Suhaib Ilyasi, anchor of TV crime show India’s Most Wanted, has been absolved of his wife’s murder after 18 years of protracted legal battle
Suhaib Ilyasi, television anchor of a certain repute, who hosted the famous crime show India’s Most Wanted, is now a free man. The Delhi High Court has acquitted him after 18 years of prolonged legal battle. Now 52, Ilyasi was sent to jail last December after a trial court convicted him on charges of stabbing his wife Anju to death. She was found with multiple stab wounds at their home in East Delhi on January 11, 2000.
A couple of months later, he was arrested after Anju’s mother and sister alleged that he was torturing Anju for dowry. It became a high-profile case where the anchor of a popular crime show was himself charged under the Dowry Act. His promising career was scotched at its peak.
“I’m a victim of the misuse of section 498A,” Ilyasi tells Patriot. He is not bitter but pensive. “This is a powerful section that must be used to protect women in real distress. Some shrewd women use it for their vested interest. This misuse has to be stopped,” he emphasises, for life gets destroyed and people are thrown in jail.
Ilyasi was born in a conservative yet prominent Muslim family, his father being the head of All India Imams Organisation and the imam of a mosque in Delhi. He and Anju met for the first time in 1989, a romance ensued, and against the will of their respective families, they married in London in 2003 under the provisions of Special Marriage Act, 1954, which provides for a special form of marriage for the people of India and all Indian nationals in foreign countries, irrespective of the caste and religion they follow.
It was during his stay in London that he was fascinated by Crimestoppers, a television show that allowed citizens to report crimes anonymously and without having to report to the cops. This inspired him to do his crime show India’s Most Wanted, which became a sensation on Indian television.
While he attained uncharted heights of success, his house was in a disarray. There’s no doubt that Ilyasi had a troubled marriage. Soon after their return from London, in 1994, the couple had a major falling-out. Anju deserted him and went back to London to stay with her brother. The latter, however, persuaded her to give the marriage another chance. A year later, Ilyasi went to London to reason with his estranged wife. He convinced Anju to come back with him to India. A year later, their daughter Aaliya was born.
Ilyasi tried to save his marriage many times. In 1998, after another flare-up, Anju left him again and, this time, went to Canada to stay with her sister, Rashmi Singh. Ilyasi travelled to Canada to woo her back. Soon after their return, to make a fresh start, they started living in a new house in Mayur Vihar in December of 1999.
A month later, on 10 January, she was found near dead in her new apartment with multiple stab injuries which were initially believed to be “self-inflicted”. Her sister Rashmi was the last person Anju spoke to before she was reported dead. Rashmi issued a statement, a month after the demise of her sister, on her return to India from Canada, that Ilyasi is responsible for Anju’s untimely demise and that he was torturing her for dowry.
Rashmi and her mother filed a case against Ilyasi for subjecting his wife to cruelty (Section 498A of IPC) and culpable homicide not amounting to murder (Section 304). Those who know the family well, say it was all about the custody of the daughter. Anju’s family wanted Aaliya.
And they kept trying to bring in new charges.
On Anju’s mother’s plea, more than a decade later, the Delhi High Court directed the lower court to charge Ilyasi with murder under Section 302 in 2014, 14 years after Anju’s demise.
This case has had multiple twist and turns and is, therefore, a standing example of what ails India’s criminal justice system — especially the inordinate delays in arriving at a conclusion. It took prosecution and police 17 years to charge Ilyasi with murdering his wife. In December last year, a Delhi trial court held him guilty, awarding him life imprisonment for stabbing his wife to death. He “committed murder and gave it a colour of suicide,” the lower court concluded. In addition to a life term, it imposed a fine of Rs 2 lakh on him and directed that Rs 10 lakh be paid as compensation to Anju’s parents.
Last week, the Delhi High Court after giving the evidence a fresh look, acquitted him. A bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel concluded that conviction against Ilyasi was based on “conjectures” and the conviction was not supported by material on record.
Ilyasi in 2004 did an investigative story on ‘casting couch in Bollywood’ exposing big names like Shakti Kapoor and Aman Verma. “I am for justice for women. I did many sting operations to expose atrocities and exploitation of women in distress. I still have some tapes of sting operations. I will go through the archives. Some more big names of producers and actors will get exposed.” He wants to piece together his journalistic career from where he left.
“I’m trying to come to terms with the past,” he says, an important first step to shape the future. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge in 18 years. “There can hardly be any compensation for the loss of time, energy, self-esteem and self-confidence,” he adds. But on a positive note, he says a person never ceases to learn as long as he’s alive. And things that don’t kill, usually make a person stronger.
His stay in jail was a learning experience, making him “a better person”. And he learned that there’s a humane side even in the most hardened and ardent criminal. “My interactions with criminals of various hues and descriptions has inspired me to start another television series on crime,” he says.
With age lines on his face and sporting a beard, Ilyasi clearly has suffered. His new-found freedom will take some time to sink in. His daughter Aaliya, who stood by him like a rock, Ilyasi says, “suffered even more than me”. Her trust in her father was unwavering, now she stands vindicated.
“I am very very happy…We have suffered a lot but I trust my father completely and I always trusted him,” she adds.