Journalist Soumya Viswanathan and IT executive Jigisha Ghosh were killed in the national capital a decade ago. Six months separated their murders before the police found the same group of men responsible for both their deaths.
Soumya, 25, and Jigisha, 28, were set to scale greater heights in their careers when they were killed in cold blood.
While Jigisha’s case saw convictions in 2016, the same men were held guilty in Soumya’s case recently.
For the parents, these verdicts ended a long-drawn legal battle. But despite the scales of justice being tipped in their favour, they cannot bring back their daughters.
The longest 15 minutes
On a fateful day in September 2008, Soumya rang up her parents at around midnight saying she would be late.
Malegaon in Maharashtra and Ahmedabad in Gujarat had just witnessed bombings, prompting news channels to run constant updates. Soumya, who was supervising the night shift at the studios of her news channel, had to work longer than usual.
“She stayed back to help the next shift and rang me up at 12 o'clock saying she will be late. She left the office after 3 AM and then rang up 15 minutes later to tell me that she would home in 15 minutes,” recalls her mother Madhavi.
But when Soumya did not arrive by 3:30 AM, her parents began to worry.
“Even in our remotest thoughts, we had not imagined anything (adverse). After a long time, someone picked up her phone and said there had been an accident,” Madhavi remembers.
The news of the accident preceded an “unbelievable, traumatic” moment for Madhavi, who struggles to describe the painful series of events.
A cheerful, happy-go-lucky girl
The Viswanathans had moved to Delhi's Vasant Kunj in 1990 and put both of their daughters in the same school. Following her schooling, Soumya completed her honours in Journalism from Kamla Nehru College and then did her Master's from Indian Institute of Mass Communications.
Roop Brar, a neighbour who has been living opposite the Viswanathans, has come to visit.
Soumya would have been the same age as her children.
“My daughter told me Soumya was a smart girl. Children at that age are busy studying. We have known the Viswanathans for a long time,” Brar says.
On the tragic day, Brar was not in the neighbourhood, but has kept a tab on the legal developments ever since.
“Both their (Viswanathans’) daughters were friendly, respectful children,” she says.
Soumya's mother described her as a “very cheerful, happy go lucky, hard working and friendly” daughter.
A promising journalist
Before becoming a journalist, Soumya wanted to enrol in a law university in Bangalore. But when she couldn’t get through to the law course, she decided to become a journalist.
“She wanted to do well,” says Madhavi, as Brar interrupts,
“She would have been very good. I read everything in detail in the papers (post the convictions). I read Rahul Kanwal’s statement and he said she (Soumya) was ‘one of our brightest producers’. That made me realise that she would have been in that league. She was a bright and hard working professional. As she (Madhavi) said even on that night she stayed back in office.”
“She was working on Rahul Kanwal’s show ‘Centre Stage’,” the mother reveals.
In retrospect, Madhavi would have asked her to come home in the morning, but Soumya wanted to spend time with her family.
“Her elder sister and brother-in-law had just returned from Vietnam. And Soumya had taken two days off and had worked two extra days to earn two more days. So that she could spend four days with them,” she says.
The Nelson Mandela Marg road, which Soumya took on the early hours of the fateful day to reach her home at Vasant Kunj, was a lonely, unlit stretch back in 2008.
It had become a hunting ground for criminals like the ones involved in Soumya’s case. It would be later revealed that she was chased and fatally shot on the same stretch.
Soumya's father MK Viswanathan offers to show footage video-graphed by a news channel soon after the incident.
He then talks about his young, aspirational daughter’s professional journey through her experiences in different newsrooms.
“In 2007, she left CNN and on February 18, 2008, she re-joined India Today as a producer. She was an assistant producer, then she was associate producer with CNN and she got a producer’s job with another company, but she did not join,” he says.
Madhavi says Soumya preferred to be in production rather than being in front of the camera.
“Initially, she was asked to cover some raid that had happened. She did not like it. She preferred production,” she says.
Coping with tragedy and the legal process
Certain life changes were inevitable following the death of their younger child. The parents started visiting their elder daughter more often. But when in Delhi, the Viswanathans kept abreast with Soumya's case.
“Except for a short period when the last judge came, he said, now, it is recording of statements and you don't have to come. The court staff would inform us,” shares Madhavi.
To relive their daughter's ordeal through arguments before the court was a traumatic experience for the family.
