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Friday, February 21, 2020

Gone girl: The curious case of Twinkle Dagre’s disappearance

She was bold, fiercely ambitious and had set her sights on a political career. Until, one day in Indore, she disappeared. 22-year-old Twinkle Dagre’s story is now at the centre of a murky story about politics and exploitation

Written by Ankita Dwivedi Johri | Updated: January 27, 2019 11:48:33 am
Twinkle Dagre

On October 16, 2016, 22-year-old Twinkle Dagre disappeared. A Congress worker in Indore, Twinkle had left home telling her mother she was going out to meet a friend. That was the last anyone in Indore’s Banganga colony heard of her. Two-and-a-half years later, with no trace of Twinkle yet, the city police claim to have cracked the case, arresting local BJP leader and former corporator Jagdish Karotiya (65), his three sons Ajay (36), Vijay (38), Vinay (31), and their associate Neelesh Kashyap (28) for allegedly murdering her.

Dagre was allegedly in a relationship with Karotiya, which led to a family discord and the five men killing her, said Indore Deputy Inspector General Harinarayanchari Mishra, on January 13.

Though police are yet to find Twinkle’s body, the arrests and the speculation around her fate are ringing in the political corridors of Madhya Pradesh, hinting at a murky combination of sex, politics, exploitation and a Bollywood-style murder plot.

‘She was different’

From family to friends and colleagues, many believe it was Twinkle’s ‘mahatvakanksha’, her dogged determination to break out of Indore’s Dalit basti and make a name for herself, that led to her untimely death.

“Bahut chant, chaalaak ladki thi (She was a very clever, cunning girl). We would often wonder how she was born in the Dalit community,” says Rita Dagre, 45, Twinkle’s mother, sitting in their two-storey house in Banganga, a Dalit colony in Indore. Besides Twinkle, her firstborn, Rita has two other daughters, Mansi (20) and Kanak (13), and a 15-year-old son.

(From above left) Twinkle at an event in her Banganga colony; pictures of the 22-yr-old with top politicians on her ‘bio-data’ cover; Rita says her daughter liked to dress up; Twinkle (far right) at a rally with Jagdish Karotiya (centre, with garland), Karotiya’s son Jitendra shows a complaint Twinkle allegedly wrote against her family. (Express photo: Prafful Chaurasia)

Since Twinkle disappeared, Rita has been leading a campaign to find ‘Tuiyya’, as she was called at home — going on hunger strikes, knocking on politicians’ doors, waiting for hours at police stations and once, even approaching former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan for help.

But all along, Rita says, she knew Twinkle would never be back — “I knew 15 days after she disappeared that she was no more.” “When we couldn’t find her, we went to every priest, every tantrik in town,” recalls Rita, adding that it was one of these priests who “broke the news” of her daughter’s death.

The Dagre home is filled with reminders of Twinkle and the family’s struggle to trace her over the past two-and-a-half years. At the entrance is a flex banner with ‘Maa ki pukar, nayay chaiye (a mother’s cry for justice)’ written on it. Inside, Kanak is lighting incense sticks before a framed photograph of Twinkle. On the first floor of the house, inside the 22-year-old’s room, remnants of her life, and ambition, are strewn on the floor, stacked in cupboards and hung on walls. Rita points to a photograph of Twinkle in a ‘fairy’ outfit, posing with BJP leader Usha Thakur: “This was at a fancy dress competition in college. Thakur was a guest. It was she who encouraged her to join politics.”

Twinkle’s cupboard is filled with spangled outfits and piles of photographs taken with friends or alone at a photo studio — “She loved to dress up and get herself photographed at the local studio,” says Rita.

On a table are certificates that Twinkle got for dance and drama competitions. A folder holds Twinkle’s ‘bio-data’, with pictures of her, PM Narendra Modi and former CM Chouhan on the cover. “She joined the Congress three months before her disappearance. Until then, she was with the BJP,” says her sister Mansi.

The family is also full of stories about Twinkle’s ‘zidd (stubborness)’. “When she was 12, she screamed at her teacher for not letting her participate in a sports event. At 18, she had a fight with her best friend and then sat up all night cutting her out of their photographs,” says Mansi, pulling out one such picture. “In Class 10, she fell ill during the Board exams and failed. She turned the house upside down… She hated failure,” says Rita, tears welling up in her eyes.

Twinkle’s father, Sanjay Dagre, 47, has been holding on to another set of photographs — those of his daughter with BJP leader Jagdish Karotiya. “This is at the local akhada… this was at a pooja in the colony…,” says Sanjay, pointing at several photographs, where Twinkle is seen next to Karotiya. “She was the emcee at many political events. Top leaders would call her to gather people for rallies. I had named her ‘netaji’,” says Sanjay, who worked as a driver with Karotiyas for 27 years. He quit a few years ago.

Most people in Banganga, one of the lesser developed neighbourhoods of Indore, remember Twinkle as “dhridh (assertive)” and “utsahi (enthusiastic)”, but also someone who punched above her weight. “She was everywhere. At gau raksha events, at local protests… Our daughters weren’t like that. What happened to her is unfortunate,” says a neighbour, who owns a small clothes shop.

