How famed TV anchor Suhaib Ilyasi became India's most wanted

Updated: 26 December, 2017 12:18 IST | Amit Kumar and Kusumita Das | Mumbai

From a self-proclaimed crusader against crimes to the man who killed his own wife, here's the story behind how famed TV anchor and producer Suhaib Ilyasi scripted a crime that took 18 years to prove

Twenty years ago, when Suhaib Ilyasi took the reins of popular reality crime show, India's Most Wanted on Zee TV, he did something unimaginable - he made criminals and their horrifying crimes a part of drawing room conversations, engaging both the young and old. Earlier this week, when the former producer and TV host, was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Delhi court for the murder of his wife Anju - found dead in her home in 2000 - the irony of how he went from becoming a self-proclaimed crusader against crimes to a criminal, was not misplaced.

Suhaib Ilyasi being escorted by police at a court in New Delhi on Wednesday. Pic/PTI
Suhaib Ilyasi being escorted by police at a court in New Delhi on Wednesday. Pic/PTI

In judge SK Malhotra's words, Ilyasi had "committed her [Anju's] murder and gave it a colour of suicide", and in doing so, not only broke the faith of his deceased wife, but also that of his nationwide audience at large. This case, with its many twists, could well be among the cases 51-year-old Ilyasi once featured on his crime show, except that this time as proven in court, it was all scripted by him.

The crime and cover-up
On January 10, 2000, Anju was found dead in her home in Mayur Vihar, Delhi, after a heated argument with her husband. At the time, the couple had been married for seven years and had a daughter Aaliya. In his statement to the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM), Ilyasi had claimed that Anju had committed suicide, stabbing herself twice to death. He had also said that no blood was spilled due to the stab wounds, and that only a transparent liquid oozed out of her. Aaliya, 3, was also present in the house during the incident, but in another room.

Ilyasi rose to fame with India's Most Wanted, a crime show he anchored in the late 90s
Ilyasi rose to fame with India's Most Wanted, a crime show he anchored in the late 90s

By then, Ilyasi's TV show, which first began airing in March 1998, had already become a super hit. A source said that his aura and clout at the time was such that even the incredulousness of the transparent liquid theory was overlooked during the inquest proceedings carried out ­by the SDM. Later, when blood was found in the sink and bathroom, Ilyasi said that it was menstrual blood, which the post-mortem report had proved as false. A panel of doctors, however, claimed the wounds to be self-inflicted, and Ilyasi was let off.

Speaking with mid-day, SDM Ravi Dadhich, whose inquest report, declaring Anju's death as a case of suicide, was the basis of the FIR that was registered, said, "I had submitted the report based on the post-mortem report and my observation of the incident. As the victim was brought dead to the hospital, there was no scope of 'dying' declaration."

Ilyasi with wife Anju and daughter Aaliya
Ilyasi with wife Anju and daughter Aaliya

The prosecution alleged that the investigating authorities ignored several loopholes in the case. For instance, though Anju had sustained stab wounds to her abdomen, the T-shirt that she had worn on the fateful day, didn't bear any tear mark. Ilyasi even failed to give a satisfactory reply as to how blood had travelled to the bed, bathroom, sink and drain.

Anju's mother, Rukma Singh, however, couldn't look past the glaring discrepancies in the scene of crime. Her elder daughter Rashmi had shared with her evidence of Ilyasi's forged educational degree, false passport, details of an extra-marital affair and a possible homosexual liaison with a close friend-cum-fan, Narender Chaddha. It was on the basis of Rashmi's statement, that Ilyasi first got arrested on March 28, 2000, on charges of dowry harassment. He was, however, released on bail in June.

A lone battle for Rukma
Rukma Singh, 73, was in the US, visiting her daughter Rita, when the news of her daughter's death was broken to her. "I was told that there was some fight, and that my daughter got killed. I did not know what to make of it. My husband [KP Singh], who was just minutes away from their home, went to their house. There were too many people there, including some of Suhaib's brothers. He had cataract at that time, so he could not spot the blood stains," she said in a telephonic interview, from her home in Delhi.

It took Rukma nearly 35 hours to reach Delhi, due to the January fog. "I was dazed and confused about what was going on. The SDM took my initial statement and I didn't know what I was saying. Until then, I thought, she had shot herself, but later, I was told that she had stab wounds. I had no idea how a knife came into this story."

Rukma said it took her a while to process what had happened. The more she thought of it, the more she was unable to piece the puzzle together. "In his statement, Suhaib had said that Anju had his loaded gun, and was trying to shoot herself, when he snatched it away from her. If she also had a knife, why didn't he snatch that too?" she asked. The most important evidence came in the form of her daughter's diary - which she found at her home, where she had written in detail about the physical and mental harassment by Ilaysi.

A family divided
Even as it became clearer to Rukma that the case was of murder, she received no support from her husband or son. Criminal lawyer Satender Sharma, who has been fighting the case for the prosecution, said, "KP Singh, an erstwhile professor in IIT Kanpur, was intimidated by the persona of his son-in-law and did not want to speak against him. The same was the case with Prashant. The family was divided on the issue."

