“Why would anyone kill a five-year-old like that?”
The question has come to haunt Dr Rajesh Chawla (30), who discovered the body of his son in his own bedroom 11 months ago, the child's tiny skull torn apart, and blood splashed over the walls.
Nearby lay his wife, Dr Deepti Chawla (28) in a pool of blood, with her chest, abdomen and wrists slashed.
Five hours ago, Rajesh had laid eyes on his living son for the last time.
“Bye, papa,” the boy had called as always, waving to Chawla from the right-hand balcony of their first-floor apartment. “It was our routine,” says Rajesh Chawla.
It was 3:30 p.m on February 5, 2009. Chawla was leaving in his car for his gym Muscle and Fitness Centre, a four-minute drive away.
Deepti, a homeopathic practitioner like her husband, had stayed behind to help Sarthak with his homework. The boy had recently started attending Silver Bells School at nearby Kavi Nagar.
At 8:30 p.m. came the phone call, which infused into the breezy spring evening the quality of a nightmare.
Suraj Kumar (35), who delivered milk to the Chawlas, called up Rajesh that night, a note of worry in his voice. The door to the couple's apartment was locked and there was no response either to the doorbell or Kumar's phone calls.
Rajesh rushed to his home at Satyadeep Apartments. Quiet shrouded its tree-lined compound.
More silence greeted Rajesh Chawla in response to pressing the doorbell.
Desperate to get into his two-room apartment by now, Chawla asked guard Ram Veer (45) to get him a ladder, and climbed up to the balcony.
What Chawla saw from the narrow chink between the wooden door and the wall turned his blood cold.
Sarthak lay inert on the bed. Chawla pushed with all his might against the door and broke it open.
The room was soaked in blood; his son's body brutalized, still dressed in the red and grey striped sweater and warm trousers he'd worn saying goodbye to Rajesh. His wife, lay breathing but unconscious. The receiver of the land line phone was off the hook.
The home did not seem to be robbed.
The silence at R-8/2 G1 Rajnagar, Ghaziabad, was ripped apart.
Within minutes of the news breaking, a crowd and mediapersons gathered at the spot, unwittingly destroying vital evidence in the process.
“We did secure the scene of crime and lifted finger-prints and forensic evidence,” SP (City) Rahul Yadvendu said. But the fact that senior police officials like the SSP, SP, Circle Officer and Station Officer at the time have now been transferred, suggests otherwise.
Deepti Chawla was rushed to the intensive care unit (ICU) of Shivam Hospital where doctors said she had suffered 18 critical wounds, causing severe damage to her vital organs. She is still recovering from the assault at her parental house in Ludhiana and has visited the crime scene twice since then to depose in the case.
From what police discovered at the site, it is clear whoever visited the apartment that day had cold-blooded murder on his mind.
A blood-coated hammer, ice-pick and knife — instruments used to affect the assault — were recovered from the bedroom. The fingerprints on the instruments have yet to be matched with those of family members and suspects, said the SP.
An FIR was registered at Kavinagar police station for murder and assault.
After initial questioning of various people, including the milkman, police listed the bereaved parents and guard Ram Veer as their suspects. Reason? Police say all doors of the apartment were locked from within at the time and no one could have entered or left.
However, police say they have no conclusive evidence against anyone and are awaiting permission to administer suspects truth serum, or narco-analysis. What throws a spanner in their 'no assailant' theory is the statement of the only person who survived that night’s assault: prime witness Deepti Chawla.
The mother's version
Eleven months after the assault on her, still-recuperating Deepti's body will heal eventually.
The emotional scars are another matter.
Deepti could give police her statement only on February 9, 2009, having battled death in hospital for three days. Contrary to what police suggest, Deepti said someone did enter the bedroom where she was helping her son with his homework.
“The maidservant had left. After some time I smelled a peculiar perfume and lost control over my limbs,” Deepti told police. The perfume rendered her virtually paralysed, she said.
“I saw a person who had his back towards me. He hammered my child to death. I was unable to help my son. He then stabbed me again and again and disappeared from the room.”
The unidentified assailant mentioned by Deepti Chawla is still at large. It is clear he did not come to rob. Around Rs 20,000-30,000 cash kept in the apartment at the time were not taken, say police. The jewellery Deepti was wearing at the time too was left intact.
“From the brutal killing, it seems that some one had committed the crime out of hatred. We had no family dispute. There was no enmity with anyone,” says Rajesh Chawla.
Police do not seem to be searching too hard for motives or suspects.
“These people (the parents and the security guard) have emerged as suspects,” said Yadvendu.
Police say the guard is a suspect as he was the only witness at the society’s gate that day. The attendance register he maintained does not show anyone visited the Chawlas on February 5.
In 2009, police requested twice for lie-detector tests for the suspects, but could not succeed as the application was not forwarded through proper procedure. Police have again forwarded a request for a test date.
Police remain tight-lipped in the case, saying they have collected “insufficient' evidence, which needs to be corroborated with the help of the scientific test.
The Chawlas say they are willing to cooperate with all investigations. “We both are ready to undergo the tests," says Chawla.
“We are ready for the tests to find out the assailant of our child even though the police may suspect us of the crime.”