29th July… did he take the phone with him…?”
Karuna looked at Gaurav.
“Look here Mrs. Sobti…” Mr. Khandagale’s voice was stern. “…It’s a question of laying down the facts… Just tell the court if he took the phone with him on 29th of July… the day of the party…?”
“…I…I am not sure… he should have actually…”
“Did he… or did he not…?”
“…I don’t think so… he was looking for it when he got back to work on Tuesday… I couldn’t reach him as well…” Karuna’s voice cracked and she looked nervous.
“…Your Honour…” Mr. Khandagale looked at the judge. “… I doubt Mrs. Sobti here is telling the facts… she is just saying what was fed to her by the accused…”
“OBJECTION…” Khatiyal screamed
“…overruled…. Mr. Khandagale, please proceed…” the judge gave a stern look to Khatiyal who sat down like a meek puppy. Ria’s heart skipped a beat. What the hell was happening…?
Mr. Khandagale smiled a cunning one and said. “…the truth is in the phone records submitted your honour. The phone was found on the crime scene. The accused was stone drunk and didn’t realise his phone was missing till he was back in office… As for meeting the complainant, the accused visited his bar which he handles in partnership with his friend… the complainant lives close to the venue so it was easy for him to pay her a visit…”
“Objection your honour, these are baseless allegations with no proof whatsoever. The phone could have been placed… by vested interests…” Khatiyal stood and spoke.
“…Oh, is that so Mr. Khatiyal…?” Mr. Khandagale turned to Khatiyal. “…What about the other evidences…presented to the court… and as for signed statements from employees…I have some signed statements too…”
Khandagale presented a sheet of paper to the judge. “…Your honour this is the result of the questioning done by the local police in the hospital. More than fifty percent of the employees said they had a doubt about the complainant’s affair with their bossman. Two years to be precise…” He looked at Gaurav with a lopsided grin and Ria couldn’t hate him more. She saw a pensive Gaurav continue to drill holes on the floor and not move. “…Your honour… there is no smoke without fire… isn’t there…?”
“…Your honour, Ms Swara Sawant has had a dubious reputation where she has been linked with every second man at work… even in her previous workplaces… so linking is common knowledge here…. There is no evidence of any kind of harassment at work. No evidence at all… either from Ms. Sawant or anyone else….” Khatiyal looked to be in form.
“…your honour, the defense lawyer is outraging the modesty of the complainant…”
“…So is he your honour… all set to humiliate my client for no fault of his…”
The judge ordered. “APPROACH the bench…” Both the lawyers went close but Ria could hear everything that was happening since it was a small room. She saw the proceedings were being recorded as well.
The judge removed her reading glasses and spoke. “Mr. Khatiyal, and Mr. Khandagale we have very pressing circumstantial evidences against the accused and also the data gathered by the local police. I am not here to do a character analysis… Medical evidence indicates rape… so cut to the chase. I don’t care how many boyfriends the survivor had or whatever… I want to know if the accused had committed the crime or not…I need to know if he was at that place at that time…so stop bickering like amateur lawyers and strap it up… I hope you know the seriousness of this case…”
Both the lawyers nodded and went back to their positions. And Kahtiyal returned with a pendrive.
“Your honour I would like to present to the court, the cleared CCTV footage of the bar for last Tuesday… the footage is extremely grainy yet and we have reasons to believe the woman in the footage is Ms. Swara Sawant… once you view it, I would call upon Mr. Keith Sequiera…” Khatiyal handed over the pen drive to the judge and both the lawyers and the judge viewed the footage. Following this Keith was ordered to come forward.
“Mr. Sequiera… What happened on the night of last Tuesday in that bar…?” Khatiyal asked him.
