The platform struck Satendra Singh Kushwaha as odd. It was a cement block, with a marble slab on top and a rope that resembled a noose dangling from atop. Minutes ago, on the evening of February 3, the sub-inspector had led a team of policemen — some from his Govindpuri police station in Bhopal, the others from West Bengal — up to the first floor of the two-storey house in Bhopal’s Saket Nagar locality and knocked on the door.
“When he opened the door, I held his hand and dragged him out. He was too weak to offer any resistance; he was probably drunk. He also looked unwashed. There was dust in his hair and the thermal shirt he was wearing was unclean. The three rooms were full of dirt, cigarette stubs, liquor bottles and unwashed plates,’’ says Kushwaha, describing how he had been “unimpressed” at the sight of Udayan Das, 32, a man who now stands accused of three spine-chilling murders across two states: that of his parents in Raipur seven years ago and now his ‘girlfriend’, Akansha Sharma.
The platform had bothered Kushwaha. “When I asked him about it, he said it was a place meant for worship. I knew it was anything but that,’’ says Kushwaha. Investigators would soon make a grisly discovery: entombed within was Akansha’s body. Udayan, they say, curled up for nights on the platform after he allegedly strangled her some seven months ago. Hours into their interrogation, the Bhopal Police’s suspicions strengthened — Udayan answered in English when questioned in Hindi, played around when asked about details of the murder and his motive, all the while keeping a straight face. And, police say, he was chillingly polite.
That’s a detail the Raipur Police too remember about Udayan. On February 5, dressed in a black jacket and a dark grey shirt, he directed police teams as they dug up the garden of a house in Raipur’s middle-class Sunder Nagar to look for the bodies of Udayan’s parents. He had told them he had killed them in 2010, and buried them in the lawns of the two-storey house that had been their home for nine years. When two bodies were eventually dug out — they have since been sent for forensic examination — Udayan reportedly showed no emotion.
Police say that when they asked Udayan, who had been standing handcuffed for several hours, if he wanted to sit, he was “cultured and well-mannered” in his response. “No. Thank you, sir. I’m alright,” he is said to have told police. The Raipur Police say that over two hours of questioning, Udayan, who spoke fluent English, Hindi and Bengali, was calm and coherent as he spoke about his growing up years in Raipur. Udayan Das came to Raipur in 2001 as a Class 11 student. The family moved here after his mother Indrani Das, an employee of the MP government, was transferred to Raipur when Chhattisgarh was formed in 2000. She worked with the Chhattisgarh government’s statistics department while Udayan’s father, V K Das, had by then already retired from BHEL, where he had worked as a foreman. Indrani worked for another two years before she retired in 2003.
Investigators in Chhattisgarh say that while Udayan was a “sharp child”, his grades began to fall soon. “He told us that in Class 11, he got hooked onto social networking sites such as Orkut and got distracted,” says IGP, Raipur Range, Pradeep Gupta. Udayan, who went to the well-known Holy Cross Byron Bazar school in Raipur, would go on to fail his Board exams, unable to clear his mathematics paper. “The next year, he passed the exams through open school,” says an investigator. Udayan has told police that his academic failures drove a wedge between him and his parents. They wanted Udayan to be an engineer but he showed little interest in studying, spending most of his time at home on the Internet. A year after he cleared his board exams, his parents enrolled him for a computer science course, as a “management quota” student, at the Rungta College in Bhilai. But his grades did not pick up.
Udayan has told police that he went to college for the first three years but failed several examinations and dropped out in his fourth year. An official from Rungta College confirmed that Udayan studied there in the 2004-05 session. “He had several back papers and very poor attendance. He did not complete the course,” says the official. Udayan reportedly forged his papers to show he had cleared the course. “He lied to his parents about finishing college and never got a job. His parents’ insistence that he get a job led to tension at home. When all that bickering and acrimony got too much, Udayan decided to kill them,” claims Raipur IGP Gupta, adding, “He planned it well.”
That day in 2010, with his father out in the market and mother Indrani resting in one of the rooms of their Raipur house, he allegedly smothered her by “pressing her throat”. “That minute, he told us, he felt a pang of remorse and tried to resuscitate her, but it was too late,” says Gupta. Half an hour later, when his father returned and called out for his wife, Udayan reportedly told him she was getting ready to go to the temple. In his hand was a cup of tea, police say, laced with sleeping pills. Within minutes, his father was drowsy and Udayan allegedly smothered him.