About 10 km away, in Vishal Nagar colony, Twinkle’s childhood friend Preeti Sharma, 24, talks about her “discipline”. “She was clear about her political ambition. I thought it was outrageous but it was tough to stop her. She dropped out of college in second year. By that time, I was married… most of our friends were. Woh bohot aage nikal gayi, hum sab peeche reh gaye (She scaled new heights, we were left behind),” says Sharma, dressed in a sari, a thick line of vermillion in the parting of her hair.

Talking about her shift to the Congress, 12 months before she went missing, Sunny Pathare, MP Congress Committee secretary, says, “She approached me on Facebook. She said she was having a tough time in the BJP. I thought she is a young Dalit girl who talks well… We appointed her secretary.”

‘Daddyji’ and the fiance

It was at a Valmiki Samaaj event in Banganga, sometime in 2013, that Karotiya reportedly ‘spotted’ Twinkle. “She was making an opening speech for Usha Thakur. He asked me if she was my daughter. He praised her eloquent speech,” recalls Sanjay. In the months that followed, he says, his daughter joined the BJP and worked for the 65-year-old.

Twinkle’s mother claims the family was always uncomfortable about her growing closeness to Karotiya. “I will not lie, I even beat her up many times. She would come home late… Bas daddyji, daddyji ki rat lagaye rehti thi (She would keep talking about Karotiya, calling him ‘daddyji’),” she says.

In April 2016, claims Rita, Twinkle confided that Karotiya had cheated her after promising to marry her. “I didn’t know what to do. I thrashed her first… I was helpless,” says Rita.

In the days that followed, says sister Mansi, Twinkle was a changed person. “She would go to the Karotiyas’ home every day. At political events, she would always try and stand next to him. On Facebook, she uploaded a picture of Jagdish (Karotiya) with the caption, ‘Boss ki jhalak, sabse alag’. She told us she wanted revenge, and that marrying him was the only solution.”

As part of this “revenge”, Twinkle brought home Amit, who hails from a village 100 km from Indore, one day. She said she wanted to marry him. “Twinkle had met him at a gau raksha event. I initially refused because earlier when we had found men for her, she had created a huge scene at home. But this time she insisted she was serious, so we agreed,” says Rita, adding, “Maybe it was to make Karotiya jealous.”

Amit, who then worked as a driver, and is now employed with the Indore Municipal Corporation, says he met Twinkle all of four times between July and October 2016. “I saw her, she was beautiful and when she proposed marriage, I agreed. My mother wasn’t very happy. She said she is into politics etc,” he says.

“She would often be busy and everytime I called her she said she was with daddyji. He was her father’s age, I didn’t make much of it. On the phone too, we didn’t speak for long. That’s how things are here,” he says.

After she disappeared, says Amit, police questioned him many times. “They tried to frame her family, then they tried to frame me, and now they have found the real killers. I am just relieved my name has been cleared.” He adds, “I am getting engaged in a few days.”

A WhatsApp chat, 2 complaints

While she had announced that she would marry Amit, Twinkle’s behaviour was worrying, says Rita. Breaking down, she recalls how just a few days before disappearing on October 16, Twinkle got Karotiya’s name tattoed on her forearm. “I forced her to get ‘Jay’ written before the name Jagdish to make it seem like a religious tattoo,” says the mother.

And then, the night before she disappeared, Twinkle put henna on both her hands, wore toe rings “like married women”, and said “it will all get sorted tomorrow”.

The next morning, Rita says, still dressed in her night clothes, a peach salwar-kameez, Twinkle asked her for tea. Rita found this unusual. “She never drank tea. She would just put on her track suit and go for a run. But that day, she had a long, emotional chat with me. When I went to the kitchen, she said she was going to meet a friend… It was 9 am.”

The family never saw her again.

Twenty-four hours later, Twinkle’s father Sanjay filed a ‘missing person’ case at the Banganga police station.

Walking down cramped lanes in the neighbourhood, Sanjay makes his way to the Karotiya home — a large, two-storey house, one of the biggest in the locality. “There is a main road to the house as well, but my daughter always used this route,” he says.

In the Banganga neighbourhood, Karotiya, among the BJP’s prominent Dalit faces in Indore, was often considered a strongman, resolving land disputes and intervening in family conflicts.

Sitting under a tree inside the walled compound of the house, Jitendra Karotiya, 36, one of Jadgish’s five children, opens up reluctantly about the family’s links with Twinkle, going on to deny most of Sanjay and Rita’s claims. While he admits that Twinkle was close to his family, he insists she was like a daughter to his father. “She called him daddyji, doesn’t that say something?” he says, angrily.

“Sanjay, Twinkle’s father, is an alcoholic and professional blackmailer. He would use his daughter to extort money and Twinkle complained to us about it,” Jitendra, a lawyer, and the third of Karotiya’s children, adds.

