According to the CCTV footage obtained from the lobby of Bhagwati Heights, 22-year-old Shree Jogdhankar rushed out of the building at around 2 am on the night of January 1, 2021. The footage shows Jogdhankar's hands and clothes covered in blood, his shirt torn. At the time, the Khar highrise was already a site of a murder. The body of Jhanvi Kukreja (19) lay in a pool of blood on the ground floor. The police were yet to arrive.
Several hours later, Jogdhankar and another friend of Kukreja, Diya Padalkar (19), were arrested by the Khar police for murder. Media reports claimed that both Jogdhankar and Padalkar were close friends of the victim, and the trio had gone to Bhagwati Heights to attend a New Year’s Party organised by a friend. However, during the event, a scuffle broke out between the three, and eventually, Kukreja was found dead on the ground floor by a resident of the building who had stepped out to walk her dog in the wee hours.
Kukreja's mother, Nidhi, claims that the CCTV footage is important evidence of Jogdhankar's involvement in her daughter's death. In an interview with News18 she said, "I have been informed that in the lobby's CCTV footage Shree was seen walking out at 2:15 am from the staircase (where Jhanvi was found murdered), and not from the lift."
"The footage shows blood on his hands and shirt, which was torn. After leaving the building, the footage from the road camera suggests that he walked up to 1 km and hailed a cab," she added.
However, lawyer Mahesh Vaswani, who is representing Jogdhankar, said that the same footage, in fact, can be the key to prove the discrepancies in the case against his client.
"Sometime around 2 am my client left the party. He was spotted in the CCTV footage with an 8-inch-long injury on the rear side of his head. After leaving the building, he went to Sion Hospital to get his wounds treated. While he was still at the hospital, he received a call from another friend who said that Jhanvi was badly hurt and the matter has gone to the police. So, he went down to the Khar police station at around 5 am. He was arrested later that day," said Vaswani.
"Before going to the quarantine centre, Jogdhankar was admitted to Cooper Hospital for injuries, including fractures on ribs and a dislocated spinal cord. All these injuries do not appear to be self-inflicted at all. So, apparently, something has happened to him," Vaswani added, pointing out that his client is physically big, and it is unlikely that Kukreja had inflicted those injuries during their fight.
"So, maybe something else happened that is yet to be found out? I'm sure the police are going to dig out the details during their investigation," the advocate added.
The case is currently under investigation due to which senior police inspector, Gajanan Kabdule refused to comment on it.
So far, the police have recreated the crime scene with dummies, collected fingerprints, nail clippings, and hair and swab tests of the accused. Both Jogdhankar and Padalkar are currently in judicial custody. Until now, there have been no reports of any confession from either party. However, during a remand hearing, a senior IO told the court that Padalkar has begun cooperating with them.
On the surface, it seems like a difficult case to crack with many missing links, discrepancies in witness statements, and absence of eyewitnesses. However, for the police, the key concern is to ascertain the motive behind such a gruesome crime.
Why was Kukreja killed?
Padalkar and Kukreja had been best friends and neighbours for fourteen years. Both girls were often in and out of each other's homes. Padalkar's parents went to sleep around 10 to 10:30 pm every night, and Padalkar would regularly stay with us, Nidhi said.
"Jhanvi would make her sit and study. She would give tuitions to her younger brother. During the lockdown, the colleges were shut, so Jhanvi and Diya started a baking business. She used to put her energy into positive things," she added.
Nidhi has been having a hard time trying to understand why her kind and loving daughter was so brutally killed. Initially, media reports claimed a love angle. Several accounts said that Jogdhankar was in a relationship with Kukreja and was seen getting close to Padalkar during the party, which infuriated Kukreja. She confronted Jogdhankar, and a fight broke out between the three. However, Nidhi has denied the claims and said Jogdhankar was just another friend.
"I request everyone to give her respect in death. Why put romance and love in her death? It is a case of friendship gone wrong," she pleaded.
Padalkar's lawyer, Ashok Mishra, also says his client was not in a relationship with Jogdhankar.
"She met Jogdhankar for the first time in September 2020. So, there is no scope they knew each other for long. And her mobile records and chats have already been taken by the police. But nothing is there, not even a single discussion on that angle," he said.
"Jhanvi's parents claim that Shree and Jhanvi were not in a relationship. If so, then it only goes on to prove that neither of the two had any motive to hurt her," he added.