Police say Udayan then called a construction worker, who was working across the road from their house, and asked him to dig a pit in the garden, ostensibly to install a septic tank. “He refused at first but Udayan offered him a large sum of money and soon, an eight- foot-deep pit was dug,” says Gupta. At night, Udayan allegedly lowered both the bodies into it and worked for hours to fill the earth back in. On Thursday, his Raipur home, where he had allegedly buried his parents, had a big lock on it, a forlorn motorcycle inside the gates. The once grassy lawn was all upturned earth; the present occupants, the family of an advocate, “have left for a few days”, said a neighbour.
Very few in the colony admit to knowing Udayan. Sushil Singh, a grocery shop owner, says he remembers Udayan’s parents. “They often came to my shop to buy milk though they hardly stayed back to chat. Their son seemed soft-spoken… would have never guessed he could be violent or aggressive. I would see him being dropped back in a car by his friends,” he says. Police say that was another sticky point in Udayan’s relationship with his parents. “He would tell them how all his friends drove cars and resented the fact that he only had a Scooty. That made him feel inferior,” an officer says. Udayan has told police that in the years after the death of his parents, he told family members that they had relocated to the US. “He took advantage of the fact that his parents were not close to others in their families, so nobody would ask him too many questions. His mother had siblings but they rarely spoke. The last time the family got together was in 2001, in Bhopal, when his maternal grandmother passed away. After that, he told us, there was limited interaction with the extended family,” a senior police officer says.
Not long after his parents’ death, Udayan moved back to Bhopal. Police say he obtained a fake death certificate for his mother from Itarsi, a town in MP 90 km from Bhopal, and used it to sell off the Raipur home which had been in her name. Police say it sold for Rs 31 lakh but Udayan claims he got less. He also continued to draw his mother’s pension of about Rs 28,000 from Central Bank’s Byron Bazar branch in Raipur, telling bank officials that she was in the US and would not come to India for such “a small sum”. In the close to six years that he lived in Bhopal, Udayan gave little away. By most accounts, Indrani was V K Das’s second wife. Police say the couple probably lived in the Saket Nagar house only for a few months as she had insisted on shifting to her official accommodation in Shivajinagar locality of Bhopal, before her transfer to Raipur.
Udayan spent his childhood in the Shivajinagar locality, from where the family shifted to Raipur more than 15 years ago. But when Udayan returned to Bhopal, after allegedly killing his parents, he went to the Saket Nagar house, where what stood out were his cars — a 2003 model Mercedes and a Honda City, both second-hand. Neighbours, however, were not sure of what he did. Many thought he was employed in the US, some mistook him for an Army man, going by his crew cut and military-style boots. Others thought the family had a factory in Raipur, while the few people who interacted with him believed he had graduated from IIT-Delhi and that his mother was based in New York and his father had died a few years ago.
“He would pretend to be an Air Force officer and wouldn’t encourage questions,” says Shailesh, 43, who lives nearby and owns the cement shop from where Udayan bought over a dozen sacks of cement in two installments. “He told my father that he was building a temple,” says Shailesh. Police believe he used the cement to build the platform. Ravindra Ringe, who lives in the adjacent house, says neither Udayan nor his parents interacted with neighbours. “Forget neighbours, they probably did not even keep in touch with relatives. How else would the deaths go unnoticed for years?,” says the 75-year-old, who was Das’s senior at BHEL. “Even the father had almost no friends in office. Once he left BHEL and Bhopal, he did not keep in touch,” says Ringe.
It was around June 2016 that Akansha came to live with Udayan in Saket Nagar, say police. Ringe says that while Udayan introduced her as his wife, she never spoke to anybody and “we saw her barely a couple of times”. Police believe Udayan killed her by the third week of July and entombed her body. He has told police that he drew his inspiration from an episode of the American show Crime Scene Investigation (CSI). “The episode apparently shows the murderer entomb the body, but a crack in the concrete eventually leads sniffer dogs to the murder. So Udayan ensured there were no cracks in the tomb he built,” says Raipur IG Gupta. While Udayan claims Akansha was his live-in partner and that he killed her because of her “proximity to her other friends”, her family denies his claims. At the family’s rented home in Bankura, a district in West Bengal, Ayush, five years younger to Akansha, says Udayan was his sister’s ‘friend’ on social networking sites. “He pretended to have good contacts in the US and had assured her help in getting a job in the US,” he says.
