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How Gehlot became Dahiya after murdering ‘girl with the peacock tattoo’

Gehlot, 39, was no ordinary fugitive. Involved in one of the most high-profile cases in the Capital, he was wanted for the 2011 murder of Neetu Solanki, often referred to in crime chronicles as “the girl with the peacock tattoo”.

delhi Updated: Jul 04, 2019 09:00 IST
Shiv Sunny and Karn Pratap Singh
Shiv Sunny and Karn Pratap Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Kartar Singh Solanki (L) and Sushila, parents of Neetu Solanki, who was murdered by her live-in partner Raju Gehlot and her body was found stuffed in a bag outside the New Delhi railway station in February 2011, hold up clippings and pictures of their daughter at their home, in New Delhi, India, on Friday, June 28, 2019. (Photo by Burhaan Kinu/ Hindustan Times)
Kartar Singh Solanki (L) and Sushila, parents of Neetu Solanki, who was murdered by her live-in partner Raju Gehlot and her body was found stuffed in a bag outside the New Delhi railway station in February 2011, hold up clippings and pictures of their daughter at their home, in New Delhi, India, on Friday, June 28, 2019. (Photo by Burhaan Kinu/ Hindustan Times)
         

When Delhi Police inspector Ritesh Kumar received a phone call on the morning of June 26, he didn’t expect it to be the information he had waited for since 2011. “Aapka shikaar Gurgaon ke ek hospital mein admit hai (your target is admitted to a Gurugram hospital),” the caller said hurriedly before signing off.

Kumar didn’t have to ask who the informer was referring to. The inspector had carefully cultivated him for eight years for a single aim: capturing Raju Gehlot, preferably alive. When Kumar reached the hospital, he didn’t get everything he had wanted. The man lying on a hospital bed was Raju Gehlot, but he was dead. Not for the first time, he had beaten the officer by a few hours.

Gehlot, 39, was no ordinary fugitive. Involved in one of the most high-profile cases in the Capital, he was wanted for the 2011 murder of Neetu Solanki, often referred to in crime chronicles as “the girl with the peacock tattoo”.

“The killer and his victim belonged to good families, were well educated and had promising careers,” said retired additional commissioner of police Ashok Chand, who first headed the probe. Gehlot carried a reward of ₹2 lakh on his head.

What the investigators didn’t know until June 26 was that Gehlot had assumed a new identity - Rohan Dahiya - and was living and working for at least four years in Gurugram, less than 30km from the Delhi Police headquarters.

TWO SIDES OF A ROAD

The tall, clean-cut Gehlot had tried his hand at modelling and had worked at a travel firm before joining Air India’s cabin crew. He lived with his mother and siblings in west Delhi’s Nawada village, located on one side of the Najafgarh Road.

Across Najafgarh Road, in the village Maitala, lived Neetu Solanki. She has been variously described by the people who knew her as “stylish”, “modern” and an “inspiration” for younger girls in the locality.

For her father Kartar Singh, a real estate agent, Solanki was a brave girl who was “made for bigger things”. In 2007, he even propelled her into politics - at 25, Solanki unsuccessfully contested the municipal elections in Matiala to eat into the share of a candidate who was his business rival. He does not remember how many votes she got.

Solanki got a law degree but started working at a call centre sometime in 2009. It was around then that a common friend introduced Gehlot and Solanki at a pub, according to the police case files. They grew close quickly. Solanki even brought Gehlot home once, but her parents did not get a good feeling from him. “He looked like a man withholding lots of secrets,” Sushila said.

By March 2010, the couple started living together even as Gehlot stopped reporting to work and ignored communications from his employer, Air India. According to the police, the two wanted to marry but feared opposition from their families - possibly the reason behind their leaving town in the middle of that year. Solanki told her parents that she had found a job in Singapore. Gehlot didn’t tell his family anything.

Police said that the two worked in call centres, first in Mumbai and then in Bangalore. But an allegedly drunk Gehlot got into a fight with some people while he was in Bangalore; things got ugly, and the two were forced to return to Delhi in December 2010.

Now unemployed, the couple rented a home near Ashram Chowk.

VIOLENT STREAK

Policy say that around this time, Gehlot allegedly started getting violent with Solanki over her insistence that he claim a share in his ancestral property. “At one point, Solanki set Gehlot’s documents and educational certificates on fire,” said one of the investigators.

On February 10, 2011, Solanki’s father remembers noticing her bandaged head when she made a video call to her parents. The police later found that the couple had been fighting that day over money. “In the early hours of February 11, Solanki called up Gehlot’s sister over the property,” said the investigator. “This led to a fresh quarrel. Things got out of hand - Gehlot stabbed and killed her.”

