THE Mumbai Police has claimed that days before she died — on June 23 — after an alleged murderous assault, Byculla women’s jail inmate Manjula Shetye was warned about being beaten like the way another inmate was thrashed in the past. Multiple witness accounts of inmates state that Shetye was told by jailor Manisha Pokharkar on June 1 that she would be beaten up like one ‘Fazleen’ if she did not work properly.
According to the witness accounts, the warning referred to an incident of assault in April when an inmate, Fazleen Sheikh, was beaten for bringing keema pav into the jail after a court hearing. Sheikh, who has also given a statement to the police, says Pokharkar and others had assaulted her by kicking and beating her with their bare hands and sticks. Shetye, who was unaware about the incident, had then enquired about it with Sheikh. “I was told by another inmate that Manjula was warned by being reminded of my assault. Manjula asked me about it and I told her what had happened,” Sheikh has told the police.
The statement of Sheikh and 96 other inmates including Indrani Mukerjea, main accused in the Sheena Bora murder case, are part of the 990-page charge-sheet filed by the Mumbai Police Crime Branch in the Shetye case before a magistrate court last week. Sheikh has said in her statement that it was with the arrival of Pokharkar as the jailor in January 2017 that an “atmosphere of terror” was created in the prison. After she was found with the keema pav, she has said, the jail guards had asked her why she had brought it and beaten her up. Later that evening, Pokharkar had called Sheikh to her office and assaulted her again along with other staffers. “Even as I apologised and promised I will never bring any food item into the prison, they continued to hit me,” Sheikh has said.
She further said the staffers continued to beat her after bringing her to the open passage of the jail. “It was then that Bindu Naikode (one of the six accused arrested in the case related to Shetye’s death) realised that there were CCTV cameras at that spot. She then suggested that I should be taken to the barracks where there are no CCTVs,” said Sheikh.
She was then taken to the first floor and before they entered the area where there are CCTVs, Pokharkar told her to fix her appearance. Sheikh has added that despite swelling on her hand and legs she was taken to the jail doctor only two days later. “I was accompanied by a jail guard so I could not complain about the incident to the doctor. I was anyway scared after being threatened that I would be booked in a false case if I complained to anyone,” Sheikh said in her statement.
The jail staffers had allegedly also threatened other inmates that they would face the same consequences if they helped Sheikh with medical aid or any other assistance. According to another witness, Shetye was left on her own for a while after the assault as the inmates were scared due to the threat.
In her statement to the crime branch, Indrani Mukerjea, who was lodged in barrack number 2, said she noticed on the morning of June 23 that inmate Amruta Mathews was speaking to warder Bindu Naikode and showing her something on her breakfast plate. Mathews then went upstairs while Naikode rushed into the jail office where the jailors allegedly began assaulting Shetye. Mukerjea added that her protest against the violence were ignored.
“Since I had observed maun vrat (vow of silence) that day, I did not speak to anyone and gestured to constable Waseema Sheikh with my hands but she ignored me,” she said in her statement. After the assault, Mukerjea added, she observed that the jail staff washed their hands with shampoo and went back into the office.
At 2 pm, Mukerjea said, Pokharkar and Mathews began organising a dance programme in the jail library as part of Ramzan celebrations. At 3 pm, Mukerjea said, she saw inmates were drinking tea in the passage outside their barracks but Shetye was not there.
The Mumbai Police has booked Manisha Pokharkar, Sheetal Shegaonkar, Arti Shinghane, Bindu Naykode, Surekha Kakad and Vasima Sheikh for criminal intimidation following these allegations. The six have also been booked for murder, destruction of evidence and common intent under the Indian Penal Code.
Shetye, convicted along with her mother for the murder of her sister-in-law in 2004, had sought a transfer to Mumbai from Yerawada jail in Pune after the death of her mother in 2016. According to the statement of Shetye’s brother Anant, their mother Godavari, who was lodged in Yerawada jail along with Shetye, had died due to a heart ailment.
“She (Manjula) had completed 13 years in prison and due to our mother’s death, she would feel lonely… When Yerawada officials got to know that Byculla jail required a warder, Manjula herself agreed to come to Mumbai,” Anant has said in his statement. He added that when he went to meet Shetye along with his brother Sharad in May, she told them that she was disturbed by the “corrupt practices in Byculla jail” and wanted a transfer back to Pune.
A doctor in-charge at the Byculla prison has said in his statement to the police that on June 23, the day Shetye died, he had learnt of an inmate seeking transfer to another jail . He said he later learnt that the person was Shetye.
Among the communication between the prison authorities that are part of the chargesheet is a letter by the superintendent of Byculla jail to the IG (prisons) seeking warders for the Byculla women’s prison citing security concerns. The letter written in 2016 says since the jail has prisoners including Indrani Mukerjea, increasing the security of the prison is necessary.