Greed, deceit and lies: How a Tinder date ended in murder

Hindustan Times | By
Sep 25, 2018 02:09 PM IST

In February, Priya Seth and Dushyant Sharma met on Tinder. In May,Sharma was dead, and Seth was in jail on charge of murdering him

In February 2018, Priya Seth and Dushyant Sharma met on Tinder. In May 2018, Sharma was dead, and Seth was in jail on charge of murdering him. Both of them had allegedly lied to each other. She had led him to believe that she was interested in him and not his millions of rupees. He had given her the impression that he had millions of rupees. The date was doomed from the start.

(Clockwise from the top) Victim Dushyant Sharma; his wife Bittu Sharma with the couple’s one-and-a-half-year-old son (photo by Himanshu Vyas/HT); and the three accused in the murder case (left to right) – Priya Seth, Dikshant Kamra and Lakshya Wallia.
(Clockwise from the top) Victim Dushyant Sharma; his wife Bittu Sharma with the couple’s one-and-a-half-year-old son (photo by Himanshu Vyas/HT); and the three accused in the murder case (left to right) – Priya Seth, Dikshant Kamra and Lakshya Wallia.

At 7 pm on May 2, Sharma, a 26-year-old project manager with a mining company, left his house in Jaipur’s Shivpuri Extension in his father’s Maruti Alto. “He said he was going out for a work-related matter and would be back in an hour,” said Rameshwar Sharma, his father.

“At 9.15 pm seeing that he hadn’t returned, I gave him a call, but it was disconnected. His phone was switched off right after.” At 9.45 pm, his wife, Bittu Sharma, rang him. “He told me that one of his company’s trucks has been confiscated by the police, and they are demanding a penalty of 8-10 lakh. He said he would return late night or in the morning,” said Bittu as tears welled up in her eyes. They had only been married for three years; their son was born a year-and-a-half ago. It was an arranged marriage, but not one without romance. “At our engagement ceremony, when we met for the first time, he went down on his knee in front of our families and asked, ‘Will you marry me?’.”

The missing son

The family kept trying Sharma’s number for the rest of the night, but it got disconnected every time. As midnight passed without another word from him, a group of relatives and well-wishers took to the streets to search for him, alerting the police stations that fell on the way. Nothing came out of it. At 9.45 am on May 3, Rameshwar received a call from his son’s phone number. “Dushyant told me, ‘Send these people 10 lakh or they will kill me. Mujhe bacha lo (Please save me)’!” Then a female voice came on the line. “She said I had 20 minutes to transfer the money to his account. ‘Varna maar dungi (Or I will kill him),’ she said. I said I will deposit 3 lakh in an hour. She said I had only 20 minutes,” said Rameshwar.

By 12 pm, Sharma’s father had wired 3 lakh to his savings account with the State Bank of India. “I even sent the receipt of the transaction to his phone through WhatsApp.” That night he received a call from the Jhotwara police station, asking him to come to the SMS Hospital to look at a dead body. It was found by a stranger in a purple trolley suitcase lying on the highway between Jaipur and Delhi. The body was mangled beyond recognition, but Rameshwar was able to identify a bunch of accessories recovered from the bag’s front packet: sacred red threads, a black amulet, and finger rings studded with astrological gemstones. It was he who had piled Sharma’s body with protections against every evil turn of fate. “You see, he was our last surviving son. We had three. The first died as a child, and the second died in a motorbike accident a few years ago,” explained Rameshwar.

But as Sandeep Luhadia, the prosecution’s lawyer, said, “Dushyant Sharma had made a small mistake. He had told Priya Seth that his name was Vivan Kohli, and that he was a big businessman from Delhi.” “

In February, 27-year-old Seth had also swiped right on 21-year-old Dikshant Kamra on Tinder, and in March they rented a house together in Gandhinagar in an apartment complex called, fittingly, Eden Garden. A model and producer based in Mumbai, Kamra had moved back to Jaipur after the amount of money he owed people accrued to 25 lakh, according to the charge sheet. “Priya Seth and Dikshant Kamra prepared a plot to kidnap him and extort money from him,” read the charge sheet. “Repeatedly coaxed by accused Dikshant Kamra to arrange for the debt money, Priya Seth told him that she had found someone from whom they could extort the amount,” it stated.

