The curious case of Monika Ghurde
A year after a 39-year-old perfumer was found murdered in her flat in Goa, there are several questions about the official version of the crime that have been left unanswered. What has further raised the possibility of the version being a cover-up is the fierce secrecy pervading Ghurde’s social circles. Will justice prevail?
Almost a year has passed since the death of Monika Ghurde, and an unnatural silence prevails over the entire episode. To recollect, Ghurde, a 39-year-old Nagpur-born perfumer, had moved to Goa in 2011, and was subsequently living by herself in the Sapna Raj Valley apartment complex in Sangolda, North Goa. Her body was discovered there on October 6, 2016—half-naked and tied to the bed with marks on her neck. The autopsy reported asphyxiation as the cause of death. Since there were no evident signs of a struggle in the apartment, no burglary of household items, and no visible break-in, the Goa police suspected a friendly entry from someone she knew. Two days later, however, an arrest was made. Rajkumar Singh, a 21-year-old former watchman at the apartment complex, was picked up from a lodge in Bengaluru. Singh was found with Ghurde's mobile phone and ATM cards, which he had been using freely, thereby giving away his whereabouts. He confessed at once to the murder of Ghurde, and in the days to come, provided various details of his crime which were widely reported.
Shortly after the arrest, the wave of media interest in the case passed amidst intense criticisms that Ghurde's death had been sensationalised and her privacy violated. Hardnews was one of the only media outlets to raise objective doubts about the official explanation of the case, as it then stood. Reviewing matters a year on, these doubts have only become more pronounced. Meanwhile, within Ghurde's social circles, a fierce secrecy continues to surround the episode, raising further questions about a potential cover-up.
Singh's confession, as reported in the media, turns up many improbabilities and at least one glaring contradiction. He claims to have entered Ghurde's flat at approximately 6:30 pm on October 5, 2016. Yet Ghurde's last phone conversation with her brother in Mumbai, Anand Ghurde, is reported to have taken place at 7:30 pm on the same day. If Singh's account were true, at this time Ghurde would have been tied to her bed and in a semi-conscious state, in no position to make a phone call. Also stretching credulity is Singh's statement that he hid for three days and two nights on a terrace above Ghurde's apartment, which was found to have a floor of aluminium sheets and no roof. Not only would it be physically near-impossible to remain in such a spot in the October sun, the extended vigil seems to have served no sensible purpose.
According to the official story, Singh had three distinct motives for what he did: rage over his loss of job, which he apparently ascribed to a complaint made by Ghurde; lust, since he was said to have been fascinated by her from the day he saw her; and robbery, as he hadn't received two months worth of wages from the security company, and had found no regular employment since. Yet in the commission of the crime, none of these motives appears to have been satisfied. Singh stated that he entered Ghurde's flat with a knife, but Ghurde's body was neither stabbed, nor even beaten. There were no breakages within the flat, as one might expect in a rage-filled crime scene. As to lust, the autopsy could not confirm rape and any subsequent forensic findings are yet to be reported. Also, Ghurde's body wasn’t even fully disrobed, despite Singh stating that he spent around eight hours in the flat, and committed rape multiple times. Lastly, while her phone and ATM card were taken from the scene, her jewellery and other valuables were not. Since Singh did not even know how to use an ATM card (CCTV footage showed him taking help from another customer to make his first withdrawal), it is odd that he would steal this item, while ignoring other obvious valuables.
After his arrest and interrogation, Singh has been twice admitted to the Institute of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour in Bambolim, where his mental fitness for trial has been under examination. Although reported fit for trial at present, the cloud over his mental health heightens the possibility that, being complaisant and vulnerable to inducements, he might have been roped in as a party to a cover-up.
Since forensic evidence, if any, of his presence at the flat, would also be consistent with his participation in such a cover-up, the chargesheet against Singh is really based exclusively on his own hard-to-believe confession, with no corroborating evidence. Legally, this situation raises a red flag, and should also arouse the concern of the general public.
While a defence lawyer has recently been appointed via the legal aid services, he had not even received the case-file as on the date of writing this report. It is practically certain, in any case, that charges will be framed against Singh this October, but of more significance is the trial-stage itself. Sans any further media interest, and given the nature of the crime, there is a singular expectation of a guilty verdict, and a tremendous pressure on the court to speedily deliver it. Therefore, a greater public scrutiny of this case is now critical to serve the interests of justice, and ensure that the official case is tested as required.
Nor should concerns for the victim's privacy be taken advantage of by a potentially guilty party to exploit a weak individual and deceive the public. The aggressive silence now prevailing in Ghurde's circles resembles something manufactured, and suggests this is exactly what may be happening. Here it must be mentioned that the circumstances in which Ghurde's body was discovered are also consistent with an accidental death, via some form of erotic asphyxiation. An inclination to suppress any inquiries into this possibility appears to be driving the ongoing secrecy.
(Written by a correspondent)