A top Bollywood photographer was arrested on Sunday, four months after he allegedly used a casteist slur against a man belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SC). He was released on bail on Tuesday.
The accused, Rakesh Shrestha (62), who is of Nepalese origin, has claimed to be “unaware of Indian caste hierarchies”. A Khar resident, Shrestha had worked in over 600 films in a career spanning more than three decades and has a photo studio at Aram Nagar-II in Versova.
The alleged incident took place on September 12, 2018, when a JCB truck was levelling a football ground that also serves as the entrance road to a cluster of bungalows, offices and performance spaces at Aram Nagar-II.
The complainant, Nitin Ambavkar (49), who runs an automobile garage in the area, has alleged that around 1 pm, Shrestha entered into an argument with fellow resident Raju Patole. “Both men had come out to watch the levelling work. As the machine had hit a water pipe that runs to Patole’s house, we were urging the operators to finish the work soon so that we could fix the pipe,” said Ambavkar.
In his complaint, Ambavkar alleged that Shreshtha picked up a fight with Patole over the removal of a shed the latter had built outside his studio. The verbal spat led to physical confrontation. “I tried to break up the fight but Shrestha used filthy language against me,” alleged Ambavkar. He claimed that Shrestha threatened to beat him up while making a derogatory remark about his caste.
Ambavkar claimed that the police initially did not register his complaint. It reportedly took the intervention of the state SC/ST commission for the Versova police to file an FIR against Shrestha on November 12, 2018, under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the IPC.
Earlier this month, the police served a notice to Shrestha, prompting him to move the Dindoshi sessions court seeking anticipatory bail. However, the court rejected his plea on Friday and Shrestha was arrested on Sunday. The same day, he was produced before the holiday court and remanded to judicial custody. After Shrestha’s lawyer Kanishk Jayant filed a regular bail plea on Monday, the court released Shrestha on a cash bond of Rs 15,000 on Tuesday.
In his bail plea, Shrestha has denied having used a derogatory term to abuse Ambavkar and accused him of filing a false complaint. In his anticipatory bail, Shrestha has claimed that due to his “cosmopolitan profession” and because he was of Nepalese origin, he never had an “occasion to understand the Indian caste system and is completely alien to the caste-based discrimination, practice of untouchability in India and caste hierarchy based on certain surnames in Maharashtra”.
He further claimed that the case against him was filed over disagreements regarding the appointment of a builder for the proposed redevelopment of Aram Nagar-II. Both Shrestha and Ambavkar are senior office-bearers in the Aram Nagar Tenant’s Welfare Association.
In his application, Shrestha claimed that Ambavkar, Patole and a few security personnel employed by a builder they favour for the project, tried to attack him and his wife on September 12, last year, prompting her to call the police control room. Ambavkar has denied that the dispute was related to the redevelopment project.
“The incident took place due to a personal issue between the complainant and the accused,” said Ravindra Badgujar, senior Inspector, Versova police.