With the suicide of actor Jiah Khan, much has been said about the celebrity bloodlust that saw her boyfriend Sooraj Pancholi, son of actor Aditya Pancholi, being made an instant villain and thrust behind bars, just because of a relationship gone sour.
The Bombay High Court, while setting Sooraj free on bail yesterday, ended the celeb witch-hunt, observing that he was dealt with unfairly only because of his famed status. When the prosecution argued that he might use his pull to tinker with evidence, the contention was shot down by the court.
The bias was apparent before the court, which not more than four days ago, had adjudicated in another suicide case. Last week, MiD DAY reported (‘Undertrial in wife’s suicide gets bail, as HC slams cops’, June 28) how a man, in jail for a year after being accused in his wife’s suicide, was allowed to walk on bail last week. The turnaround came after it emerged that his wife had written letters to the police, blaming her parents for harassment, which were ignored by the cops. Soon after, the woman set herself ablaze, and without a thorough scrutiny, cops charged and incarcerated him.
By contrast, in Sooraj’s case, Jiah Khan’s letters were in the floodlights of police attention, though the most evidentially crucial of them -- the six-page note -- was not even addressed or sent to him.
The contrast in how police handled the earlier case was not lost on Justice Sadhana Jadhav, who on Monday heard Sooraj Pancholi’s bail plea.
Equal before law
Referring to Jiah’s six-page letter -- which cops said formed the basis of Sooraj’s arrest -- the court said, “How did these letters become public? In another case before this court, the victim had written several letters to the police, which went ignored… I have already hauled up the police in that case.”
Justice Jadhav felt the prosecution was being biased due to the high-profile nature of Jiah’s case.
“We cannot be restrained from reading the papers… don’t make this a public affair, don’t make it exceptional. A slum girl’s suicide is at par with this; don’t treat this case specially. It is a very sorry state of affairs,” Justice Jadhav observed.
Advocate Yashpal Thakur, arguing on Jiah’s mother Rabia’s behalf, clarified to the court that it was his client who had made the letters public, not the police. Appearing on behalf of Pancholi, senior advocate AP Mundargi told the court, “A failed relationship is being exploited to create an example out of a 22-year-old boy.” Advocate Shweta Sangtani also represented Sooraj.
Shortly before completing dictation of her order, justice Jadhav asked Thakur and additional public prosecutor PP Shinde whether there was any other reason for which Sooraj’s custody was required, as most of the investigation had already been completed. “He is an influential person who has many common friends with the deceased person, and he may try to tamper with witnesses,” Thakur said.
“You mean to say the only reason to keep his custody is because he is influential?” justice Jadhav retorted, making those in the courtroom snicker.
Shinde told the court that Sooraj’s handwriting samples were required, to which justice Jadhav remarked, “You have had his custody for more than 21 days. You could’ve taken it before.”
Moreover, in the bail order, the court observed, “It cannot be said at this stage that the applicant had attempted to cause disappearance of evidence or else he could have made every attempt to destroy the letters received by him. The cell phones have been sent to the government laboratory and there is no scope for the applicant to tamper with the evidence or to delete the same at this stage.”
The prosecution also sought to retain his custody as Jiah’s mobile phone had been sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory to retrieve messages from it, a task that Mundargi told the court should not take more than a few minutes.
Bias is not always bad
Perhaps the celebrity sword cuts both ways. In an interview with MiD DAY on June 22, Sooraj’s father Aditya Pancholi had said that his son was being treated well in prison since inmates knew who he was.
“My son is doing well. I met him in the jail recently. Apparently, the inmates were surprised when they realised what he had been accused of. And when they recognised who he was, he was treated well. Nobody harmed him. In fact, inmates decided to give him their home-cooked food as well,” Aditya had told this reporter, after Sooraj’s bail plea had been rejected by a sessions court.
The bail amount against which Sooraj was released
The day Sooraj was arrested for abetting Jiah Khan’s suicide
Number of days Sooraj spent in jail