I last met Shiney Ahuja at Sea Lounge at the Taj, three years ago. Today, I am sitting with his wife Anupam Ahuja at the same location. A lot has happened since. He has been accused of rape by his maid and was jailed. Although he is currently out on bail, the verdict has been delivered by the media as well as the masses: guilty. I too believed he did it. When I tell his wife, she manages a wry smile, “In your place, I would too.” Ask her if she ever believed he did it and she shakes her head, “Not for a second. I never even questioned him. I know he can never do anything like that.” Yesterday she only had her conviction, today she has the proof to back it up. Here she talks about their hellish journey in the last three years, what lies ahead and what keeps her going. Read on for excerpts…
So what’s the current status?
The lawyers have to prepare what is known as a Paper Book, based on the evidence that has been presented in the court. When it is ready — it might take six weeks or so — the lawyers will submit it to the court and they will get a date of hearing. Sometimes, it takes five to six years for the hearing to come up. But since our case was fast-tracked by the government, we would like that to apply to the hearing too.
How hopeful are you?
I am very, very hopeful. I have shown the papers to my attorney and a couple of lawyers in Delhi and Chandigarh and everybody has said that we have an airtight case. All the evidence is in our favour, including the much-talked about forensic evidence. The DNA is all negative. The doctor has given the opinion that there was no intercourse. And the biggest thing is that no traces of blood or semen were found on the girl.
Was it reported that some semen stains were found on the quilt?
They said they’d found semen stains but they didn’t say they found it in my bedroom. So there is no connection with the alleged scene of offence. No one cared to check the age of the semen found on my quilt. It was reported that when she left the premises, her hair and clothes were in disarray and she could barely walk. We also have CCTV evidence which shows her coming down with her hair neatly combed and tied. Her dupatta is pinned, and she was absolutely fine. The investigating officer said in court that he didn’t feel the need to collect the CCTV footage.
If you had all that, why isn’t Shiney out free?
We have no way of understanding how the “guilty” judgement came about. It shocked us. There had never even been one-off consensual sex. A newspaper carried that Shiney had confessed to consensual sex and that grabbed headlines. The next day, the paper printed an apology on page 6, but no one saw that. Our line of defence from the beginning has been that nothing has happened and that he is being framed. The other big thing is that during the alleged rape — from 3.20 pm to 3.40 pm — she was on the phone. Either she can be on the phone or she can be forced upon. Both things can’t happen together. When that came
up during the trial, the investigating officer went on record to say that he didn’t feel the need to investigate in
the aforesaid direction. That was quite strange because that would have immediately sorted the case.
What about the DNA?
The DNA is negative. Even if I reach across and touch your hand, my DNA will be found on you. So when there was no DNA, there is no case, right? Also, the judge herself acknowledges that there is no way she can rule out tampering or contamination in samples but she said that this benefit of lack of chain of custody will not be extended to Shiney — which is unheard of in any system anywhere in the world. Mukesh Ambani
You are aware that the entire nation thinks that Shiney is guilty?
Yes, most of them believe that. And that is based on these select false stories that were being planted by the police, that had no basis in fact. And we were not talking as it would have been contempt of court.
You couldn’t fight this?
We brought it up in the lower trial court. But it didn’t help us. Even the girl said to the court l at e r that nothing happened to her, when she heard that we have evidence like the CCTV recording. When the judge told her that if she lied she would be held for perjury, she blurted out the truth. She said nothing at all had happened. That whatever she said, she did so at the behest of the witness who got her a job in our house.
If she said nothing happened, shouldn’t the case be dismissed?
Absolutely. But the judge said that the victim’s statement was half-hearted! Even the medical evidence was in our favour. Ours is the most unique case in history. You know that the chief minister fast-tracked the case. Once the CM Ashok Chavan said that prima facie Shiney was guilty, I was already fighting the system. Even before he could step foot in court, he was already convicted.
What was your first reaction when the news broke?
I was at my mother’s house in Delhi, and she was surfing channels when the news flashed. I looked at it and thought it was a trailer of a picture. Then I realised that this was real and it was on a news channel. I just stood up and then sat down. I called his mobile and there was no answer. I was like, what’s going on, and started to cry because it was such a disgusting allegation. My mother wiped my tears and she said it wasn’t a time to cry. She said: You know he is innocent and you just go get him. His parents, who also live in Delhi, were returning from Amritsar. I realised that I had to tell them. I called up my fatherin-law and told him that the news channels were airing some news about Shiney. He kept on asking what it was and I started to cry and said that they are saying he raped our maid. He was like kya bakwaas kar rahe ho (you have lost your mind.)
You never believed he could have done it?
Not for a second. I know Shiney and he is just not capable of doing something like this.
It must’ve been really hard leaving your daughter Arshiya behind in Delhi.
Yes. If I had seen her, I would have broken down. I was miserable, and everyone said, “get her here.” I hadn’t even weaned her off… (Trails off) But I just didn’t have the heart to see her then. Our parents were looking after Arshiya. They would take turns to be here. When I left Delhi, I told my mother-in-law, “I will see my daughter the day you see your son.” But then, I broke my promise and met Arshiya a day before she met Shiney. I got her to Mumbai a day before Shiney got bail, as a lucky charm. Also it was her birthday and I wanted to have a havan. It worked and he got bail.
Was your marriage ever in trouble, as reported?
I was in New York for three years. When there were reports on us getting separated in the media, we were celebrating his first film award on the cruise, and I was pregnant with Arshiya. He used to get upset about those stories. When there were articles in magazines about our break-up, I was breaking karva chauth via a webcam with Shiney. Even today, on my birthday and my daughter’s, he does a nirajal vrat (fasting without even a drop of water) and breaks it at night. That’s the kind of husband and father he is. He could never commit a crime as heinous as the one he has been accused of.