Twist in the plot

It was a simple enough plot, proceeding smoothly until Sharma’s lie toppled Seth’s. Sharma drove to a place near Jaipur’s Bhaskar Pulia to meet Priya Seth. “They had previously met in restaurants four or five times for coffee,” said the investigating officer, Gur Bhupender Singh. This time, she sat in his car and directed him to her house where Kamra and a friend of his, Lakshya Walia, allegedly lay in wait. Then they tied him up, slipped a polythene bag over his head, thrashed him, and pulled out his wallet from his pocket. She saw the name on his identity cards. Sharma told them the truth. He was far from rich; worse, he was a local. They beat him up some more. Seth and Kamra asked Sharma to arrange for 10 lakh or prepare to die. He had them call his father.

Rameshwar, an accountant at a local cooperative, said he had only 3 lakh at that time; he took a while sending it. “My manager at the Union Bank said Dushyant had to update his PAN to receive this payment,” he said. In the meantime, Seth and Kamra learnt that Sharma’s debit card had a daily withdrawal limit of 25,000. They were also increasingly concerned about the chances of his father alerting the police. “Extremely upset at the botch up of their plan, they decided to kill Dushyant Sharma,” says the charge sheet.

Ten stab marks were found on Sharma’s neck. “Dikshant Kamra and Lakshya Walia threw him on to a bed,” said Bhupender Singh. “ Dikshant sat across his chest and first tried to strangle him with his hands and then suffocate him with a pillow,” Singh went on. Neither worked. “Then Priya Seth brought a fruit knife (5’’×7”) from the kitchen and handed it to him. He stabbed 10-11 times,” Singh said. Once Sharma stopped breathing, Lakshya Walia went home to change, and Kamra and Seth set about cleaning up the mess. According to the charge sheet, Kamra and Seth drove to a market in Sharma’s car to buy a trolley bag, brought it home, stuffed his body in it, and drove out once again to toss it off on the highway, picking up Walia on the way. Between buying the bag and returning home, Seth had received a call on Sharma’s phone. It was Rameshwar telling her that he had deposited 3 lakh in his son’s account. The next thing Seth did was go to an SBI ATM, her face wrapped in a shawl, slide Sharma’s debit card in, and take out 25,000, maxing out the day’s withdrawal limit.

Finally, they bought a fake number plate, parked the car at a safe distance from the house, and waited. Early on May 4, a team of policemen found them sitting in Sharma’s Alto near the railway station in Gandhinagar. The three of them were arrested on charges of kidnapping, extortion, murder, and elimination of evidence. The crime scene was brimming with evidence when the police entered Seth and Kamra’s flat, however. “More than 100 articles have been recovered,” said prosecution’s lawyer, Sandeep Luhadia. Other than splotches of blood all over the house -- floor, bed, mattress – the police also found stains on a pair of expensive “ladies’ sandals”, broken pieces of a beer bottle, and an empty packet of potato crisps.

His two lives

Sharma had led two lives. At home, he was an obedient son and a caring husband and father who “prayed after he woke up and counted the prayer beads before he went to sleep,” according to his father. He looks the part in his family’s framed portrait of him: shirt-pant, parted hair, temple tilak. “He had only two friends, no more. He never left the house after coming back from work in the evening,” said Rameshwar.

“My son was simple and straightforward. No mischief,” said his mother, Vaijanti. “He was shy,” said his wife, Bittu. “In three years he never said a rude word to me. He helped me with house work. He was fond of cooking. Kadhai paneer, hara-bhara kabab, spring rolls. Touched elders’ feet. Never spoke to any of my female friends. He used to hide in our room if they came home. He wasn’t interested in aaj-kal ki ladkiyan (modern girls),” she added. “People will be saying all sorts of things about him, but they don’t know him. I know him,” she said. She didn’t know about his other life, though. Bittu has a smartphone, but she hardly uses the Internet or social media. Sharma loved the Internet. “He liked exploring new things. He was fond of online shopping. He also ordered food online,” she said. On Facebook, where Sharma’s account is still active, he looks like a party boy – printed T-Shirts, aviators, spiked hair – and acted like one too. Pressed for information while Sharma was missing, his closest colleague at work had mentioned that “once in a while he had girlfriend scene,” said Bhupender Singh. “A 25-26-year-old man doesn’t disappear on his own,” Singh added.

