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A MOTHER’S LONG, PAINFUL WAIT

Delhi Police are unable to resolve the curious murder of a young doctor by another. Is someone really powerful protecting the killer?

Surrounded by boisterous executives discussing sales targets at a Starbucks store, a distraught mother of a slain doctor narrates her woes, the pain of the murder weighing heavily on her.

Dr Shalini Pandey, a resident of Kanpur, is meeting top cops and bureaucrats in Delhi to speed up the process of investigation in the murder of her son, Dr Shashwat Pandey, an intern at St Stephens Hospital radiology department.

Cops of three states — Delhi, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh — are involved in the case but unable to trace the killer. Campaigns on www.change.org and a candle march yielded no result, a Facebook page titled Justice for Dr Shashwat has over 3,400 followers.

Shashwat’s body was found on August 24, 2017, with a slit throat and multiple stab wounds inside the hospital’s CT scan laboratory. Evidence suggests that the killing was the handiwork of his colleague and bitter rival, Dr Suyash Gupta, a resident of Etah in Uttar Pradesh. Gupta has been absconding ever since the murder took place. The police have issued lookout notices, and also shared them on social media.

Dr Pandey said she met Nripendra Mishra, principal secretary to the Prime Minister. Mishra, considered India’s most powerful bureaucrat, assured help and spoke — in the presence of Dr Pandey — to the city’s top cop, Amulya Patnaik, to “personally look into the case”. Nothing happened.

When she met Patnaik, the Delhi Police Commissioner said some of his most trusted cops were investigating the case and the killer would be soon arrested. A reward of Rs 50,000 has also been announced by the cops for anyone providing information leading to Gupta’s arrest. “It’s been seven long, painful months and we really do not know what to do, whom to consult,” says Dr Pandey.

“It was life’s biggest shock to me,” says Dr Pandey, who suffered a cardiac arrest on hearing her son had been murdered.

Over the last seven months that Dr Pandey and her husband met top cops in Delhi and UP, she thought the cops were acting oddly, missing many signals. “It seems to me they know everything but they weren’t acting. It seems to me someone is protecting the killer, someone very powerful, maybe a very powerful politician.”

She and her husband, Dr Sanjay Pandey, have approached the Supreme Court, challenging a recent Delhi high court order expressing satisfaction with the police probe where it had also asked the magistrate concerned to monitor the progress of police investigation. The couple wanted the CBI to take over the probe. A spokesperson for India’s premier investigating agency said the CBI will probe the case only if ordered by the court.

Pandey’s parents told the apex court that they were apprehensive at the way Delhi Police was conducting the probe, making no progress whatsoever in the investigation.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud issued a notice to Delhi Police and sought a reply by April 13 on the plea questioning the HC order, which — interestingly — was pronounced on a missing person’s petition filed by the mother of the prime accused.

Appearing for the accused, advocate Siddhartha Dave argued that even while the victim’s parents had filed a petition in HC seeking transfer of the probe to CBI, a division bench of HC, on the plea of the accused’s kin, has gone ahead and directed trial court to monitor police investigation.

“The observations made by HC division bench in the impugned order may thwart the HC single judge from passing any efficacious orders in the ongoing proceedings filed by the petitioners seeking transfer of the investigation from Delhi Police to the Central Bureau of Investigation,” the plea in SC points out.

During the last hearing in HC on Pande’s plea, the court had in January this year granted one more chance to SIT to trace the elusive doctor. However, after that order by a single judge, a division bench asked the trial court to review once a month the progress of the probe, while hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by Gupta’s mother. In her petition, Ms Gupta also blamed the cops and said no real progress was being made in the case to trace her missing son.

So where is Dr Suyash Gupta, the alleged murderer? Gupta had withdrawn an estimated Rs 4.5 lakh soon after the murder and then left Delhi.

Cops say they are on the job. Gupta was spotted in January in Haridwar, a holy town, and he gave the Uttarakhand cops the slip. “We have conducted raids in around a dozen places in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. These are the places Gupta has friends,” says Jatin Narwal, DCP (north), Delhi Police.

Cops claim Gupta is changing his looks frequently to evade arrest. “We have reasons to believe that he is sporting a moustache and beard and pretending to be a Sikh man in order to avoid being identified,” says Narwal. Now, the cops are seeking help of experts to prepare sketches in various guises. Efforts are on to get clues about online activities of Gupta, known to be a PlayStation gaming addict. He once stayed indoors playing games for 10 consecutive days.

The cops further claim Gupta is still hiding in India, though a recent Facebook post by Gupta suggested he left for Nepal through the Raxaul border. “We have frozen his bank accounts and taken steps to ensure he does not leave India,” says the DCP.

The strange murder of one doctor by another at the hospital had shaken up Delhi, triggering breaking headlines.

The incident was reported by a nurse at St Stephen’s Hospital after she saw through a half-glass door the bloodied frame of Shashwat. His throat had been slit with a surgical blade, three stab wounds to his heart and eyes open with blood all over the body. Doctors agreed death was instantaneous.

There were horrifying slit marks on Shashwat’s face, as if someone had carefully used a scalpel to make thin wounds to draw blood, an act described by Steven Griffiths in his debut novel, Diary of a Psychopath. The protagonist of the novel, a serial killer called Kevin Mason, sliced faces of his victims and let them bleed to death.

Investigators found the Griffiths novel mentioned repeatedly on the Facebook profile of Gupta, who had been threatening and harassing the victim. Gupta was seen on CCTV camera, entering the CT Scan room where Shashwat was on duty and then leaving after an hour in a different set of clothes. He had earlier attacked Sashwat with a knife because he felt the latter was ‘ignoring’ him. Gupta’s obsession for Pandey, cops said, hovered towards “a homosexual tendency”, with one of his numerous text messages to the victim reading: ‘I want to be your slave, you my master’.

“Gupta’s Facebook profile had details about the book, and the way the killer attacked and murdered his victims. He stalked Shashwat for more than a year-and-a-half. Numerous complaints were made and the hospital authorities were on the verge of sacking Gupta. But the murder took place before he could be sacked,” said Dr Shubhra Phillips, Dr Pandey’s aunt.

“We suspect he knew he had to escape after the murder. He withdrew Rs 4,50,000 from his account hours after the cash was wired by his father,” says Dr Phillips. Gupta’s parents, who run a clinic in Agra, were called for interrogation by the cops and they admitted wiring Rs 5,00,000 into their son’s account days before the crime took place.

Cops investigating the case say the murder could have been averted if the hospital authorities had heeded a complaint lodged by the deceased’s family regarding Gupta’s threats to Sashwat.

Worse, the police have now found that hospital authorities had forced Sashwat’s family to withdraw the complaint against Gupta, saying it would tarnish the name of the institution. “We are probing how Gupta managed to enter the hospital if he was twice suspended from the department,” says Ranbir Singh, SHO of Subzi Mandi Police Station in north Delhi.

The crowds have increased at Starbucks, it is time for Dr. Pandey to leave the coffee store to resume her search for her son in the heat and dust of what she calls an inhospitable city.