A day after a resident doctor was arrested for allegedly harassing and making casteist comments at postgraduate medical student Dr Payal Tadvi, leading to her suicide on May 22, two other accused residents doctors were arrested on Wednesday.
While Bhakti Mehare was arrested from Fort area on Tuesday, the other two resident doctors — Hema Ahuja and Ankita Khandelwal — were arrested from Andheri in Mumbai and Hinjawadi in Pune, respectively. The three were produced before a special court on Wednesday and remanded in police custody till Friday.
The police said Ahuja and Khandelwal were planning to leave the state.
A senior IPS officer, on the condition of anonymity, said that Khandelwal, who was found hiding at her relative’s residence in Pune, had booked air tickets to Indore.
“Khandelwal had booked two flight tickets to Indore, one for Tuesday and another for Wednesday. She applied for pre-arrest bail on Monday, which was to be heard on Tuesday. She thought that if her anticipatory bail plea was allowed, she will cancel the ticket. If it was not, then she will take the flight on Tuesday evening. However, she booked another ticket for Wednesday assuming that if the court gives its decision late on Tuesday, then she would flee the next day,” the officer added.
Khandelwal’s cousin Ashish Khandelwal, who was with her, was detained. Police said his statement is being recorded as he was found with the accused.
Ahuja was hiding in a hotel near Andheri station. Her relatives were present in the room when she was arrested, said an officer, adding that it is being ascertained where she was planning to flee.
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Police said that after Tadvi was declared dead in the hospital on May 22, the three switched off their cellphones and left Nair hospital separately. The FIR was registered the next day, following which, the police started tracking down the trio.
A senior officer said that Mehare, Khandelwal and Ahuja are from Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh, Akola in Maharashtra and Satna in Madhya Pradesh, respectively. Several teams were deputed to different locations in Mumbai, Akola, Amaravati and Satna, but their homes at these places were found locked.
“Even their relatives’ homes in Mumbai were locked. We received tip-offs about their location from their fellow doctors at Nair hospital and accordingly, teams were dispatched,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone 3) Abhinash Kumar.
Since their arrest, the three accused have been claiming that Tadvi could not take the work pressure and that they did not push her to commit suicide, said the police.
The investigators have recorded the statements of over 30 faculty members in Nair hospital, including those of doctors who worked in the gynaecology department. “We have also recorded the statement of those deployed to clean the department,” said an officer.
The police said that they have seized the scarf which Tadvi used to hang herself. Also, the cellphones of the six persons, who were members of the WhatsApp group, in which Tadvi was allegedly harassed, have been seized and sent for forensic analysis.
In the court, the prosecution sought the custody of the accused, claiming that they are yet to ascertain whether Tadvi had left behind a suicide note. The police claimed that they want to interrogate the accused to find out whether they had any hand in destroying the purported note.
Advocate Nitin Satpute, representing the complainant, Tadvi’s mother Abeda Salim, said that there were injury marks on Tadvi’s back, and the police should probe if this was a case of murder.
The advocates for the accused refuted the claim saying that the door of Tadvi’s room, where she was found hanging on May 22, was locked from inside and hence, there could not have been anyone with her. They claimed that the accused were not aware of Tadvi’s caste and hence, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act cannot be invoked against them.
Referring to messages claiming to have been exchanged between Tadvi and her mother, the accused claimed that in one such message, Tadvi told Abeda Salim that people at the hospital were not aware about her caste. Tadvi belonged to the Tadvi Bhil community, which falls under the Scheduled Tribes category.
Further, the accused claimed that the police had “chased” them to ensure that they are arrested before their anticipatory bail applications could be heard. The bail applications were filed on Tuesday and Mehare was arrested the same day after she completed the notary process at a lawyer’s office in Fort area near the court. Ahuja and Khandelwal, who were also in the area on Monday, managed to complete the documentation at their lawyers’ offices and leave before they could be arrested. The advocates claimed that their offices were checked to search for the accused.