Akansha’s father Shivendra Sharma, the chief manager of a nationalised bank in Bankura, says the last time she came home, in the last week of June, she was happy. “She showed us her offer letter from UNICEF (police now say it was fake, allegedly created by Udayan) and said she would be posted in New York. She was excited about going abroad. Since she was going alone, I asked her if she needed money. She told me to deposit Rs 1 lakh, saying she would have to pay for tickets and that the company would reimburse her later. I deposited Rs 1,20,000,” says Sharma. By then, the family knew of Udayan as the one who was helping Akansha with her visa and other documents and so, they had saved his phone number.
On June 22, the family dropped her off at Durgapur station, from where she boarded a train to Delhi. After reaching Delhi, she spoke to her parents, saying she was waiting for her tickets, after which she would fly to New York. While it’s unclear how and why she went to Bhopal from Delhi, her family now believes that Udayan probably persuaded her to do so, telling her that her visa and other documents were getting delayed, that she should come to Bhopal and not tell her parents so as to save them the anxiety.
So while the Sharma family believed she had flown to New York on June 28, police say she was in Bhopal all along. Sharma says Akansha kept telling them that she was fine in the US. The last time they spoke to her was on July 14 – it was a short conversation, says Sharma. From the next day on, they only got WhatsApp messages (police now believe she was dead by then and that Udayan was the one sending these messages). Sharma says they never suspected anything wrong “because we kept getting messages from her phone. We would get missed calls at night and when we tried calling back in the morning, she wouldn’t pick up. Now we realise it was Udayan who was using her phone. We would get messages from her saying she had not been able to get a SIM card in the US so it wasn’t possible to talk on phone and that she could only message. On the whole, we were convinced that she was in New York.”
An official at the Bankura Sadar police station, where Udayan is in police custody, says, “He told us that after her murder, he used to maintain US time — sleep all day and wake up at night. He would also send the family photos of New York. When they asked for a selfie, Udayan, impersonating Akansha, would say that her front camera wasn’t working and she would buy a phone soon.” Sharma says that on October 5, they got a message from Akansha’s phone, saying Udayan would visit them in Bankura, after which he would join her in New York. “He was here the next day. His behaviour was very normal. He kept insisting that we go to New York and meet Akansha, that she would be missing us. He assured us that he would make all arrangements and then left,” says Sharma.
A few days later, the family got a message from Udayan, saying Akansha would come to Bankura in October. “Later, he said she had missed her flight. After November, Udayan stopped taking our calls and there were no messages from Akansha either,” says Sharma. That’s when the family approached the Bankura police, who traced her phone’s last location to Saket Nagar in Bhopal. They allege that when they first went to locate their daughter in Bhopal on November 30, the Bhopal police suggested it was a case of elopement. “We came back empty handed,” says her father Shivendra. On January 5, the family lodged a case of kidnapping at the Bankura police station.
SP (Bankura) Sukhendu Hira says the turning point came when they looked up Akansha’s passport details and found she hadn’t even stepped out of the country. “We knew this was a serious case — a person was virtually present but physically missing,” says SP Hira. The West Bengal Police then moved a Bankura court for a search warrant of Udayan’s Saket Nagar home. It was there that police found the platform and inside, Akansha’s body wrapped in polythene. “Because the body had been so carefully wrapped, some of the features were still intact — I could find injury marks on the neck and face,’’ says Dr Ashok Sharma, director of Medico Legal Institute in Bhopal.
Apart from the body, police say they found three 56-inch television sets, two washing machines and other expensive furniture in the house, besides close to 2,500 CDs of Hollywood television series and movies, mainly on crime. Police, however, are still unsure of the motive. Sources in the West Bengal Police say that once Akansha figured out Udayan’s deceit, she bought a train ticket from Bhopal to Howrah on July 12. But she was killed — either on July 14 or 15. “He was confident he would get away like he had for seven years after killing his parents in 2010,” says a police officer who was a part of the search operation in Bhopal.
THE CASE SO FAR
Feb 3: Udayan Das (pic) arrested after he admitted to killing his live-in partner Akansha Sharma and burying her body under a marble platform at his Bhopal home. Sharma’s body dug out, identified by her brother
Feb 4: Das claims he killed his parents in 2012 and buried their bodies in the garden of the family’s house in Raipur
Feb 5: Two skeletons dug out from Das’s Raipur residence and sent for forensic analysis. Case of murder registered at the TT Nagar police station
Feb 6: Das brought to Bankura on transit remand from Bhopal, kept at Sadar Thana lock-up
Feb 7: Das remanded in 8-day police custody, charged under Sections 302 (murder) and 201 (destruction of evidence) of the IPC