To prove his allegation, Jitendra pulls out two ‘complaints’: the first allegedly written in Twinkle’s handwriting on October 9, 2015, and addressed to his father, where she says her family “locked me in my room” and “tried to burn me alive”; in another complaint to police on September 8, 2015, she said her parents beat her up and were forcing her to get Rs 3 lakh to clear a loan.

He also has copies of WhatsApp messages allegedly exchanged between his brother Ajay and Twinkle a day before she disappeared.

Twinkle: ‘Bhaiya, please call me it’s very urgent; Ajay: ‘What happened’; Twinkle: ‘Bahut pareshan ho gai hoon is jindagi se, ya to kal ye sahar chod doongi ya fir ye duniya (I am tired of life. Tomorrow either I will leave this city, or this world)… Bas aapse ek nivedan tha ki dedi ji ka hamesha dhyan rakhna (Please take care of daddyji)’.

Police, however, allege that after the murder, Ajay used Twinkle’s phone to send these messages to himself.

Jitendra further alleges that Twinkle’s family killed her and are now pinning the blame on his family. “She was tired of them. All her family wanted from her was to extort money from people. When she refused, they got rid of her. Why have the arrests been made now, when the government has changed?” he says.

A test and a Bollywood plot

Police say they have been making progress in their investigation, despite the Karotiyas trying to mislead them.

“On October 16, 2016, the Karotiyas called Twinkle to a plot (near the MR10 area of Indore) on the pretext of buying her a house. The plot belonged to their aide Neelesh Kashyap. Karotiya and his three sons strangulated Twinkle here. They kept the body in their SUV overnight and burnt it the next day. Later, they threw her remains in a nearby drain. Since the water in the drain isn’t very fast-moving, we are hoping to retrieve some tooth or bone remains for DNA analysis,” says Additional SP Prashant Choubey, who is now leading the investigation in the case.

Recently, police dug up the plot where Twinkle was killed and claim to have found her toe ring, dupatta and a rope.

In his January 13 press conference, DIG Mishra said the Karotiyas, to mislead investigators, left behind a trail of false evidences, all reportedly inspired by the 2015 Ajay Devgn-starrer Drishyam.

On October 19, 2016, three days after the murder, police say Ajay switched on Twinkle’s phone “by mistake”. This was police’s first cue. Scared, he travelled all the way to Badnawar, Amit’s hometown, to dispose of the phone and “frame Twinkle’s fiance” — just the way Devgn’s character did in Drishyam.

Over the next few days, as police began to question them, the Karotiyas again allegedly relied on the Drishyam plot to mislead investigators. Police say that Karotiya got a few workers from the Indore Municipal Corporation to dig a pit a little distance away from where Twinkle’s body was burnt. Then, according to police, the family spread rumours that the Karotiyas had buried someone at the spot.

Vinod Dikshit, who was town inspector at the Banganga station then, says that following the rumours, police dug up at least three sites around Indore. “At one site, a little away from Karotiya’s home, we found a skeleton, but it wasn’t human,” says Dikshit. It was a dog’s. In the movie too, the protagonist buries a dog to confuse investigators.

Additional SP Choubey says that apart from the circumstantial evidence, police are relying on the “positive results” of a Brain Electrical Oscillation Signature Profiling (BEOS) test done in April 2018. Following a direction by the Indore bench of the High Court, where Twinkle’s mother had filed an appeal in April 2017, Twinkle’s parents, Amit, Karotiya and two of his sons underwent the BEOS or ‘brain fingerprinting’ test in Ahmedabad.

Police claim other proof as well. Karotiya’s driver Lakhan Suryavanshi, they say, has confessed to seeing Twinkle’s body in the SUV before she was burnt. He has also told police that he saw Twinkle coming to Karotiya’s house on October 16, 2016. Besides, there are statements by municipal corporation workers who have claimed that Karotiya asked them to dig a pit to bury a dog.

An FIR has been registered against Karotiya and the other four accused under IPC Sections 364 (kidnapping), 302 (murder) and 120B (criminal conspiracy).

As police wrap up the two-year-old case, the developments have led to rumblings in the political corridors of MP. On January 14, at a press conference, Chief Minister Kamal Nath asked police why the Dagre family “had to run from pillar to post” for justice. “Who were the people and officers sheltering the culprits? We will inquire if there was any political connection in the case… the whole matter will be investigated,” Nath said.

Since the arrests in the case, the BJP has distanced itself from Karotiya. Says senior BJP leader and Indore city president Gopi Nema, “(Karotiya) was a former corporator. No one from the family is in the party now. The BJP government never stopped the probe. Kamal Nathji and the Congress are trying to gain political advantage from the case.”

Back in Banganga, as she prepares to head to the police station to enquire about the case, Rita says, “Ek din, ek haddi maans ka insaan gayab ho jaata hai, aur kisi ko fark nahi padta (A human being disappears and no one cares). What if this had happened to Karotiya’s daughter? He would know of my pain then.”

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