Did you try to talk to the maid?
Tell me about seeing Shiney for the first time after he was arrested.
I flew in to Mumbai, at 3 am and wanted to meet him. I had no clue what police custody and judicial custody were. I wanted to speak to Shiney and we went to the court where he was supposed to be brought that day. And that’s the first time I saw him. They had chained him, and removed his shoes. He had a black cloth on his face and he was trembling because he had no idea what was going on. When they removed the black thing, he was looking for familiar faces and when he saw me, I looked at him and there was like a slight nod and tears in his eyes and I was like, ‘I know.’
And he was jailed for 110 days?
He was out on October 3. And we had to leave Mumbai immediately. We were not allowed to stay at home. We were very particular about not spending the night in the city. We used to come every 15 days for the trial. It was a huge strain on our finances. Our lawyer was very particular that we would come to court, do the hearing and head out the same night. Even if we were getting cheaper tickets the next day, he said we had to go back the same day.
How was it the first moment you guys were together after all this?
I was at Arthur Road jail when Shiney was brought out. After 110 days, it was the first time I saw him from head-totoe. When you meet in jail, behind grills, you barely get to see the face. He was wearing a green t-shirt and he was looking very thin and he was bending and walking. He looked at me and I looked at him, we both began to cry but we had to dry our eyes soon as the media was waiting outside. While going out, he held my hand and squeezed it. I squeezed right back. We were literally being chased back home by the media. We were finally home and then had to leave for airport. I had to pick up my suitcase and papers… (excuses herself to make some tea “I need some sugar…talking about all this is still difficult…”)
So no more maids for you… (Smiles) No, no more maids for me. I can make my own tea, thank you very much. I want to say this to people: Please do a background check whenever you hire people. I always thought that all these things happened to others. I never took it seriously. I knew nothing about her. It is the stupidest mistake I have made and I have learnt from it.
Were you shunned by friends and neighbours?
Not at all. They came up to us and told us, “You don’t owe anybody an explanation. We believe you. We are with you with whatever you want.” This has been a support. People from the industry were also supportive. Pritish Nandy was awesome. He visited Shiney and said, “Just be strong”. Even Sudhir Mishra would call me and say, “Why is it taking so long? Get him out.”
When he came home from jail, it must’ve been really difficult to get him to go out, right?
Yes, Shiney didn’t want to leave the house. He said, “I know what people are thinking about me.” I told him, “We are going to walk with our head held high.” When we started walking, people used to come to us and take his autograph and photograph. There was not one person who passed a bad remark, and that helped us limp back to normalcy. I say, ‘limp back’ because again and again, the hesitation would come from his side, and then I’d have to convince him all over again.
What about going out for dinner or seeing a movie?
There is this place called Cholas in Delhi that we used to go to during our dating days. We went there. The owner welcomed us warmly. In Mumbai, we have not gone out anywhere. We only go for dinners, to friends’ homes, etc. Not even been to see a movie or to a restaurant. Our friends keep insisting that we return to having a normal life again.
Has it been tough financially?
We’d begun putting aside money right from the time we started out on our journey — when Shiney got his first ad and he got an audition for Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi. We moved to Mumbai and I took up a job. We saved whatever money he made and lived off what I earned. These last few years, we have been living off our savings. Quite a bulk of it is now gone in legal fees and travelling. Now we have taken overdrafts on the fixed deposits we’d made for Arshiya’s education, etc. And some of my own savings which I kept aside for a rainy day and it’s surely raining like hell for us right now. Of course, we still have the support of our parents, brothers and sisters all over.
Do you think Arshiya knows what is going on?
She is just three years and six months old. She may not know what is going on, but she knows that something is wrong. We have done our best to keep her away from all this, but somehow she can sense it. Two days before the judgement came, she woke up crying. She said she had a bad dream and she said “Mama was going to jail.” We looked at each other and wondered, where did she learn the word jail from? Even when we speak to lawyers, we are careful she isn’t listening. We make sure that she does not watch TV, or even a newspaper with our faces on it. And yet she got the dream… it was bizarre.
What’s been the most difficult?
So many moments. Can’t single out one. Can’t compare one agonising moment to another. One night, my mother-in-law woke us in the night saying there was something wrong with Shiney’s dad. He saw us and asked, “When did you guys come here? When is Shiney’s film releasing?” We immediately rushed him to the hospital. He’d suffered from a temporary loss of blood to the brain and had to be hospitalised. There was a time I would throw my milk in the basin because I couldn’t feed my daughter. We had a daughter after 11 years of marriage and we were both away from her…that was tough. And then there is the day when the bail got rejected.
What has been your strength in these last few years?
It was just the feeling that I have in my heart — that I’m on the right side and I’m fighting the wrong. In that moment of epiphany, I told God, “You are making us go through this for a reason. I have no idea why but I’m pretty sure that you are going to set it right.”
Big believer in God? Still?
I’m very spiritual. I believe that whatever has happened, and all the injustices that have happened at every point, will someday make sense. I know we will come out absolutely Pippa and fine Kate but I have to walk this path today. But a time will come when I can share everything, about my case, and people will see the truth. Everything will come to light. You cannot hide such injustice.
Never felt angry at the world, the system? Never wanted to lash out?
I was very angry with lies that were being printed as the truth but then, I thought, had I been in their place, I would’ve believed it too. Now I would just like to tell people, don’t believe everything you hear and see. Question things.
Do you believe that things will ever go back to normal?
Yes, it will. It will go back to being better than normal. TOI