Currently, the Kukrejas are waiting for the police to interrogate the two accused and find out more details regarding the death of their daughter.
The Blind Spot
While the motive is yet to be ascertained, another crucial link missing from the case is the exact whereabouts of two accused during the murder. Jogdhankar's lawyers claim he has no memory of how he got hurt and what he was doing during the period in which Jhanvi was murdered.
"He said that he doesn't remember what happened, because he was out of senses. He doesn't remember anything about the fight, too," said Vaswani. "The last thing he remembers is being in a fight. After that, when he regained consciousness, he found himself bleeding and badly hurt, so he called a friend and went to Sion hospital," he added.
Padalkar, too, has a similar blind spot. According to her lawyer, Ashok Mishra, Padalkar had only tried to help. " She told me that there were no lights on in the staircase. Jogdhankar and Kukreja were arguing, and she went to intervene because Kukreja was a good friend. During the intervention, she suddenly felt someone hit her on the face hard. She lost her balance, fell and hit the railing, and started bleeding profusely."
"She went down to the second floor to her friend's house who had organised the party. As soon as she reached there, she fainted... there was blood on the bed on which she fell unconscious. Someone must have called the other friends from the terrace. They came downstairs and helped her clean her wound. But the bleeding didn't stop. So, they called her dad and told him that they are taking her to Hinduja hospital. She was accompanied by her friends that is what the CCTV footage shows," added Mishra.
A Silent Building
It isn't just Padalkar and Jogdhankar though, no one in the whole building, where a New Years' party was taking place on the top floor, apparently heard anything. There are no eyewitnesses to the crime, and Kukreja's friends from the party either claim they don't remember anything or did not witness or hear anything.
Nidhi said that the post-mortem report shows her daughter had sustained 48 injuries, the main one being a skull injury. "There were tufts of her hair everywhere. It seems she was dragged down with a lot of force. And every floor had blood, and her skull was literally in two pieces. What I don’t understand is what was the rage about that lead to such a brutal crime? And, how come no one saw or heard anything?" she asked.
"Among those present at the party, five girls are from our complex. They have all grown up together with Jhanvi. Nobody came to help her. I don't understand, there were so many others at the party, why did they not help?" asked Kukreja.
The Kukrejas have been asked not to contact those present at the party during the investigation.
An eyewitness's absence may work in Jogdhankar's favour, but his history of short temperedness doesn't. According to Ganesh Gupta, a lawyer from Vaswani's team defending Jogdhankar, "The police have also discovered a few old incidents against him, and therefore, their line of argument is that he is very hot-headed so he might have assaulted the deceased." However, Gupta added that it was a futile attempt to paint his client in poor light.
Punishment and hope for justice
Gupta told News18.com that Jogdhankar is currently lodged at Taloja jail, where he was sent for judicial custody on January 14. "We had filed an application that allowed him to read books in jail because his exams are coming up. And we asked that he be given appropriate medical treatment," added Gupta.
"There is nothing in the remand application to connect him to the crime. Therefore, hypothetically, if it can be proved that Shree is guilty, then at the most it would be under 304 of the IPC (because there was no intention to murder, only knowledge)," he said.
So far, there had been widespread reports that all the party attendees were heavily intoxicated and under the influence of drugs. However, a media report by India Today has contradicted this in a report which says no drug or alcohol traces were found on the accused.
Kukrejas' lawyer Advocate Trivankumar Karnani told News18 that whether drugs and alcohol were consumed at the party is subject to the investigation by the police and will come to light once they prepare their charge sheet against the accused. But, so far, it has been revealed that Jogdhankar has a criminal history.
" It has also come to light in the remand applications that a drug dealer has been arrested (for supplying drugs to one of the attendees of the party) in a separate case filed by the police under the NDPS act," said Karnani.
For the Kukrejas, the only thing that matters right now is getting justice for their daughter. Currently, nothing is right in their household. The light of their lives has suddenly been snatched away, and for the parents, it feels like they have lost a lifeline.
"My husband and I are taking this seriously because we do not want any parent to go through this. We know what it feels like to experience this. She had just started her life; she did everything right. Today's girls know how to take care of themselves. It's the boys who have to be taught," she said.
Jogdhankar's lawyers are currently gearing up to apply for his bail at the session's court, which Karnani said they will vehemently oppose. According to Karnani, both Jogdhankar and Padalkar are facing charges under Section 302 R/W 34 (murder committed in furtherance to a common intention) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
The earlier version of the article has been updated.