“I’m more of a worrying type but he (Soumya’s father) is the positive one,” says the mother.
“From day one I was damn sure,” says the father, referring to the guilt of the accused.
In March 2009, when Soumya’s killers were still on the run, the family was informed about a breakthrough in their daughter’s case.
“All four had been picked up in Jigisha’s murder case. Ravi Kapoor and other accused,” he says.
“We were numb. We were still coming to terms with her loss,” remembers Madhavi.
On the day of the verdict, the Viswanathans were swarmed by the media persons, but they don't complain. They appreciated how journalists covered their daughter's case and helped them with updates.
“We just couldn’t get out. Mr Dhaliwal ((Special Commissioner of Delhi police Special Cell) waited there and got us into the car before he left,” says Madhavi.
But has the legal process brought closure after 15 years? The mother "doesn't think so".
“Unless judgments come out quickly and people are able to relate the crime to the punishment, that’s not possible,” says Madhavi.
Post the guilty verdict, the mother wasn’t keen on Soumya’s killers being awarded the death penalty. She had her reasons.
“Death is too easy a way out, actually. They also have to suffer like we are suffering. Life in prison should be life. They should not get any remission,” she says.
Viswanathan was 65 when Soumya died.
“I’m 81. I wasn’t like this. Now I am like this,” he says gesturing at his feeble frame.
When a journalist asked him if he was happy with the judgment, Viswanathan emphasised,
“How can I be happy after losing my daughter? l am satisfied with the judgment. There is a difference. Happiness will come, only if my daughter comes back."
The loss of an only child
Jigisha Ghosh, who worked at a consulting firm in Noida, was on her way home to Vasant Kunj when some men abducted her and killed her in the early hours of March 18, 2009.
Her mother Sabita Ghosh was hale and hearty before her daughter’s untimely death. The incident has taken a toll on her mental and physical health.
“After she left us, there’s not a single ailment I haven’t suffered from.”
Perhaps it is also because Jigisha was the couple’s only child and more attached to her mother than her father, Jagannath.
“It is just the two of us now taking take care of each other when either falls ill,” says Sabita, who did not miss a single day of court hearings of her daughter's case.
On the day of the incident, Jigisha had called her mother to prepare breakfast, telling her she was only five minutes away from their Vasant Vihar home.
“She was hungry and about to reach home. But I kept waiting and waiting. She never returned,” says Sabita.
The mother then tried to trace the path her daughter would take to a temple and a Gurudwara in the vicinity every morning.
"I went to those places but was told that she hadn’t been there," says Sabita.
With the passage of time, the parents started to frantically search for their daughter and rushed to the local police station to lodge a complaint.
“I told them that we belong to a conservative, Bengali family and that our daughter did not venture any where unnecessarily. But they did not lodge an FIR. They told me rudely that she must have gone with someone. I told them my daughter isn’t like that."
It was after Jigisha's body was recovered that the police were able to ascertain the cause of her death. During the investigation, the police found her belongings and a phone, which revealed unauthorised transactions from Jigisha's bank account. Around ₹1.5 lakh was missing from her account and the parents seriously began to place money as motive behind their daughter's murder.
The mother followed the money trail and reached a shop in Sarojini Nagar in Delhi, where the three accused had gone to purchase expensive items using her card.
Jigisha was robbed of the jewellery she was wearing at the time of the incident. One of the two mobile phones she was carrying was also recovered.
“Only after the recovery of concrete evidence, opinion of handwriting experts, etc., was the case solved,” the mother recounts.
Perservering through despair
A few days after Jigisha’s body was recovered in March, 2009, the Delhi Police arrested three men in connection with the murder case. One of the arrested men later revealed to the police Jigisha's last words.
Jigisha, the perpetrator revealed, begged with the men that she was her parents' only child and that her mother will not be able to cope with her death. As a result, she offered the men all of her valuables.
"Even in her last moments, she only cared about me. Just imagine. In such a situation, anybody else would have asked for mercy, pleading for their own lives. And then here’s my daughter. She knew I wouldn't survive without her,” says Sabita.
It was not easy for Jigisha's mother to muster the courage and face the legal processes after losing her only daughter. With no time to grieve, the mother found strength in the hope of bringing justice for her daughter.
Delhi’s harsh summers and biting cold winters did not deter Sabita and Jagannath from leaving home at around 7:30 AM on each court date. They returned from Saket District courts exactly 12 hours later each time.
