Five years on, Sheena Bora’s murder still haunts Mumbai
On April 24, 2012, Sheena Bora, an assistant manager working for Mumbai Metro One, went missing. She was never seen again, but the 25-year-old’s disappearance, her murder, and the subsequent trial of her mother and stepfather, shook a nation, and its aftershocks are still being felt, five years after the incident.
A day after her disappearance — she had taken leave from work on April 24 — her employer received a resignation letter from her. No one knows who actually sent the letter, but the previous day, her boyfriend Rahul Mukerjea received a text message saying she wants to break up with him. Rahul is the son of Peter Mukerjea, a former television mogul married to Indrani, who, until the arrest of her driver Shyamwar Rai, was known to the world as the co-founder of television group INX Media and as Ms. Bora’s elder sister. Ms. Mukerjea’s estranged son, Mekhail, later come forward and told the media that Ms. Bora was, in fact, her daughter, and not her sister.
If not for Mr. Rai’s arrest on August 21, 2015 for possession of illegal weapons and his confession statement to the police, the murder would not even have come to light. The killing was meticulously planned, down to what to do with the body, according to Mr. Rai’s statement to Mumbai Police.
Ms. Bora, born in Guwahati, Assam, was a student at St Xavier College in south Mumbai, where she studied Arts between 2006 and 2009. Soon after she graduated, she joined as a management trainee at Reliance Infrastructure, and later as assistant manager at Mumbai Metro One Private Limited. Her fellow students remember her as softspoken and kindhearted, even though she would often confess to a complicated family life.
On the day of her disappearance, Rahul had dropped her at Bandra where Ms. Mukerjea was supposed to have picked her up. It was therefore intriguing that Ms. Bora would send a breakup message, Rahul later told the police. He approached the police the same night to complain about her disappearance.
Ms. Mukerjea had insisted on seeing Ms. Bora that evening, even though the latter was unwilling. After Rahul dropped her near Bandra’s National College, Ms. Mukerjea arrived in a rented Opel Corsa with her former husband Sanjeev Khanna (who had flown down from Kolkata), and her driver, Mr. Rai. According to the driver’s statement, Ms. Bora sat with her mother in the backseat, while Mr. Khanna sat in the front passenger seat. Ms. Mukerjea had come prepared to kill Ms. Bora, according to Mr. Rai.
He confessed to the police that Ms. Mukerjea had told him to do a recce of places in Lonavla and Khandala — two hill stations near Mumbai — where bodies can be disposed to avoid attention. She had also instructed him to buy a 10-litre can of petrol and to get prescription medicines from a medical store. She later allegedly told him that a village in Pen tehsil in Raigad district was ideal.
Mr. Rai added that Ms. Mukerjea bought along with her two bags, three pairs of shoes, and two sarees. He was also allegedly directed to get a bottle of vodka with two water bottles with the medicines. She then filled the medicine in a mineral water bottle and mixed them well, the driver alleged.
Once inside the car, Ms. Mukerjea offered Ms. Bora vodka laced with medicines. Soon after, Mr. Rai said, the 25-year-old started feeling dizzy. Ms. Mukerjea instructed him to park the car in a secluded area in Bandra and began strangling Ms. Bora. She struggled with the strangulation, so she asked her former husband to come to the backseat and help her. After some struggle, the deed was done. Mr. Rai alleged that after Ms. Bora died, Ms. Mukerjea said, “She has got her 3BHK flat.”
They proceeded to Ms. Mukerjea’s house in Worli. Mr. Khanna was dropped at a hotel, and the driver slept in the car with Ms. Bora’s body in the trunk. The threesome left for Pen past midnight, and at around 4 am, reached Gagode village. To avoid police checks at night, they had propped up Ms. Bora’s body on the backseat with her head on her mother’s shoulder. The driver said that if any policeman would have asked, Ms. Mukerjea would have flatly said that Ms. Bora was sleeping.
Once they reached the outskirts of the village, it is alleged that they stopped the car, dragged the body out, stuffed it into a bag, and set it on fire with the petrol they had brought along. Then, they returned to Mumbai, and Mr. Khanna returned to his house in Kolkata.
