The Pancholis — Aditya and Zarina — are distraught, but will continue to fight for justice for their son, Sooraj. The 22-year-old, who is lodged at Mumbai’s Arthur Road Prison over the last fortnight, has been denied bail. A sessions court, while rejecting the bail application, observed that Jiah Khan had been pushed to commit suicide because she had an abortion and was physically and mentally tortured by her boyfriend, Sooraj. (Leading lawyers feel the court should not have commented out of turn on the bail rejection — see box).
SIDDHANT KAPOOR, ACTOR He’s like my younger brother. I’ve seen him grow up. I have known him since childhood. He is bright, caring, hard working and has a big heart. Everyone makes mistakes but he’s not a criminal. KABIR KHAN, DIRECTOR Sooraj is certainly not the person, certain sections of the media has painted him out to be. He was the youngest AD on Ek Tha Tiger and came across as a shy and an introverted boy. He is well brought up and gentle. On the sets, I have never seen him lose his temper. My personal experience of him is nothing like what’s been said about him. I am taken aback with the reports. I’d definitely repeat him as an AD again. As an actor, he is still very young. He has enough time. I will work with him if I have the right script.
May Jiah’s soul find peace, but this is unfair,” says Zarina. Her voice quivers as she adds, “Why has Rabiya landed my son in this mess? He addressed Rabiya as ‘Maa’ and in return, she has messed up my child’s life. He is not to blame. If anything, he only tried to help Jiah, who was a disturbed child. He had neither been abusive with her, nor had he ever tried to take advantage of her feelings for him. On the contrary, for someone so young, he showed a great level of maturity in dealing with a girl (Jiah), who he had grown close to from around November 2012.” LAWYER SPEAK Going back to the Sooraj-Jiah relationship, Zarina recalls how the two met through a social networking site in August 2012. Sources say that in October 2012, Jiah had a nasty fight with her mother and came running to Sooraj. “She was crying so much that Sooraj almost froze. He was aware that Jiah had, in the past, tried to take her life on many occasions. Sooraj was not her first boyfriend and she had reportedly attempted to slash her wrists when a couple of her earlier relationships failed.
Also, it was obvious from whatever she told my son that she had a stormy relationship with her mother. Fearing that Jiah may do something drastic, Sooraj left her in the care of one of his servants at home and rushed to meet Rabiya.
‘Aunty, she needs your help,’ he had pleaded. But apparently, Rabiya turned a deaf ear and muttered something like, ‘Oh! Ignore her, she will be fine’,” says Zarina.
“How can a mother be so stonehearted?” she asks, adding, “Had someone told me my child was having a catharsis, I would have run without slippers to where my child was.” Zarina recalls how, in the months that she met Jiah (obviously because she spent a lot of time at their home with Sooraj), she remembered that the girl cried a lot. “She seemed very unhappy,” says Zarina. “When I asked my son why he was in a relationship with her, he told me, ‘I feel very protective about her. She has had a traumatic past’.” Hesitating a while before she speaks again, Zarina adds, “Jiah had told Sooraj that she was raped in London when she was 14 years old. This drew him very close to her. He just wanted to protect her from the world. If you see any of Jiah’s previous letters or tweets, you will note that the girl never spoke a word against Sooraj. She always maintained that he was an angel who had come into her life.”
Things between the youngsters were hunky-dory for a while. But 25-year-old Jiah’s over-possessive nature made Sooraj, who was three years younger, feel claustrophobic in the relationship. Zarina recalls how Jiah would always attempt to stop him from attending his dance, diction and acting classes. “Don’t go anywhere, sit with me, was her constant refrain,” says the actress. And it is this possessiveness that ultimately led Sooraj to distance himself from Jiah.
Also, contrary to reports that Jiah’s career was going great guns, Zarina recalls how the girl was shattered when she flew to Hyderabad for a south film audition and was rejected. “Once again, she was howling. She failed to understand why in three years since Housefull, her last movie with Akshay Kumar, she didn’t get any work. In fact, Jiah even went to Ram Gopal Varma, her mentor, and asked him, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Why am I not getting any work?’.”
One of Jiah’s sisters, recalls Zarina, had made a statement saying the late actress had no career frustration and she was unhappy only on account of her relationship with Sooraj going kaput.
“How could her sister, who lived in London, know what was happening back here? My son and I knew that Jiah was extremely dejected because she was getting no work. She would often cry to Sooraj about how she felt terrible because her career wasn’t taking off.”
Wiping off tears, Zarina says, “As a mother, I understand what it means for Rabiya to have lost a young child. It is heartbreaking. But why blame Sooraj for it? God forbid, if my son had committed suicide, I would just take it as my bad karma or bad luck. I would certainly not have blamed Jiah for it. Rabiya says she is God-fearing. If so, how can one mother cause such pain and anguish to another mother? I’m devastated that my child has been in custody for a fortnight now. He is being made to pay for something he is not responsible or guilty of. I pray that Jiah has found peace and I also hope God gives her mother brains.”
Zarina is categorical that Sooraj distanced himself from Jiah in May 2013 because he couldn’t handle her possessiveness. She remembers her son telling Rabiya that he couldn’t continue his relationship with Nafisa (Jiah’s real name). But he also added, “Maa, if you ever want me to help you help her, I will always be there.”
