|Neighbours and relatives of Gayatri Singhal mourn her killing at her New Alipore apartment. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
A murder most macabre bloodied Calcutta’s Christmas canvas and cast an ever-lengthening shadow on a vulnerable section of our society — the ageing and the alone.
Early on Thursday, Gayatri Singhal, 52, was first hit on the head and then had her throat slit, probably with a sharp kitchen instrument, at her New Alipore residence while her husband was away in Mumbai on a business trip and her son was on holiday in Kerala.
The needle of suspicion points at a “trusted” member of the Singhal household — maidservant Rina. While Rina is absconding — just as Rs 3 lakh in cash and ornaments worth several lakhs are missing from the fourth-floor flat of Neelachal Apartments, in New Alipore’s O Block — driver Mahadev Ram is being questioned for his role in her getaway.
Police reconstructed the crime on the basis of what Mahadev and the neighbours had to say. Rina, apparently, woke the driver up around 5 am. “She was carrying three polythene packets and was in a real rush. She asked me to drop her off at a Block-D address, where her sister worked,” Mahadev told police.
“Rina told me that her child was sick and so maaji (Gayatri Singhal) had given her leave and asked her to return home,” the driver added. Mahadev dropped Rina off and came back. At around 8.30 am, he was told by the sweeper that Gayatri was not opening the door. The driver rushed up to the flat and noticed the morning newspaper and the pouch of milk lying untouched outside the door. He rang the bell in vain for around 20 minutes.
Mahadev then called in some neighbours, before opening the door with a duplicate key. A trail of blood led them to the bedroom and to Gayatri’s lifeless body. It was evident that she had been hit on the back of her head with a heavy object before her throat was slit. The cover of a knife was also found.
“We have sent a team to Rina’s Sagar Island home and a watch is being kept on all Orissa-bound trains. Her husband works there,” said deputy commissioner (south) Anuj Sharma. “But she could have left the city by the morning Dhauli Express,” said another official. A close watch was also being kept on Mahadev.
Rina had first joined the Singhal home as a domestic help five years ago. She left after about a year, but returned a few months ago. The Singhals, the probe suggested, were happy to have her back, as they trusted Rina.
Banwarilal Singhal, the victim’s husband, has a chartered accountancy firm on Bentinck Street. He would frequently leave town on work and Gayatri often had to stay alone. Son Vikas, who was helping his father run the firm, would also be out on tour often, while daughter Meghna is married and lives in Salt Lake.
So, Rina seemed a safe choice for the Singhals. Christmas proved them horribly wrong.