Love, That Wasn’t?

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The reluctant love marriage that recently ended with suspicious death of an English teacher of Srinagar seems to have an uncanny resemblance with a typical love-crime plot. With final investigations yet to confirm the murder upheld by woman’s family, Bilal Handoo recreates the nagging love story that ended once an alleged affair began

Saiqoo-Wanchoo-Protests

Amid grieving, the young Kehkashah still remembers how her departed sister entered into a forceful wedlock with her “desperate lover” who had sought help from friends, parents and even god-men to woo her. As a class-IX student, she first saw that bolshie young man stalking her sister down on Srinagar streets one restive day in early nineties.

With demise still gripping her Chanapora residence, Kehkashah Wanchoo raptly recalls how the boy chased the siblings all the way to Srinagar’s Lambert Lane where they had gone for shopping.

“Despite being told to go away,” says Kehkashah, spearheading the justice campaign for her sister, “the youngster relented, forcing my elder sister, Saiqa Wanchoo, to do unthinkable on the crowd-filled lane. She took out her footwear and started beating him with it.” Even that beating didn’t derail the young man’s advances.

Amid gun rattles around, then, this silent yet simmering one-sided love story was turning out to be a pestering affair for the girl. Being a well-educated and ‘immensely’ beautiful, Saiqa, wasn’t ready for the relationship. But that hardly kept the boy at bay. Kehkashah recalls how he would relentlessly buzz their landline number only to face her angry, admonishing sister. Yet, the young man, Sheikh Sajid Hamid, a native from Kulgam settled in Kursoo Rajbagh, kept behaving like a desperate lover.

Sajid had seen Saiqa first time in early nineties at her home where his sister—the classmate of Saiqa’s younger sister—used to visit for studies. While picking his sister up from her house one day, he saw Saiqa and apparently fell head-over-heels for her.

Shortly he made his ‘love’ known to her. But she didn’t show any interest. The rejection only turned him a self-styled Romeo, who would then follow her on road, rang her up repeatedly and use other ways—like “seeking god-men’s help”, to woo her. But, nothing worked.

“My sister was very clear about her life and relationships,” Kehkashah, who works for NDTV in Delhi, says. “She was not the kind of girl who would be forced into any relationship.” But even realising that, Sajid wasn’t a kind of chap to let it go.

Time flew. What had started in early nineties was still going on vainly till mid-nineties, before Sajid left for Saudi one day for a job.

His passing absence, says Kehkashah, was relief to Saiqa. But shortly their landline number started buzzing, again. The caller was from Saudi who introduced himself as Sajid. “He told my sister how he performed Umrah for her sake,” the grieving sister continues. “The person was using every trick in a book to emotionally blackmail my sister, but she wasn’t interested — the fact he never respected.”

Had it been his true love, she says, he would have respected her choice long back. “But because he was bewitched by my sister’s beauty, therefore he showed such an obsession for her.”

Then came a twist. In 1997, Saiqa father, Dr Shafi Wanchoo — a known doctor who used to host doctor’s special program on Doordarshan, passed away. The demise made it to TV and print. Sajid somehow learned about it and apparently sensed an opportunity to own Saiqa.

He sent his friend and subsequently his parents to her home with a marriage proposal. Her mother still fresh from her husband’s loss agreed after learning Sajid’s engineering background. Saiqa, however, was still at odds with the relationship, her sister says.

But for the fatherless girl having no brother, succumbing to the circumstances perhaps was a natural course.

“It wasn’t that my sister loved him,” Kehkashah continues, “it was just that he was forcibly involving her into a relationship by visiting, seeking help from different god-men.” Eventually, the trick worked.

One fine day in 2000, Saiqa Wanchoo became Sheikh Sajid Hamid’s much-sought after bride. For Sajid, it was like conquering a long, arduous battle.

Saiqa Wanchoo (1)

To begin with, it was a happy marriage. The Zinda Dil Saiqa was seen beaming with life. This made her family back home happy and pleased. But after one year, the mood started souring. Something was forcing Saiqa to behave unlike her usual self. “She had started having those mysterious mood swings, which were quite unlike her,” Kehkashah, who recently returned from Delhi to seek justice for her sister, says. “She would get annoyed or irritated over small things.”

But what otherwise appeared as normal marital behaviour had more to it.

The young and equally striking Saiqa—a 10+2 English lecturer—known for her up-to-date fashion sense was silently suffering from a bludgeoning sense of being a childless woman. Some medical complexity had rendered the couple helpless to become parents. Perhaps the same thing was getting on nerves of her in-laws. “She would then repeatedly face abusive father-in-law and taunting mother-in-law,” her sister claims. “Life had become a hell for her.” By maintaining a silence over “abusive” treatment meted out to Saiqa, Sajid was apparently condoning the act.

