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The brutal murder of a bright young female lawyer in Mumbai recently made headlines and had every news channel detailing how the gruesome act of intended lust and violence was carried out.
Pallavi Purkayastha, 25 years old and a promising legal professional was killed by Sajjad Ahmed Mohgal, security guard at the residence towers of the said victim. As the crime was unfolded and reconstructed by the authorities, here is what I gathered.
Pallavi had an altercation with Sajjad, couple of days before the night of the crime. Sajjad had misbehaved with Pallavi, who had then slapped him in retaliation.
On 8th August, 2012, Pallavi returned home from work at around 11 p.m. to find the power tripped. The watchman, Sajjad, had deliberately turned off the power to her residence. She called her live-in partner Avik Sengupta, who suggested she seek the society maintenance’s help.
On Pallavi’s complaint Sajjad, accompanied by the electrician arrived at her flat and fixed the power outage at 12.30 a.m. The power tripped again within half an hour and this time when Sajjad came along with the electrician, he stole the keys to Pallavi’s apartment.
Later, at 1.30 a.m. on 9th August, 2012, Sajjad returned with a knife and let himself inside Pallavi’s home and bedroom. He tried to rape Pallavi. She resisted and fought him back so he slit her throat. He washed himself and fled, hiding the murder weapon under a shoe rack on the 3rd floor of the same building.
Avik Sengupta returned home at 5.30 a.m. to find Pallavi in a pool of blood.
When contacted, the neighbors denied hearing any commotion or call for help. But the blood in the lobby indicated that Pallavi had ran out for help was dragged back inside.
The security agency which had employed him didn’t have the exact address.
Sajjad was arrested at Mumbai Central Station while trying to flee.
Pallavi, a legal advisor with a reputed entertainment company and a national level swimmer, was the daughter of an IAS officer. Hailing from a bureaucratic background, being professionally qualified and career oriented, living independently in a city away from her family and that too with a partner; Pallavi was perhaps the epitome of a ‘modern’ female. If this could happen to her, it could happen to anybody.
The media covered a lot of relevant points ranging from the lapse of security (four security cameras in the high rise building where the crime took place were not working) to the steady influx of people in Mumbai, to the increasing imbalance in the ratio of law and crime. The focus however was on one solid outcome – whether rich or poor, educated or illiterate, working or at home; the female today was no safer than what she was 50 years before.
I don’t know how accurate is the information that I have so far read as the case is recent, but apart from the above pointers by the media, certain psychological and cultural specifics that came out with the crime, disturbed me.
When the neighbors were questioned, none of them claimed to know Pallavi or her partner personally and the consensus was that they kept to themselves, mostly. The security guard’s misbehavior towards Pallavi had also never been reported to the society.
Is this our way of copying the west? Usually, when people wish to emphasize about the independent yet lonely life in western countries, they say “you don’t know who lives next doors even if you stay at the same place for years, everybody minds their own business” (this statement is a bit of an exaggeration, I can confidently say so). But the point here is, this has never been our way of life. In a country as populated and a culture as close knit, many of us grow up eating our daily morsels next doors and the convenience of leaving a key to our home with the neighbors is still not extinct. We may have even fought with our neighbors, but we have always KNOWN them. In metros and bigger cities, this may be a fading concept in apartment complexes where many of the residences are occupied by renters, but is it really adding to our privacy or endangering our safety?
Would a neighbor’s presence have mattered when Pallavi called for assistance? (Meaning, call the neighbor first and then the security guard). Was the security guard’s misdemeanor not taken seriously enough? Would it have been better to be paranoid and just wait for the partner to return home?
Pallavi was a brave, strong and a cautious person, as described by her friends and family. She fought her predator till the end, hitting him, injuring him with whatever came in her hands, before he slashed her throat with a knife. Makes me wonder, if certain situations warrant the role reversal of virtues and weaknesses; making confidence in one’s own abilities a bad thing to have and fear of evil a must have.
This is by no means an assembly of words intended to blame the victim for the crime. A life is lost. Nothing done or undone can bring it back. The intent is to draw attention to some of the non- statistical elements surrounding this gross crime and untimely death; lessons that women staying alone or faced with a similar circumstances when alone, need to learn, and not the hard way.
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