Her two lives

Seth had left one life for another. She was born and raised in a middle-class family in a small town in Rajasthan called Falna. She was born brilliant, said her father, a college professor, who doesn’t want to be named. “Got 90 per cent in 10th Boards, 85 per cent in 12th Boards. Good at dance, debating. Our shelves are lined with her medals and certificates. You can’t tell this seeing her in jail, but she used to be so beautiful,” he added. She was also problematic. “Stubborn. What she wanted, she wanted. Got angry easily. Broke things at home. Couldn’t take no. Didn’t have the fear of anything,” he said, wiping tears on his clothes.

In 2012, she was sent to Jaipur to attend college, where she chose to study arts, and to take coaching classes for entrance into administrative services. Coming from a town whose only claim to fame is a minor railway station, Jaipur was all big city and bright lights to her. She went straight for its fast lane. “She now wanted to become a crorepati,” said her father. The 20,000 he was sending her every month for her expenses didn’t cut it. In her second year in college, he said, Seth started looking for a job. “She got trapped by the wrong kind of people,” he added. “Through newspaper advertisements for easy money, she came in contact with pimps who offered to pay her money for recruiting college girls as escorts,” said Bhupender Singh. “She became addicted to money. Began to smoke, drink,” Singh added.

Soon, Seth launched her own enterprise, a website offering high-profile escorts to rich businessmen. Her transactions with them were only one-way, however. “When the clients contacted her on WhatsApp, she sent them some photos to choose from, demanded entire payment ( 25,000-30,000) in advance, met them at their hotel to collect the cash, switched off her phone, and vanished. She kept her changing her phone number,” Singh said.

Most people (“thousands” in her own words) she conned in this way had too much at stake to go to the police. In 2014, though, one of her clients filed a case of cheating against her in Shyamnagar police station. She was arrested, but came out on bail shortly after. This was only one of three FIRs registered against her in Jaipur’s police stations before her May arrest. She was picked up by the police again in 2014 for attempting to slice open the cash machine in an ATM with a gas cutter. She got out in a day. Earlier in 2018, she spent a month in jail on charge of extorting 7.5 lakh from her live-in partner at the time by threatening him with false rape charges.

The reckoning

Seth has now been in Jaipur’s central jail for more than four months. She has become a household name in the city where lurid details about her ambition and lifestyle are breathlessly sought. She smoked Marlboro and drank Black Label in whisky and Himalayan in water, according to the police. Her branded shoes from Mumbai cost 35,000, said Dainik Bhaskar, which also estimated her haul from “five years of illegal activity” to be “ 1.75 crore”. The shoes from Mumbai cost 80,000 and her designer watch 45,000, according to Dainik Jagran, which calculated her monthly expenses to be 2 lakh. She was fond of “expensive perfumes, clothes, cosmetics and air travel” said Rajasthan Patrika which revealed her monthly expenses to have been “ 1.5 lakh”.

Every mention of her evokes extreme reactions.

“She has an art,” said one of her lawyers who requested anonymity. “She doesn’t chase money, money chases her,” he added.

“Once a woman loses her jhijhak (hesitation), there is nothing she will stop at,” said Sharma’s aunt. She said Seth’s branded shoes had cost at least 35,000.

“She asked her lawyer to appeal to the court to allow her to smoke in the jail. Can you believe that!” said Luhadia, prosecution’s lawyer. “She wears shoes worth 75,000,” he also mentioned.

Nothing about her rattles Jaipur more than her apparent lack of contrition. Everyone interviewed for this article pointed to the lack of “regret” on her face in the photos and videos shot after the arrest, except for her father. It is he alone who stresses the fact that she is one of three people accused of the charges. Seth has been as brazen in the ownership of her crimes as she had allegedly been in their execution. Speaking to reporters at Jhotwara’s police station where she was brought in on May 4, Seth had responded to their shock with her defiance. “Is this the first murder committed in India,” she had asked in a ready-made headline. Asked about her “escort service fraud” by a documentary filmmaker, Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj, she had described her cheating of philandering men as social justice cut short by her arrest.

