Jiah Khan death: 'Enough reason for the two to be charged'
A soon-to-be-filed chargesheet by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) could implicate actor Sooraj Pancholi and his father, Aditya Pancholi, in a two-year-old suicide case that was once considered as good as over.
Sooraj and Aditya Pancholi were questioned by the CBI in Jiah Khan’s death
A top official at the CBI headquarters in Delhi has revealed that Sooraj, who made his Bollywood debut last month, and his father, former actor Aditya Pancholi, could be charged with abetment of the alleged suicide of Jiah Khan (real name Nafisa Khan), a British-American actress, who was found hanging at her Juhu home on June 3, 2013.
Jiah Khan. Pic/AFP/Getty Images
Jiah, then 25, was in a romantic relationship with Sooraj, son of former actors Aditya and Zarina Wahab. A familiar face in Bollywood, the actress had made her debut in Ram Gopal Varma’s Nishabd where she played a teenager in love with her best friend’s father, played by Amitabh Bachchan.
Aditya with Sooraj Pancholi after his release from Arthur Road Central Jail
“There are enough reasons for the two to be charged,” said the CBI official, requesting anonymity. Crucial to the case were documents that the CBI recovered during raids conducted at the Pancholis’ Juhu residence in May this year.
Jiah’s sisters Kavita (centre) and Karishma (on her left) along with their mother Rabia Khan (extreme right) at Jiah’s funeral on June 5, 2013
These included letters written by Jiah to Sooraj and vice versa, as well as emails, text messages, Facebook chats, mobile handset clones from a forensic laboratory, and phone call details.
The CBI had also questioned a guard posted at Sagar Sangeet Building in Juhu, where Jiah lived with her mother Rabia Amin; a cook who accompanied the Pancholis when they rushed to the site of the suicide; a host of people from the Hindi film and fashion industry, and a jewellery designer who Khan had suspected of having an affair with Sooraj.
The official said Khan’s mother’s statement was key. Rabia, who had alleged that her daughter was murdered, is believed to have virtually recreated the scene of the fateful day, describing to officials how she discovered her daughter’s hanging body when she returned home at 11 pm from a function with her friends.
She said that she had found all the lights and fans in the apartment on. Jiah’s bag lay on a crumpled bed. Eventually, she found her daughter’s body hanging between two single beds. She couldn’t have reached the height, Rabia argued, considering no stool was found. No suicide note was found at the time.
A few days later, Rabia claimed to have found a six-page letter in Jiah’s bedroom, allegedly written by her to Sooraj. Rabia shared the contents of the letter with the media. It mentioned “shattered” dreams, and hinted at emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
“You returned my love with cheating and lies,” it read. “I have no confidence or self esteem left, whatever talent whatever ambition you took it all away.” The letter ended with the line, “I leave this place with nothing but broken dreams and empty promises.
All I want now is to go to sleep and never wake up again. I am nothing. I had everything. I felt so alone even while with you. You made me feel alone and vulnerable. I am so much more than this.” Sooraj continued to maintain that he had no hand in Jiah’s death, expressing his loss and love for her in press interviews.
Cops book Sooraj
On June 10, 2013, the police arrested Sooraj and booked him for abetment to suicide on the basis of the letter. On July 1, 2013, the Bombay High Court granted the 22-year-old bail. The HC had observed that the letter, purportedly written by the deceased and found at her home, could not be considered a suicide note since it wasn’t addressed to anyone in particular and was undated.
Unwilling to give up, Rabia, who had questioned the suicide theory from the start, filed a petition in October that year, and sought a CBI probe. The core of her arguments revolved around a forensic report released by an independent agency she had approached which suggested the actress was murdered and then hanged to suggest suicide.
The Kalina Forensic Laboratory report dated August 16, 2013, said fragments of human flesh were found under Jiah’s fingernails. Later, these were found to be her own. Her undergarment carried bloods stains, indicating that she may have been tortured before her death.
The FSL report also found traces of alcohol in her body. Rabia had then alleged that her daughter was made to drink liquor and was therefore, unable to defend herself when attacked. In her petition, she also stated that Jiah’s body did not carry the usual markers of suicide by hanging — protruding eyes and tongue.
A bruise on her left arm and another on the side of her lips suggested that she may have been physically abused before her death, challenging the suicide theory. The autopsy had not revealed lung or brain hemorrhage, usually expected in a case of suicide. In a letter written to Additional Commissioner of Police (west), Vishwas Nangre Patil, Rabia had said the police had neglected the FSL report.
In July 2014, the Bombay High Court transferred the case to CBI. Explaining the reasons behind the transfer, the HC bench had said that the forensic opinion that Rabia had privately obtained was at variance with that of the Mumbai police.
Also read: CBI starts probe in Jiah Khan death case
This suggested a “lacuna” in the investigation. On May 14, 2015, two teams of the CBI had carried out searches at the Pancholi residence after the HC had directed the agency to probe whether the death was suicide or homicide.
The CBI official said the investigating team found evidence that suggests how “Aditya Pancholi used considerable influence to push Jiah out of the relationship” and how Sooraj used “threatening tactics to push Jiah into total depression”.
The official continued, “The team found many discrepancies in statements recorded by the father and son.” The statements, claimed the official, directly hinted at “an involvement of the two”.
The official did not say whether the investigating agency probed other Bollywood stars in connection with the case but said its investigators had picked up leads offered by officers of the Crime Branch of the Mumbai Police that had initially investigated the case.
Hope for justice
Rabia’s lawyer Dinesh Tiwari said he was hopeful that the CBI probe would help them establish a case of homicide. “We live in hope, like many of Jiah’s friends, that justice will be done,” he said in a telephonic conversation.
He suggested that the Mumbai police were under pressure “from a section of Bollywood close to the underworld”. “Those instrumental in Jiah’s death are linked with the underworld,” said Tiwari. Aditya Pancholi, when contacted, rubbished the underworld angle, saying, “There is no underworld anymore.”
“We are happy that the CBI is handling the case because we need closure. We are tired of the needle of suspicion pointing at us. We have not tried to hush it [the investigation] up and have cooperated with the CBI. People say many things (sic). They are not true. We want this to end,” he added. Continuous instigation and intentional aiding by a specific someone is a must for abetment to be proved, believe legal experts.
Section 108 of the IPC defines abetment as: A person abets an offence, who abets either the commission of an offence, or the commission of an act which would be an offence, if committed by a person capable by law of committing an offence with the same intention or knowledge as that of the abettor. That barely 1 or 2 per cent of abetment of suicide cases in India end in conviction, might be an indicator of things to come.