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Living with a Serial Killer

Chandrakant Jha is Delhi’s serial killer,guilty of murdering seven people. That’s not the husband she knows,says Mamata. For her,he will always be the man she fell in love with 15 years ago,father to her five daughters

The words ‘butcher’,‘serial killer’ and ‘blood’ disturb her. For her,he is still the shy neighbour who threw her fleeting glances over her brother’s shoulder,always quick to turn away when she looked back. That was in 1996 and the 18-year-old was on her first visit to Delhi,staying with her brother in a north Delhi locality.

She is Mamata. Not Mamata Jha,she insists,never changed her name after their “love marriage” in 1997. He is Chandrakant Jha,the ‘serial killer’ from west Delhi who recently sentenced to death in two cases and got life imprisonment in another—for three of the seven murders he was convicted of by a Delhi court.

Jha,46,was arrested in May 2007. He was found guilty of strangling his victims,decapitating their bodies and then throwing each part in a different area. His signature style was to leave a sizeable portion of the mutilated body outside Tihar jail. In two cases,he reportedly left notes for the police,with the promise of leaving similar “gifts” every fortnight. In one case,he is said to have called a west Delhi police station himself to inform them about a body part lying outside Tihar. Why did he kill? The reasons,going by police records,were chillingly casual—he thought one of his victims was a habitual liar,he was upset about another’s womanising ways and didn’t like the fact that one of his potential victims ate non-vegetarian.

The victims were all young men who he is said to have helped. According to the police,he had accommodated them in a house in Haiderpur,north-west Delhi,when they were new in town,had helped them find jobs and then,when he got annoyed with them,simply decided to kill. According to the notes he left behind with the bodies,the killings were his way of getting back at the police for “falsely implicating” him in criminal cases over the years. Jha,who hawked plastic goods at weekly bazaars,accuses the police of leveling “false cases” of theft and other criminal cases against him for refusing to bribe the beat constable in his area. (In court,Jha went back on his confession and denied having committed the murders or trying to teach the police a lesson.)

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***

Mamata has not seen him since September 2012,when he told her to stop coming to court. She believes he wanted her to stay away since he didn’t want the unforgiving spotlight on him to affect her. Mulaqaat in jail stopped a year ago. It used to take her three hours to get to Tihar jail,changing three buses and missing a day at the shoe factory in Narela where she works,all for 10 minutes of meeting through a glass window. “It is too much trouble and I have to miss work. It also feels sorely inadequate,talking through a mike with a glass between us. He is a high-risk prisoner,so I can see him only two days a week in the evenings,” she says. Their five daughters—the youngest is 5 and the oldest 15—have never met him in jail.

During those mulaqaats,Jha would hand her several papers—copies of court orders,RTIs he filed seeking the records of his arrest,the details of FIRs registered against him and of police personnel involved in his arrest. He sought call detail records of the policemen probing his case and even wrote to the Chief Information Commissioner after his first and second RTI appeals were dismissed. He maintained his own notes,written in Hindi in red ink on Post-Its. These are papers she does not understand,but has kept safely locked up.

In one of his RTIs,he asks for details of his own psychiatric evaluation that was carried out in custody. A record from the Baba Saheb Ambedkar Hospital,where one such psychiatric evaluation was done,reads,“His cross-sectional mental examination done and available history was not suggestive of active psychopathology. Hence no active intervention required.” He is described as “conscious,well groomed and oriented,making eye-to-eye contact”. Jha’s note tagged with the RTI reply reads: “Record pesh hai ki police jhooth bol rahi hai. Chandrakant ka medical report dimag ka”.

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Mamata believes Jha couldn’t have harmed anyone,leave alone kill seven people. “He will get himself a new lawyer and prepare a strong case from jail. I know he will,” she says.

Her eldest daughter,a class VI student,is the only one who vaguely remembers her father. “He would take me out for walks sometimes and we would eat together,” she says,before giving up. She was eight years old when he was arrested and her recollections of the time spent with her father are now hazy.

The room,6 by 8 feet,is where the family lives. Mother and daughters squeeze in on the single bed. The room has school books,satchels,clothes,and the incessant chatter of children. A wall is covered with images of gods and goddesses and the faint smell of an incense stick hangs in the air.

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The only keepsake of their love story is a laminated photograph,with Jha’s face superimposed on a silver moon. He is dapper,hands in pockets,in a grey suit. She,in a green lehenga with a shiny gold border,is looking up at her husband-moon,through a sieve. “Karva Chauth,sajna hai mujhe sajna ke lye”,reads a scrawl on the photograph. Jha liked to try his hand at photo editing,she says. Mamata says she has never missed a karva chauth and now uses this photograph to break her fast.

She has changed homes since his arrest,making sure she never updates her contact details in police records or with her former neighbours and friends. She does not hide that she is his wife,but does not want unwanted attention. As a single mother to five children,she has no time or space for tears. She works a 12-hour shift at the shoe factory and lives in a rented room in a house that has at least five other tenants. But at the slightest provocation,memories come flooding in and so do the tears.