Clarifying that even the socalled abusive text messages that the police are talking about are actually harmless, the actress says, “Sooraj did send a couple of messages to Jiah saying, ‘What the f**k yaar. Why are you doing this to me?’ That is the extent of the abuse.” “Most youngsters use the ‘f ’ word liberally, don’t they? My son is no different,” she trails off.
SUBHASH SINGH (JIAH’S MAKEUP ARTIST AND COMMON FRIEND OF SOORAJ AND JIAH) Jiah and Sooraj were great together and very close to me. They even suggested that they would host my daughter’s birthday when I was away in Greece. I knew them individually before they started seeing each other. I knew Jiah for seven years and Sooraj for two years. They met each other about less than a year ago and started dating late last year. Jiah was loving and an extremely emotional girl. In Sooraj, she found someone who really loved her. She wanted to be with him all the time, while it was becoming difficult for him to do so as he had to focus on his career too as his launch was nearing. His taxing schedule made her possessive of him. She wasn’t giving him enough space. However, these are common problems in every relationship. While both confided in me and shared the smallest details, Jiah never complained of facing any physical violence from him, ever! Her only complaint was not getting to spend enough time with him. Sooraj, in fact, was on good terms with Rabiya and vice versa. His father had no issues against Jiah either. All he said was ‘Kaam pe dhyaan doh and don’t come home post 10 pm, no late-night parties,’ etc. Sooraj is just like his mother… humble and down-to-earth. I wonder what drove Jiah to take this drastic step, but that boy doesn’t deserve to be put behind bars. PRATEIK, ACTOR I am disheartened. Sooraj is like a brother. I have a lot of love and respect for his parents. We have met at the gym. But, you don’t know what’s happening in detail unless you are best friends.
RANVIR SHOREY, ACTOR I know him briefly as I worked on Ek Tha Tiger. I hardly spent any time with him but this whole thing is a witch-hunt. It will rest with time. He hasn’t done anything culpable. It’s sad what has happened.
– As told to Renuka Vyavahare
JUNE 3: Jiah Khan is found hanging from a ceiling fan at her Juhu home, by her mother Rabiya Khan. She reportedly died between 11 and 11.30 pm.
JUNE 4: The police question certain people in connection with the suicide, but their identities are not revealed. Jiah’s post-mortem is conducted at JJ Hospital. Later, the names of those questioned, including Sooraj Pancholi, are revealed.
JUNE 5: Rabiya is said to have told the cops that Jiah was depressed over her career. After her failure as an actress, she was reportedly on the verge of getting into interior designing.
JUNE 7: Police recover a note, supposedly written by the late actress. It has details about her disturbed relationship with boyfriend Sooraj. The note was handed over to the cops by Rabiya, who also shared copies of it with the media.
JUNE 8: Aditya Pancholi says: “I want to request people to not try and make my son the villain. It’s circumstances that played villain in Jiah’s life. If that one moment, when she took that drastic step, had been averted, she’d still be alive.”
JUNE 9: Rabiya issues a statement saying, “Some sections of the media and some film industry people are speculating that my daughter committed suicide because of depression related to her career. However, the truth is that it happened only because of the trauma and abuse she suffered at the hands of Sooraj and his father Aditya.”
JUNE 10: Sooraj is arrested under Section 306 of IPC (abetment of suicide).
JUNE 11: He is produced at the Andheri Magistrate Court and remanded to two days’ police custody.
JUNE 13: Court rejects cops’ request for three more days to interrogate Sooraj. He is remanded to 14 days’ judicial custody and taken to Arthur Road Jail.
JUNE 18: Jiah’s post-mortem report is released. It c onfirms that her death was caused by hanging and no other injury marks were found on her body.
JUNE 21: Sooraj applies for bail at the Sessions Court, but the plea is rejected.
JUNE 27: Sooraj’s judicial custody ends. The police will reportedly seek his custody again.
I disagree with the sessions court to have commented on the sensitivity of the victim in the case. The court must refrain from passing such comments, which can have a demoralising effect on the investigating agency or the victim’s family. The Supreme Court also has repeatedly warned the courts below to refrain from going into the merits of the case and making such observations, which may have such an effect on the investigating agency and lead to miscarriage of justice. The matter is still under investigation so there must be a fair direction in the pursuit of truth. As regards Sooraj, he may be young and a filmstar’s son but these will be the least of the considerations in the case.
As a lawyer, I’m very clear — it cannot amount to any abetment of suicide. It’s a case of two people — Suraj and Jiah — who were in love and for whom things didn’t work out. No case has been made out made that he was hurting her. She may have fallen out of love, and he is very young too. Question is: What if she had failed? If she had not died, wouldn’t she have been guilty? And liable to be punished? Under the IPC, an attempt to commit suicide (section 309) is a criminal offence. Now, because it’s a suicide, and you don’t know whom to punish, you punish him? It cannot be a case of abetment to suicide. I’m not commenting on the court order, but in such a situation, can you hold a boy responsible for a failed relationship and a woman taking the extreme step? It’s not the correct thing to hold him as ‘abettor of a crime’.
— As told to Ismat Tahseen