“Main Tarveen Suri ki beti hoon. Woh toh mar gayi….
I am Tarveen Suri’s daughter. She’s dead. You can find her body at my uncle’s house in New Friend’s colony. I think the event (cremation) will take place at 4 pm.”
An HT reporter still remembers the deadpan, stoic nine-year-old who opened the door at the Greater Kailash-II home of Tarveen Bawa, known to Delhi after her death by her post-marriage name, Mona Suri.
Delhi's policemen, not particularly known for their sensitivity, too remember the chill they felt, 44 days before this encounter, when they answered a distress call from the same girl.
It was 8 pm on August 11, 2007, when the police control room listened to the nine-year-old — Mona's family requested we withhold her name — cry and plead for help as her mother burned before her.
In the background, her six-month-old sister cried for Mona, then 35.
Her father-in-law and a maid heard the girls scream and doused the flame.
It was too late to save Mona.
More than 70 days after her daughter's frantic phone call to the police, Mona died in hospital of 80 per cent burns.
Successful, talented and the mother of two, Mona epitomised the middle-class Delhi dream, and that perhaps is why her murder shocked a city otherwise inured to violence.
Mona was a fashion designer and married the man she loved — or so she thought when she left her career for Naveen Suri. Her commitment was deep enough to stay through his alleged philandering.
“But then the beatings began,” said Sarika Bawa, Mona's sister-in-law, who says Mona was disturbed enough to try an overdose of sleeping pills in June 2007.
The police say they haven't yet got the two killers, who, from Mona's account, appear to have been hitmen.
Two years later, the horror for Mona's family is intact.After 24 months of meandering investigations led to no arrests, the grieving, exasperated Suri family filed a petition in the Delhi High Court, which in October 2009 ordered specialists of the Crime Branch to take over the case from the local police.
The last doorbell
On the day Mona was set ablaze, the doorbell first rang at house number E-325 at 6:15 pm.
When Mona, who lived on the first floor of her father-in-law's house, went to the gate, there was no one.
Security guard Anil Biswal, employed at E-354, opposite the house of the victim, later told police of two men on a blue motorcycle who rang the doorbell and fled. He did not note the registration number of the motorcycle.
At 8 pm Biswal was on duty at the gate, when the doorbell rang again.
When Mona went to the gate, two men pulled her out of her house by her hair. One emptied a jerry can of kerosene over her back, lit a box of matchsticks and set her alight.
Hearing her cries, Mona's daughter rushed to the first-floor balcony and saw her mother aflame. She called the police from the landline telephone in the drawing room.
As Mona lay in agony in a hospital bed, she told investigators that the two men were sent by Rachna Brahmwar, her husband's alleged lover.
Apart from the two killers, Rachna (37) was one of three prime suspects.
The others were Mona's husband Naveen Suri (38) and Rachna's father SK Brahmwar:
· Naveen, now a senior manager with an international travel agency had an alibi that his cellphone records and offical documents backed. He was on an official visit to Goa when Mona was attacked. That evening — the cellphone records also revealed — he had an hour-long conversation with Rachna.
· Rachna, a divorcee, had a strong alibi as well. She was in Kochi with her sister. Rachna got to know Naveen in a carpool. Mona alleged the two had an affair, during which Rachna would make threatening calls, something Naveen alleged as well in a statement to police. Four days before her death, Rachna tried to mow down Mona with her car, Mona's family alleged.
Rachna said she “lost control”.
· Motor-workshop owner and real-estate dealer Brahmwar, Rachna's father, admitted to police he was annoyed with Mona and her family for their “hostile behaviour” to his daughter.
A family's battle
Photographs of her smiling face. 500 newspaper clippings. Bitter memories.
For the Bawa family, this is all that's left of their Mona.
Former timber merchant Manjeet Bawa is 75, and lives in the hope that his two-year struggle to bring his daughter's killers to justice will succeed.
His confidence in the police is low. “They know who killed my daughter, but no one is ready to do anything about it,” Bawa told HT.
“We are looking into the case from every possible angle, further investigations are pending in the case,” said Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime Branch) Neeraj Thakur.
Apart from key suspect Rachna, Naveen and two colleagues were put through a lie-detector tests and administered truth serum, or narcoanalysis.
Rajeev and Rohit were cleared, but Rachna wasn't.
“It is pertinent to mention that narcoanalysis tests in this case especially for Ms. Rachna has become essential not because of the reason that the test is used as an evidence in the case but because of compelling reason...," said a police report to the Delhi High Court.
“Police have all the evidence they need to make an arrest, but till now not a single person has been arrested,” said Rahul Mehra, attorney for the Bawas. Mona's first statement to the police said Rachna was involved.
“Why was not that statement taken seriously?” he asked.
“She was having an illicit relationship with the husband of the deceased and got into confrontation with her (Mona) over it,” said Mehra. “Dumb data collected by the police later proved that she was in the vicinity when her car was used to run over Mona.”
“She had nothing to do in Kochi, but (was) just (there) to create a strong alibi. Is all this not enough?”