On September 12, when the three accused were produced in Jaipur’s session court for the first time, all eyes were on Seth. Small and slight, she was dressed in a yellow kurta, black salwar, and a golden dupatta. Her pale face was even paler than it had appeared in the police mug shots, the dark circles darker, and her straight, brown hair shorter. The crowd was so mesmerised by the sight of her as she strode towards the stand that they hardly noticed the young men entering the court. Striking in an orange shirt and black jeans, his hair fluffed and his beard styled, Kamra swaggered in with a smile. Behind him, Lakshya Walia walked in wearing a blue shirt, black joggers, and a major sulk. People continued to stare at Seth. They must have wanted to see if she would throw a tantrum, or break down, or show any regret. All they got was a poker face.

Love, Sex, Marriage, and Facebook: A Look At A Few Cases Of Deception Involving The Social Media

2018, Delhi: A woman meets a man on Facebook. They fall in love, and move in together. The man goes home to a village in Himachal Pradesh, and marries a girl chosen by his parents. He keeps the two women hidden from each other until a friend of his tags him in a photo from his wedding on Facebook. Confronted by his girlfriend about his wife, he kills her and runs away.

2018, Haldwani: A woman poses as a man on Facebook, befriends a clutch of women, begins phone relationships with some of them, and ends up marrying a few while in disguise. When her real identity is discovered by one of the wives, it turns out she and her parents had devised the elaborate con to accumulate a large amount of money in dowry.

2018, Chittorgarh/Lucknow: A woman in Lucknow sends a Facebook friend request to a woman in Chittorgarh, one of several she sends out every day to make new friends in different places. As they start talking, they discover common aspects: similar age (26-27), government job (clerk and nurse) and recent marriage to businessmen. Exchanging photos of their husbands over WhatsApp, they discover they are married to the same man, a swindler who targets women in government service for their steady income.

Decoding The Web Of Lies: Shailabh Rawat, editor of Madhur Kathayein and Mahanagar Kahaniyan,
talks to Snigdha Poonam

Shailabh Rawat, editor of Madhur Kathayein and Mahanagar Kahaniyan, at his office in New Delhi. (Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)
Shailabh Rawat, editor of Madhur Kathayein and Mahanagar Kahaniyan, at his office in New Delhi. (Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)

I have been editing Nai Sadi Prakashan’s true crime titles (Madhur Kathayein and Mahanagar Kahaniyan) since 1986. We have covered every trend in crimes emerging from love, sex, and marriage. We receive close to 400 submissions in a month from across north India; we accept about 40. Over the past five years, fifty per cent of stories we have carried have featured social media.

The Internet allows for a wide range of deception. Crimes such as blackmail and honey trapping have been made much easier by social media. Honey trapping is a hot trend. It is low-investment. All men have a weakness for women. If you lay a trap for ten, one will fall for it.

You can’t blame social media for the increase in crime when the problem lies with Indian society where lifestyles are new but mindsets are still old. Let’s take the pattern of matrimonial site fraud, which is rooted in societal hypocrisy. Men especially target women who put off marriage until they are settled in their career. By that time, they are in their mid to late 30s. These women are under such pressure to marry that often they don’t check the credentials of their suitors.

People become victims not because of illiteracy but agyanta (ignorance), andhvishvas (superstition) and avivek (lack of wisdom). Much of social media’s appeal for Indians lies in its being free and easy to use. People don’t use Twitter or Instagram in the villages; those platforms are only used by educated people. On the other hand, Facebook and WhatsApp are easy to pick up, and end up being misused more often. People are finding each other on Facebook and getting into relationships, but how can you be in love after just two meetings? Six months later, you realise your mistake. You want to get rid of that person.

You are talking about a country where women still go to holy men to bless them with pregnancy. If you introduce Internet to this context, what do you think will happen!

Priya Seth’s case is different from that of the average female criminal. Often, they transition from being victims to perpetrators in revenge or rebellion, for example Delhi’s flesh trade don Sonu Punjaban who was pushed into a life of crime through a series of relationships with criminals. Also, most female criminals are only noted for one case. Seth was never a victim. She is also a serial or professional criminal from what we know. Whatever she allegedly did – blackmail, honey trap or murder – she did at her own behest. She breaks all the rules.

(As told to Snigdha Poonam)
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    Snigdha Poonam is a national affairs writer for Hindustan Times. She has previously written for a wide range of Indian and international publications on Indian politics, society and culture.

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