Rukma agreed. "My husband, now 93, kept giving statements in Suhaib's favour. It didn't seem to matter to him that his daughter was murdered. Initially, he was not in favour of the inter-religious marriage. But, as Suhaib's stardom grew, there was a change in his behaviour towards his son-in-law," she said.

Ilyasi was short-tempered, recalled Rukma. "To be honest, my daughter also had a temper, and they had fights frequently. Once, he [Suhaib] had even raised his hand to hit Anju, in front of us. I knew he had a murderous rage. But, is rage enough reason for murder?"

Suhaib, the friend and colleague
Those who've worked closely with Ilyasi also remember him as someone, who lost his cool quickly. A long-time colleague, who wishes not to be named, said that when Ilyasi's father Jameel Ilyasi, who was the head of All India Organisation of Imams, came in close contact with the RSS and announced that he would be supporting the BJP, Ilyasi, in a fit of rage, broke everything in his office, including TV sets. The colleague claimed that Ilyasi was also a workaholic - one of the reasons behind the marital tension. "Ilyasi met Anju at the Jamia Millia Islamia University, in November 1989 and soon fell in love. Their families were not happy with their relationship, but, they got married in London in 1993, where Suhaib was working at that time, under the Special Marriage Act," the colleague said.

Anju, we are told, could not adjust to the lifestyle of her in-laws. "Having grown up in a gated IIT campus in Kanpur, she could not cope with the orthodox ways of Ilyasi's family, who forced her to quit her career. The couple soon shifted to an apartment in Mayur Vihar, where Anju was leading a lonely life," he added. He was, however, a doting father. "I remember once, while I was in his cabin, he had spoken to Aaliya around six times in 30 minutes," he said. Ilyasi had also named his production house, Aaliya Productions, after his daughter.

Tarique Faridy, a filmmaker, who was Ilyasi's junior in college, however, described Ilyasi as "humble and cooperative". "After he shot to fame in 1999, I remember requesting him for an interview for my college project. He agreed immediately, and called me to the location, where he was shooting in Delhi. I found him to be humble." The duo kept in touch after that. "In 2004, when I became a producer at India TV, Ilyasi had signed a deal with us to host India TV's Most Wanted. Later, however, the idea got scrapped. But, I always found him to be punctual, dedicated and disciplined about his work," said Faridy, who was also invited to the premiere of 498A-The Wedding Gift, the only film Ilyasi had made. Faridy also remembered how Ilyasi had become a chain smoker after the death of his wife.

How tide turned against Ilyasi
Criminal lawyer Sharma took on the case as prosecution attorney in 2005. Building a case of murder against a man as powerful as Ilyasi, seemed a near impossible task. "I remember Ajay Agarwal, then director general, prisons, Tihar, in the race to be commissioner of police, was at the post-mortem for three hours. After the case was registered, he took Ilyasi in his official car to the police station. So, you can imagine the influence he wielded," he recalled.

After taking into account the discrepancies in the scene of crime and Ilyasi's statement, Sharma in 2011 moved application in the trial court, stating that Section 302 (punishment for murder) be added to the case. After multiple rounds of rejection, he moved high court in 2011. It took another three years, until Sharma's petition was granted by Justice Indermeet Kaur of the Delhi High Court. Ilyasi tried to interfere with the proceedings several times. "After the new board of five doctors established that it was a case of homicide, he accused two of them of attempting to extort him. He was clearly trying to pressurise the doctors."

Ilyasi is also said to have tried to control the media. Pramod Singh, city editor of Pioneer, who had covered the case from day one, told mid-day, "Ilyasi was ambitious and arrogant. He even threatened me once when I started questioning his role in Anju's death." "He had choreographed events to mislead the police by planting evidence in the form of two policemen, who were posted at his house for security. He took time to inform the police as he had first taken his wife to a nearby nursing home. He play-acted before the media and vowed to build a memorial for his wife, just like Taj Mahal," Singh said.

Ilyasi's game, said Singh, was finally busted by the second team of forensic experts that looked into the case in 2013. "They said that the nature of knife injuries on Anju's upper and lower abdomen were not self-inflicted, but were homicidal," he said. After several rounds of arguments in court, the verdict was finally announced on December 16, and Ilyasi was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment. "I saw Ilyasi change in court as the case proceeded. Initially, he was on his high horse, but when 302 was levelled against him, he seemed frazzled. No matter how much you try to exercise your influence outside court, in a trial it is evidence that matters the most," said Sharma.

Ilyasi will now be appealing against the judgment in the Delhi High Court, after it opens in the first week of January. His attorney, Manu Sharma, said, "I am more than confident of our chances this time. It is a case based on circumstantial evidence, and the circumstances are not compelling enough." As for Rukma, she is relieved that justice has been served after 18 years. "Everyone was scared of him, but I was not. I knew if I were right, he could do nothing. What more could he have done, except murder me, perhaps. And, had he done that, or even tried to, he would have dug his own grave. I don't know what will happen when he appeals next year. For now, I am satisfied that he is convicted."

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