Hema Upadhyay Murder: 4 years on, families wonder if justice will ever be served

Updated: 11 December, 2019 07:15 IST | Gaurav Sarkar | Mumbai

Kin catalysed by encounter of alleged accused in Hyderabad rape-murder case; slam defence's delaying tactics and authorities' disinterest

Poonam Bhambani, wife of advocate Harish Bhambani, and her daughter say they are still grieving. Pic. Pradeep Dhivar
Poonam Bhambani, wife of advocate Harish Bhambani, and her daughter say they are still grieving. Pic. Pradeep Dhivar

The families of artist Hema Upadhyay and lawyer Harish Bhambani, who were found murdered on December 11, 2015, say that the lawyers of main accused Chintan Upadhyay and three other accomplices in the case have been stalling the trial, which began a few months ago.

Four years since the corpses of artist Hema Upadhyay and her lawyer Advocate Harish Bhambhani stuffed in cardboard boxes were found in a Kandivli nullah, their families continue to ask when the gruesome double murder would be taken seriously.

Hema and Harish had their hands and feet bound with ropes, mouths gagged with grey duct tape and eyes blindfolded. The killing shook Mumbai's art fraternity. Hema's spouse, Chintan Upadhyay was held. While Chintan spends his days in jail, hopes of Bhambhani and Upadhyay families say justice is missing.

The deceased's families claim that the case, plagued by multiple bail hearings and twists, has been dragging. "Hearings started only two months ago. There are four advocates for the four accused, each one stalls by applying for bail. We go to court hoping for justice, but return home dejected and demotivated, only to pin our hopes on the next hearing," said Gope Bhambhani, 76, Harish's elder brother.

Poonam, wife advocate Harish Bhambhani  at her Matunga residencePoonam, wife advocate Harish Bhambhani  at her Matunga residence

Harish was the youngest of four brothers. "There is no sense of justice. I am happy with the Hyderabad cops, what they did is justice (in the veterinarian's rape-murder case). The police have helped us a lot with the probe. But in such cases, for justice to be truly delivered, the accused must be hanged," he added.

Harish's daughter Anita, and his wife Poonam, highlighted the lapsing of the deadline set by Supreme Court in February this year. "The court had set a nine-month period," said Anita. "That has gone by. If he gets bail now, what are we supposed to do? Accused Vijay Rajbhar is still on the run. Why has he not been found? Cops have lost interest in the case."

Poonam on the other hand waits for closure. "The loss of my husband is the hardest to deal with. I will get some closure only when the case is concluded. The biggest challenge is the sheer amount of time that the case has been taking. It is painful. We are not able to move on," she said.

Anita emphasised on how the family has supported each other in the pursuit of justice. "But for how long can we keep this up?" she said.

Gope Bhambhani, Bhambhani’s brother at his Sion office. PICs/PRADEEP DHIVAR and Sanchu Menon, a family friend of Hema Upadhyay. PIC/DATTA KUMBHAR
Gope Bhambhani, Bhambhani’s brother at his Sion office. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar and Sanchu Menon, a family friend of Hema Upadhyay. Pic/ Datta Kumbhar

Hema's brother, Manish Hirani, who is based in Gujarat, has similar struggles to deal with. "Even scam-accused ministers don't get so many chances to apply for bail. In the past two weeks, there have been murders that shook India. Why were there no protests over my sister's killing?" he said over the phone.

Hema's family friend, Sanchu Menon, 42, a social worker from Navi Mumbai, raised questions over the transfer of investigation to Crime Branch. "We didn't even ask for it. Kandivali police were doing their job well but suddenly, because of Chintan's friends and their connections, the case was transferred to Crime Branch in May 2016. Another big blow was when Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam backed out. What will it take for the authorities to take this case seriously?"

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First Published: 11 December, 2019 07:10 IST

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