One month later, a foul smell alerted the villagers that something was wrong. On investigation, a partially burnt body was found, and the remains were sent to Mumbai’s J.J. Hospital for a postmortem. No one in Mumbai Police connected it to the missing person’s report that Rahul had filed a month ago. It took three years and three months to arrest Ms. Mukerjea.
Based on Mr. Rai’s confession, the police arrested Ms. Mukerjea in Mumbai and Mr. Khanna from Kolkata on August 25, 2015. It later emerged that Ms. Mukerjea had also tried to kill Mekhail, so that both bodies could be disposed of at the same time.
Mekhail and Sheena were born to Indrani Bora and her then live-in partner Siddharth Das. When Indrani left him, she left both the children with her parents, Upendra Kumar and Durga Rani Bora. She made them legally adopt the kids, so that she could disassociate herself with them and left for Kolkata.
After their arrest, the police took them to Raigad to recreate the murder scene. By then, Mr. Khanna had confessed to his “complicity in the crime”.
Rakesh Maria, the then Mumbai police chief, visited Khar police station every day and personally interrogated the accused. However, on September 18, 2015, Maharashtra government transferred the probe to the special crime branch of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The additional chief secretary K.P. Bakshi had said, “There could be economic links to the murder and hence a complete and detailed probe was needed. This decision will ensure that no state government officer will be linked to the probe.”
Mr. Maria was later posted as Director General of Home Guards. A day before his retirement, he made a statement that “influential and wealthy people” had suppressed the murder.
On September 30, CBI registered an FIR against Ms. Mukerjea, Mr, Khanna, and Mr. Rai, charging them with criminal conspiracy, murder, abduction, destruction of evidence, causing hurt by giving poison, and relevant provisions of the Arms Act.
On November 19, 2015 CBI arrested Indrani’s second husband and media baron Peter Mukerjea, and charged him with murder, causing disappearance of evidence, criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery and kidnapping. The agency filed its first chargesheet in the case. The 1000-page chargesheet had call records, emails and text messages between Mr. and Ms. Mukerjea.
It reveals Ms. Mukerjea’s displeasure at Peter’s son Rahul and her daughter Sheena’s relationship; because if the two would marry, her daughter would become her daughter-in-law which would have led to property disputes.
In December, 2015, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) investigated all the companies belonging to the Mukerjeas, and questioned how the wife, who used to recruit staff for companies as part of her human resources profile, could acquire a sum of more than Rs 100 crore to set up a media company. CBDT further inquired into her sources of funding, and also their lending terms.
On November 26, 2015 CBI had said they need Mr. Mukerjea’s custody to probe into the duo’s alleged money laundering and siphoning of company funds. The Additional Solicitor General appearing on behalf of CBI had told the Bombay High Court (HC) that, “Money siphoned off from INX’s dealings was routed to Sheena Bora’s HSBC account in Singapore.”
In its second chargesheet, filed on October 21, 2016 CBI revealed that Ms. Mukerjea had kept her husband informed over the phone about the place where Ms. Bora’s body would be disposed.
Finally, on February 24, 2017, 57 months after the murder, the trial in one of the most shocking murder cases in recent times, commenced when the first witness Sub-Inspector Ganesh Dalvi deposed before the special CBI court at the City Civil and Sessions Court in Mumbai. When questioned by the CBI, he revealed parts of the confessional statement made by driver Shyamvar Rai who had by then turned an approver in the case. While Mr. Dalvi posted at the Khar Police Station, was narrating how they caught Mr. Rai defence lawyers promptly objected to it. The court granted them permission to move the HC to decide whether or not Mr. Rai’s confessional statement can be brought in as ‘evidence’ through Dalvi.
This move has stalled the trial, and it won’t resume until the HC decides what has to be done. That would only mean one thing: Ms. Mukerjea (20 months in Byculla jail), Mr Khanna (20 months in Arthur Road jail) and Mr. Mukerjea (17 months in Arthur Road jail) are staring at a long haul behind bars.