Police say that Gehlot stuffed Solanki’s body in a travel bag and went to New Delhi railway station with the intention of throwing it somewhere in the mountains. But he got scared when he spotted an x-ray scanner at the entrance, left the body in the station compound, and left. “Gehlot borrowed R10,000 from his cousin Naveen Shokeen and confided in him about the killing,” a police officer said. Much of police’s finding about the trigger for the murder and sequence of events around the crime is based on the interrogation of Shokeen who was arrested on charges of harbouring a criminal.

GIRL WITH PEACOCK TATTOO

Solanki’s body was discovered not long after it was dumped. When no one turned up to claim the body despite publicity in the form of posters and newspaper reports describing the tattoo, the police cremated the body on February 22.

The next day, her parents came to the New Delhi Railway Station police station.

Solanki’s mobile phone had been switched off after she last called her parents on February 10. “We were worried, but thought she wanted to pay us a surprise visit,” said Sushila whose husband had learnt of her murder from a newspaper report he happened to come across.

The parents’ say their experience with the police was unpleasant, at best. “The investigators tried to frame us for killing our daughter for ‘honour’,” alleged Sushila.

But Rajiv Ranjan, additional commissioner of police (crime branch), says the police went out of their way to search for the suspected killer. “Every mobile phone number Gehlot could possibly contact remained under our surveillance until his death,” Ranjan said.

Chand says that his men trailed Gehlot to over half-a-dozen cities, taking up jobs as waiters, bartenders and even applying for jobs at multiple call centres in Goa, Mumbai and Bangalore where Gehlot may have sought employment.

“He didn’t have money, so he could not have escaped from India. But he was a man with fluent English and etiquette, so we believed he would seek jobs in the hospitality sector or at call centres,” said Chand. There were times when we got within striking distance, but could not catch him.

SO NEAR YET SO FAR

Chand acknowledges, however, that Gurugram was never on the police radar.

While details of Gehlot’s early months as a fugitive remain unexplored or sketchy, what is certain is that he took up work at different Gurugram call centres in at least three-four years. The last one was in Sector 18, barely 3km from the Delhi-Haryana border. He also acquired an Aadhaar card, a PAN card, and a driving license.

Raju Gehlot turned into Rohan Dahiya, a resident of Bhim Garh Kheri, a semi-urban village in Gurugram. With many Dahiyas living in the neighbourhood, it was easy for him to become one among them.

Gehlot didn’t need to change his appearance. Instead, he changed his behaviour. No one at either his office or paying guest accommodation ever had a reason to complain any longer.

“He never ever lost his temper with anyone,” said a colleague, who remember him as a man of few words who was good performer at work and received a promotion for it just this year. He earned R25,000 a month, and because of his fluent English, was a trainer for new employees.

“He would always find an excuse not to get photographed. He would never attend social gatherings,” said one of his senior colleagues. He did not use a smart phone and had only two dozen contacts in his phone - most of them of his colleagues. He never discussed his family.

“He avoided the digital world as much as he could. He cut himself off with his old life and never contacted his family after the initial attempts,” said Chand. The places Gehlot lived in were less than 30km from his Nawada home.

About a year ago, Gehlot rented a shared room on the first floor of a well-maintained paying guest accommodation nestled in a congested neighbourhood in Gurugram’s Sector 17 for a monthly rent of R5,600. “A couple of his colleagues would visit him frequently, but his roommates would keep changing,” said Uday Singh, owner of Khushal Homes.

END OF THE ROAD

According to the owner of the house, Gehlot would drink and smoke heavily, but was always polite and never made a nuisance of himself. He also showed no signs of an illness, until June 17, when he called one of his colleagues to say that he was suffering from an “unbearable stomach ache”.

“It seemed a minor issue, but we admitted him to a local government hospital. His condition worsened the next day and we had to move him to a private hospital. He had trouble in his liver and kidney and was referred to another hospital,” said a colleague.

At one point, he seemed to recover and was speaking to his colleagues about returning to work, but on June 21, his condition took a turn for the worse. “When he exhausted the health insurance provided by our company, his colleagues pooled in ₹1.5 lakh cash and donated six units of blood to him,” his senior at work said.

His colleagues, meanwhile, checked his phone to find a distant relative’s number. They pressed him to give more contacts – of distant relatives initially.

“His relatives would either visit him and leave quickly or refuse to turn up at the hospital,” said a colleague, adding that it made him sad to see the disconnect. It was when the doctors told him that he was unlikely to make it that he told his colleagues his real identity. When they turned up at the hospital late on June 25, he was in the ICU and barely conscious. By the time the police reached the hospital the next morning, he had died of multiple organ failure.

“It is one case I regret not being able to solve. He could have lived anywhere in India, but he chose Gurugram and stayed off our radar,” said Ashok Chand.

“He was so near and yet so far.”

First Published: Jul 04, 2019 03:56 IST

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