“… Your honour, I was waiting for Gaurav sir in the vehicle like always and that particular night it was extremely late which looked a little unusual, considering he had to get back to work next morning at the hospital. So, I went to check in and found the place completely dark and him lying on the floor… I sprinkled water to bring him up and helped his get to the washroom and in that light, I saw marks on his neck …some on the face… exactly like the pictures submitted. His pant… his fly was open and it looked like… he was… I mean…” Keith looked away and rubbed his face. Oh God what had happened…? Gaurav was framed and Ria was more and more confident now.
“Well Mr. Sequiera, why don’t you tell the court what you think happened…?” Khatiyal asked him.
“…From the looks of it, Gaurav sir was drugged and he had collapsed… not knowing what had transpired… it was like he was in a fudge state… One of our waiters Ram Singh who as the only one on duty has been missing… and we are trying to locate him. His phone is switched off too… The only CCTV footage we could extract was grainy and our technical guy worked and tried to clear it… this was the best we could have…”
Khatiyal gestured to Khandagale and sat back in his place. Ria looked at Gaurav but he was still staring daggers at the floor. Absolutely no reaction… she wanted to shake him up… rattle him…
“So… Mr. Sequiera, or is it Bablu Bhai…?” Khandaglale snickered. Ria was stunned to even react… Keith looked stone faced but she knew he was angry. What was this alais… anything to do with his past?
“OBJECTION your honour…” Khatiyal stood up again.
“…Mr. Khandagale, no name calling. Stick to the facts…” The judge reprimanded him and he chuckled holding his hands up.
“…Sorry your honour… sometimes the past doesn’t leave the person… ok… so Mr. Sequiera, pray tell me when all this happened last Tuesday… why was a police complaint not filed…?”
“…Uh… Your honour… Gaurav Sir didn’t want to involve the police…. the reputation of the bar would have been at stake…”
“…Oh Come one Mr. Sequiera, here his life and reputation are on line and all that you thought was the bar’s reputation…? Are we kids here…? The CCTV recordings which you finally managed to retrieve are exactly the part where you find the complainant…nothing before or after that… that too not clear…. Do you expect us to believe the crap you just spoke…? As for the marks… now your honour…” Kandagale looked at the judge even as Ria’s anxiety spiked through the roof. What was going on? “…Your honour I would once again like to call upon Mrs. Sobti on the witness stand…”
Keith left and Karuna came up again… this time she was visibly disturbed. “So Mrs. Sobti, we have signed statements from everyone who attended the party that night that Dr. Chopra was not present at the venue… However, I want to know if you saw the marks on his neck and arms when he came back to work on Monday…”
“…Uh… I am not sure…” Karuna looked pleadingly at Gaurav but he didn’t look up… as though he had turned into a statue.
“…Mrs. Sobti… is it a yes or no…” Khandagale’s voice was stern.
“…I don’t know…OK? He was… dressed completely… like he always does… arms are covered… his suit extends to the neck completely… so…I don’t really…know…anything…” Karuna was almost in tears. Ria’s heart went out for her. She then also realised Gaurav always dressed completely covering his arms and neck… She had only seen him a couple of times without that cover and both times it had been dark… What did that have anything to do with the case…?
“that’s all your honour… Mrs. Sobti you may go… So, as you see your honour, Dr. Chopra knew to hide his scars too well and attended work on Monday and Tuesday in a way that apart from his secretary no one saw him at work… how very convenient… and then this fabricated story of the bar night for which there are no witnesses for the exact events. Your honour, the other waiters were sent away early that evening… again indicating towards a deeper sinister planning by the accused. Then, he didn’t attend the hospital at all till he was arrested on Friday… so that his story would be corroborated. For all we know Dr. Chopra had got drunk and fell asleep in the same stupor….” He then looked at Gaurav with a side smile and walked towards him as he said,
“… Your honour I request you to squash the evidence…”
Copyright Disclaimer: All content posted here is a work of fiction and original work based on the author’s imagination. There is no intention to disrespect any person or faith. Any resemblance to any person living or dead or any community is purely coincidental. No part of the content can be copied, reproduced or posted anywhere else either entirely or in parts, without the consent of the author.