The lover of yesteryears had become a silent partner in the collective family abuse. “His silence was a certificate to his parents,” says Kehkashah, “that they could go to any extent to abuse her.”

Perhaps conscious of her conservative society and kind of trauma marital splits brings to girl’s family, Saiqa stayed put, stayed patient. “She even ignored her sister-in-law’s repeated taunts,” Kehkashah says, “who would often tell her, ‘You are unwanted!’ ”

But primarily, it was the growing indifference of Sajid—her desperate lover for over a decade, now executive engineer in SKAUST Kashmir—that was freaking out Saiqa. At times, she would vent her woe to her fellow teachers. “She was passing through a terrible phase,” says one of her colleagues, who lately turned up for justice seeking protest in city. “Surviving in such an abusive, hostile family setup could have broken anyone.”

Saiqa Wanchoo (2)

The tripping point came on May 15, 2016 — sixteen years after their marriage. Kehkashah says her 43-year-old sister visited her mother at Chanapora earlier that day. “She was absolutely normal with no medical problem.” She left the house at 8:30 PM for her in-laws in Rajbagh. And at around 10 in that night, she even spoke to her nephew. But around 1:00 AM, her mother received a call from Sajid, announcing in a single sentence, “Saiqa is dead!”

Since then, the Wanchoos have been seeking answer to only one question: what exactly happened to a healthy young lady who had no illness in an hour and a half’s time that led to her death?

Her husband had taken her to SMHS hospital, where the on-duty doctor declared her “brought dead”. The medico had called police as dead Saiqa’s condition was suspicious with lot of frothing and blood stains all over her mouth. Her body had turned blue and swollen. Police registered case under 174 of CrPC.

On the next morning, autopsy was carried out by CMO Miskeen Bagh, Dr Urfaan Wani. He had yelled at her husband and in-laws, questioning them about the homicide. In his audio recording, Dr Wani says that Saiqa’s death was 99.9% a case of poisoning based on profuse froth and blood stains on her body. Even after autopsy, a gush of froth came from her mouth.

“The question arises if the doctor on duty gave the statement about poisoning, why didn’t he provide sample of liver and spleen to the Forensic Science Laboratory, which checks the case of poisoning,” Kehkashah asks. “But instead the medico handed Saiqa’s stomach samples over to medical college, which in no way could have detected the poison.” Some evidences, notably, claim that some volatile and highly toxic poison leaves no traces in person’s organs or tissues.

Dr Urfaan is under pressure and is trying to cover the accused, Kehkashah says. But the medico says the final pathology report will make the entire picture clear.

“But we don’t trust medical laboratories over here,” says Kehkashah, “where after months only doctored reports come out.”

Amid all this, Saiqa’s husband stands accused by his in-laws to change statements at will. “He has changed five statements since her death, raising serious suspicions on his involvement,” Kehkashah says. “First he said Saiqa died in his arms and then went on to say she died when they were driving. Then he quite bizarrely stated that she had seen death angel. It is his desperation to cover up the crime.” Kehkashah suspects that her in-laws might have mixed poison in water drank plenty by Saiqa.

Actually, she says, her brother-in-law is having an extra-marital affair from last one and a half year. “And that could be the possible reason why they poisoned my sister.”

She identifies the girl that Sajid is allegedly dating since last year a 25-year-old from 9Ft Soura. “Once my sister learned about it,” she says, “she would seek explanations from him. But to dodge her, he would quarrel with her.” These frequent clashes had turned their reluctant love marriage into a source of tension for her.

“First his being indifferent and then being unfaithful had devastated my sister, who was never ready for this relationship,” the sobbing sister says. “Amid tensions, she would often walk away from her hostile in-laws and visit her neighbouring ladies to get consoled, comforted.”

Saiqa Wanchoo

But her 49-year-old husband denies having any tension in their recently ended marriage. “On the fateful day,” Sajid says, “Saiqa lost her cool at her niece over study at Chanapora. I tried to pacify her, took her home where she later complained about a heart pain and died.” But the man has no answers, why Saiqa’s family is accusing him of their daughter’s murder. “Wait for the final report,” he says. “Everything will be clear.”

With police yet to receive the post mortem report, the case has already become a high-profile with speaker Kavindra Gupta calling for investigation.

But some more shocking statements have already made the case a clear departure from a usual death.

On June 29 — 45 days after her death, Saiqa Wanchoo’s colleagues from Government Girls Higher Secondary School Sonwar, Srinagar held a protest in Srinagar along with teachers from other educational institutes. They vociferously demanded justice for their fellow teacher — who was supporting livelihood of her divorced sister and her five children.

Among the protesters was a late Saiqa’s colleague, who minced no words amid the cries for justice: “Days before her death, Saiqa told me: ‘I fear for my life!’ ”

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