The mother had decided to fight “tooth and nail,” come what may.
“We even frequented the police station on several occasions just to enquire about the status of the case, asking the officials what was taking so long to conclude it,” she says.
Legal rigmarole and a mother’s persistence
The change of the public prosecutor and the accused citing medical grounds, including being HIV positive, for leniency and reprieves, came as bumps in the road to justice.
Adjournments and absenting defense witnesses only added to its frustrations.
“The delay in the trial was a result of all these factors, but the Delhi Police helped us a lot. They informed us about all legal updates and always reached out,” she says.
Apart from ascertaining fishy bank transactions from her daughter’s account, Sabita also identified the jewellery recovered from the accused persons. At the time of her death, Jigisha was wearing her mother’s gold chain.
“The moment I saw it, I knew it was the gold chain I had given her. Similarly, the three rings she was wearing at that time,” shares Sabita.
There were some issues with the buttons on Jigisha’s phone, so she had borrowed her mother’s phone at that time. She was carrying both the phones on the night she was abducted.
Jigisha's phone wasn’t found, but Sabita’s phone was recovered by the police.
“I identified all the recoveries in the courtroom. Ours was a watertight case. Despite that, it took nine years,” she laments.
Why Sabita wanted death for Jigisha’s killers
Contrary to Madhavi’s notion on the death penalty and life imprisonment, Sabita was determined on her daughter's killers being taken to the gallows.
“I wanted death penalty. How many lives have they ruined? They destroyed my family, Soumya’s family and even Nadeem’s. Three families and many more. Only these three came in the limelight,” says Sabita.
One of the convicts, Ravi Kapoor, was also found guilty of murder of a taxi driver named Mohammed Nadeem in January 2009.
The mother argues the punishment of life imprisonment is akin to being trapped at home.
“The only difference is that we are living in a bigger space and they are in a cell,” she says.
The convicts, she says, have access to all sorts of amenities nowadays. Some news reports had revealed to her that the same men were running a crime syndicate from inside the prison.
A kind soul
The family was quintessentially non-vegetarian before Jigisha converted them.
“So we turned vegetarians. She cared about the poor too. Her heart was in the right place...God tends to call all the good people early,” the mother says.
At the time of Ajmal Kasab’s hanging, Jigisha told her mother that he shouldn’t be given the death penalty. She believed even the most loathsome were entitled to live.
“She was a kind soul who did not believe in taking away someone’s life. Perhaps that’s why the life imprisonment, and not death penalty, was written in the fate of her killers,” feels the mother.
On January 4, 2018, the Delhi High Court commuted the death sentence of Kapoor and co-convict Amit Shukla.
Although the family hails from West Bengal, the parents decided to stay back in Delhi to be "close to the memories" of their daughter.
“We did not return feeling our daughter is here. All her friends are here. Jigisha liked to live in North India.”
As a “middle-class” family, the parents wanted Jigisha to marry and start a family when she grew up, but she was not keen on it.
“She said she was our only child and worried we'd be left alone. She confided in her friends that there would be no one to look after us if she married,” she says.
As a professional, Jigisha aspired to become the Chief Executive Officer of her company. One of her seniors from work had once told the family about Jigisha being an asset to the organisation.
She traveled to the US thrice within six months after she had joined her workplace in Noida.
“The incident happened three months after she returned from her third US visit,” the mother recollects.
Sabita used to be an avid reader of all newspapers. Mindful of her mother’s hobby, Jigisha returned from the US with a surprise.
“She called me from there to say she was bringing my 'favourite thing'. She brought me so many newspapers and books,” shares Sabita, choking up.
In her honour
The mother recounts how her daughter already knew the lines from her textbooks even before it was read out to her.
“That’s why I named her Jigisha. It means the desire to conquer,” she says.
Sabita and Jagannath always felt proud of raising a daughter who helped the poor and needy. They remember her donating a part of the earnings for social causes and once contributing towards the treatment of cancer patients.
On one occasion, Sabita and Jigisha were walking together near their home when they noticed a boy being thrashed by a tea vendor for stealing something. The daughter intervened and saved the boy by compensating the shop owner for his losses.
“She did not believe in materialistic things. She was different,” Sabita pauses only to emphasise moments later,
“She would have done a lot for the society if she was alive.”