***

They are both from Bihar—her father is a paan shop owner while his parents lived in Madhepura. Jha and Mamata enjoyed a brief courtship of four to five months,moments snatched when her brother was out on work. At over 5 feet 10 inches,he towered over Mamata,who is barely five feet. “He is tall and good looking and very smart. His parents were big people—his father retired from the government and his mother was a school teacher. I don’t know how far he studied,but he loved reading newspapers,” she recalls. Sometimes he would read the papers aloud to her. She was 13 years younger,but that was never a problem.

They got married in a simple ceremony in Delhi. Her parents came down from Bihar for the wedding,but his family stayed away. “His six brothers are doing well,one works in the CRPF,the other in the state police in Bihar,” she says. She has lost touch with his family.

Her brothers talk to her and the children on phone,but she says she has no expectations from them. They have been asking her to leave Jha,return to Bihar,start a new life. “Families never understand love marriages. First they had a problem because I chose my own man. Now,of course,they think they have been proved right. I don’t care,” she says.

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She never asked Jha why he came to Delhi,why he never completed school,or why he changed jobs—from being a vegetable vendor,to selling clothes,and finally hawking plastic goods in street markets.

Mamata vehemently denies all the allegations,including Jha’s confessions. “How can my husband ever confess to killing people because he did not like them eating non-vegetarian food? That is absurd. He used to love eating non-vegetarian food himself. Meat and fish were his favourites. He liked rich,oily,non-vegetarian curries with his rotis,and I like it the same way,” she says. That settles it for her.

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She laughs at the allegation that he stayed away from her,in a different rented room,where he is said to have carried out his elaborate murders. “How could we stay apart? I could not make him stay away from me,even if I tried,” she says,with the hint of a smile. She denies that the victims—according to the police,they were all his associates—were ever known to him. “If there were people coming from his village to stay with him,I would have known about it,” she insists. She says that they had never rented the room in Haiderpur,where he is said to have committed the murders. They lived in a different street in the same area.

She was a pampered wife. “He never let me step out of the house. He would work all day,and then come home to me. I never imagined I would have to work to earn a living,” she says. She would watch TV all day,gossip with her neighbours,and cook for him. If she wanted anything for herself,he would give her money. “He could not choose clothes. So he would give me money and tell me to buy them for myself. And he always said I should travel in autos to be safe,” she recalls.

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He was arrested the first time in 1998,in a murder case. Worried and shocked,she went to her parents’ home in Bihar with her eldest daughter—that was the last time she visited her family. She came back before his acquittal in 2002. He was not angry that she hadn’t visited him those four years. She says he was hardly ever angry with her. Between them,he was the shy one,she says.

They led a happy life after that,she says. He quit his vegetable business and started selling plastic goods. They moved homes,depending on the weekly markets where he set up shop.

She says she was expecting her sixth child when he was arrested the second time on May 19,2007,around 5.30 pm,within days of a murder in Haiderpur. “I was making halwa. My children were playing and he was watching me cook. My neighbours told me later that the whole street was crowded when the police came,” she says. She alleges they picked up her husband,put him in one car and got her and her children to sit in another car. “We were kept in different lock-ups in the same police station for four days. I did not eat or drink,I was so scared. My children would keep crying,” she says. Mamata claims she suffered a miscarriage after she came home four days later.

He was initially lodged in a jail in Rohini,north Delhi. That was closer home so she would visit him twice a week. Non-vegetarian food was not allowed inside the jail. So she would cook rotis and matar-paneer for him,rich and oily,just the way he liked it. A glass wall separated them and the food was always tasted by a guard before Jha could eat. The visits became less frequent after he moved to Tihar,two years after his arrest. He would tell her not to talk about the case,he would ask about the children and their new home.

She earns Rs 4,000 a month at the shoe factory in Narela where she does a 12-hour shift—from 8.30 am to 8.30 pm—sticking beads and zaris on footwear and packing them. She has to set aside Rs 1,400 a month for the room rent.

Her children go to school now. She got them admitted after his arrest in 2007. “I cried and cursed my fate for a year. But then,my daughters were growing up. I had to earn for the family,so I thought I should enroll them in school,” she says.

She says she didn’t have to worry about her children’s education when Jha was around. He had hired a private tutor for their eldest daughter and the other children were too young for school anyway. “I didn’t make any decisions then. I assumed he would enroll them in school when the time came. Back then,I had a husband to take care of things,all the worries were his,” she smiles.

FROM THE DELHI COURT JUDGMENT…

“The manner of the killings of the victims with extreme brutality by decapitating and severing of their heads and body parts establish the excessive violence and perversity involved in the crime and the manner in which the decapitated parts of the bodies of the victims have been thrown at various places establish the planned manner in which the crime has been executed and the thrills that the accused was deriving by throwing a challenge to the System (police)”

“It is time to think and ponder that if this kind of policing has created one Chandrakant Jha and that if our policing continues the way it does,many more are in the making. It is in fact a wake up call for the government of the day to bring about the long-awaited police reforms”

First published on: 03-03-2013 at 02:34:20 am
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