Grabbing headlines and TV slots in India lately, is one big deal of a case: murder. About three years ago, on May 7, 2008, a young man called Neeraj Grover was brutally killed by an ex-navy officer called Emile Jerome Mathew in the apartment of a Kannada actress called Maria Susairaj. Mathew and Susairaj were in a relationship, but she also had a ‘sleeping partnership’ with Grover, a producer with a private television channel. The story was almost farcical, but had tragic consequences.
As far as it can be reconstructed, this is how the morning went: Grover was at Susairaj’s apartment early that morning. Unfortunately for him, his presence could not be put down to his being a colleague or a reporter or even an electrician or deliver man, since he was naked. Susairaj’s regular boyfriend, Mathew dropped in without warning and lost his temper at seeing an unclad man in the flat. In a fit of passion, he stabbed Grover with a kitchen knife. Grover collapsed and died soon after.
But there is more to the story. First, Mathew had heard Grover’s voice in the background the evening before, when he called Susairaj on the phone. The woman told her boyfriend that Grover was merely helping her move into her new apartment, but Mathew warned her not to let the ‘friend’ stay overnight. The anger in his mind over the new man in his lady love’s life had already been ignited.
Second, and worst of all, once the murder had been committed, Mathew and Susairaj apparently had sex, with the body in the same room, before dismembering the corpse and then packing it in plastic before getting rid of it. And the disposal was as macabre – they wrapped each part of the cut-up body in garbage bags that they went out to buy, then stuffed the bags into the boot of a borrowed car, took it to a wooded area on the outskirts of Mumbai, poured liquid fuel on the remains and set fire to the heap.
Then came the great cover-up. They reported Grover missing, they made up stories about knowing him or not, they lied at every corner and with every word they spoke.
And, after all that, they got caught. Susairaj has spent the last three years in jail. So has Mathew. And while they have done their time, the case has been fought in court, all the evidence presented and debated.
Yesterday, the verdict was pronounced. And Mumbai is stunned. Maria Susairaj was sentenced to three years in jail for attempting to conceal evidence, while Emile Jerome Mathew was given ten years in jail for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and attempting to conceal evidence.
This means that Susairaj will walk free, having already served that term, while Mathew has just seven years to go, probably getting out earlier for good behaviour, if he manages that. Grover’s parents are shocked and demand that the case be reopened.
His father has told the press: “We were expecting death sentence for both Maria and Jerome. I think the investigating agency has not probed the case properly. I am not going to sit quiet. I will spend every single penny of mine to get Neeraj’s killers the death sentence.”
It is not just Mumbai and the Grover family, but the judiciary that is horrified by this sentence. Most judges and lawyers asked their opinion believe that there has been a grave miscarriage of justice.
The public, of course, has been voicing their collective protest on the matter and its outcome. Most want to know how such a blatant and horrific murder could be excused so easily. Is it that easy to kill and get away with it, with no consequences? That is the questions many are asking.
The same kind of question was asked some years ago, when a young model called Jessica Lal was shot and killed by Manu Sharma when she refused to serve him another drink. The murder happened in front of a huge party of people well known in the Delhi circuit, but Sharma managed to walk free for many years… until the power of public opinion went to work and managed to get the case reopened, re-heard, re-judged and the murderer re-accused.
Justice did get served in that instance, with the killer being handed a life sentence. It took years of fighting by the media, by Jessica’s sister and by those who believed that the law should be upheld honourably and fairly, for an unnatural death to be appropriately dealt with.
Is that what needs to happen in this case, when a young man’s fault was to be enamoured of a pretty young woman? And will any murder, done for passion, be considered so trivial a pursuit that the killer can walk free without too much trouble? Is this what justice is all about?
Is anyone listening?
Ramya Sarma is a Mumbai-based writer-editor.