Mumbai: The three Mumbai doctors accused of abetting the alleged suicide of their 26-year-old colleague, Payal Tadvi, may have hidden or destroyed the ‘suicide note’, the Mumbai Police have cited in court Wednesday, to get their custody.
The police also told the court that relatives of Dr Tadvi suspect that she could have been murdered and added that witnesses are not coming forward as they are afraid of the accused. The three doctors are also accused of harassing and passing casteist remarks against their junior colleague at the city-based BYL Nair Hospital.
Additional Sessions Judge R.M. Sadrani Wednesday remanded the three accused — Bhakti Mehare, Hema Anuja and Ankita Khandelwal — to police custody till 31 May. The police had arrested the three doctors between Tuesday afternoon and the intervening night of Tuesday and Wednesday, six days after Tadvi hanged herself in her hostel room.
All three had applied for anticipatory bail Tuesday before being arrested.
The three doctors, senior colleagues of Tadvi, a second-year PG student of gynaecology and obstetrics, allegedly mentally harassed and targeted her for being a scheduled tribe, according to the victim’s family members. The hospital has suspended the three doctors and Dr. Y.I. Ching Ling, the head of gynaecology, after the incident. Tadvi belonged to the Tadvi Muslim Bhil Scheduled Tribe community and hailed from Jalgaon.
All three accused have been booked under sections of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act, sections for abetment to suicide under the Indian Penal Code and the Maharashtra Prohibition of Ragging Act, 1999.
Prosecution’s 9 nine reasons
The prosecution cited nine reasons for seeking the custody of Mehare, Khandelwal and Ahuja for 14 days, while the trial court granted police three days.
The prosecution told the court that there was no suicide note and, therefore, an investigation was required to determine if the three accused doctors, who had allegedly gone to the spot after Tadvi committed suicide, destroyed or hid the purported suicide note, or even destroyed any other evidence at the spot.
“We have their mobile phones. We need to retrieve the data. We need the physical custody of the accused,” ACP Deepak Kundal at the Mumbai Police’s Agripada division, which is investigating the case, told the court. “The accused have on a number of occasions harassed Payal and witnesses are not coming forward because they are scared of the accused persons.”
The prosecution argued that the offence was a very serious one and could create social divides leading to law and order problems. The incident has brought disrepute to the profession and instilled fear in scheduled caste and scheduled tribe students, it added.
“It is important to have police custody of the accused and investigate the matter to build faith in these students and for natural justice,” the remand application said.
The police have also said that the three doctors refused to cooperate in the investigation. “They switched off their mobile phones after the incident and were not available at their homes. Police teams sent to their homes in Akola, Amravati and Madhya Pradesh could not find them,” the remand application said.
Nitin Satpute, the legal counsel representing Tadvi’s family, alleged that victim may have been murdered and that police needed the custody of the accused to investigate further. “There was a mark on the body of the deceased on the backside, so it could be a case of murder. The accused persons were there,” the lawyer said.
The defence, however, argued that the room was locked from inside. Police too confirmed that according to witness statements, the room was locked from inside and had to be broken into.
No casteist remarks, remarks were for shirking work: Defence
The accused have maintained that they never made any casteist remarks against Tadvi, with the defence citing a WhatsApp conversation between the victim and her mother to support their claim.
“Adivasi nako lihu, jatiwad mudda nako kadhu. Ithe mahit nahi me Scheduled Tribe ahe (Don’t write adivasi, don’t bring up the caste angle. People here don’t know I am a scheduled caste),” Tadvi allegedly wrote to her mother in a WhatsApp chat.
The defence further argued that the accused and the victims stayed on different floors of the hostel and interacted only at work. The arguments were limited to the accused taunting her for allegedly shirking work, it claimed.
Mehare, Ahuja and Khandelwal also said they were always willing to cooperate in the investigation and were waiting outside the dean’s cabin for a few hours on the day the FIR was filed for their statement to be taken.