On February 14, 2003, Ahmedabad-based couple Ramani and OK Krishnan's phone rang and a panicked voice on the other end, belonging to their son-in law, Tarun Kumar Jinaraj, informed them that something had happened to Sajini, their daughter.
"He didn't tell us that she was dead. We went to their house to find out that she was strangled with her dupatta," says Ramani, Sajini's mother.
Fifteen years and 8 months post that fateful day, the Ahmedabad police has finally nabbed Tarun Jinaraj, Sajini's alleged killer and husband. Now 42, Tarun, had changed his identity and fled from Ahmedabad to begin life afresh. In 2003, he became Pravin Bhateley, an identity he stole from an old friend who lived in Mandsaur. He went on to marry his colleague Nisha whom he met while working in Oracle, Pune in 2009. Shifting to Oracle Bengaluru, he settled down in a plush apartment complex in BTM Layout with Nisha and their their 2 sons, while drawing a salary of 22 lakhs per annum.
While Tarun lived a comfortable life with his family, convinced that he had indeed hoodwinked the authorities, miles away in Ahmedabad, Ramani and Krishnan got in touch with their long-time acquaintance and then Gujarat CM, Narendra Modi, to begin the 15-year hunt for their daughter's murderer.
Today, the elderly couple's dreary wait has ended. Speaking to TNM, the duo recalls their daughter's last few months with Tarun, until her death.
Tarun and Sajni
Originally from Thrissur in Kerala, Krishnan and Ramani had been settled in Ahmedabad for several years. Their daughter Sajini had grown up in the city and was living with her parents while working as a bank employee in 2002. She was 26.
Tarun was then working as a volleyball coach in a private school in Ahmedabad. His parents, Annamma Chacko and Jinaraj, hailing from Kadakkavoor in Thiruvananthapuram, were settled for years in Bopal, Ahmedabad. This is where Tarun and his brother grew up.
In late 2002, the family's proposal came to Ramani and Krishnan and both sets of parents met.
"Initially, Tarun came to our house with a few of his friends from the bank where Sajini worked. Later on, he brought his parents from Bopal to meet Sajini and us," Ramani says.
Following this meet, the marriage was quickly fixed in a typical arranged marriage fashion, and the couple wed on November 15, 2002.
The months following the wedding
In the beginning, Ramani and Krishnan never noticed any odd behaviour in Tarun. They did not know about the affair that he was having with another woman. The only thing they knew from their daughter, was that Tarun would take her money.
"He was an excellent actor. He would be respectful and stand up whenever he met us, and would always speak politely. We didn't know him well and therefore, didn't suspect anything. But my daughter had complained to me a few times that he would take all the money she made. She said his behaviour wasn't great, " Ramani adds.
Valentine's Day "gift" to girlfriend
At 10 pm on February 14, Ramani, Krishnan and other relatives reached Tarun and Sajini's house in Bopal to find her strangled with her own dupatta. The house was carefully messed up to stage a robbery.
"The cupboard in their room was broken open and its contents were flowing out. The gold chain around Sajini's neck was split in two. Sajini was to leave for training the next day and some cash and air tickets she had got were pushed to the floor. Tarun had by then fainted and been admitted to the ICU of a nearby hospital," Ramani recalls.
Although a few of their kin whispered that it could be Tarun who was behind this, Ramani and Krishnan were doubtful as they had no reason to suspect him. By then the police had arrived at the scene with sniffer dogs. The dogs smelled Sajini's dupatta - the cloth used to strangle her - and other things in the house.
At 3 pm the next day (February 15), Sajini's body arrived after the post-mortem. Tarun was brought to see his wife one last time and Ramani recalls that the dogs who had been at the crime scene the previous night barked at him.
"When he saw Sajini, he burst out crying. But some people who saw him getting back into his car told us that he was smiling while entering the vehicle," Ramani added.
Years later, police investigations revealed that Tarun had allegedly murdered Sajini as a 'Valentine's Day gift' to his girlfriend. He had also allegedly called up his girlfriend to inform her of the murder. Hearing this, she turned him down, stating that she did not wish to live with a murderer.
An old acquaintance and 15-year long hunt
By February 15th, a day after the murder, Tarun had gone missing. This increased doubts in Ramani's and Krishnan's minds and they decided to file a case. For this, they decided to take the help of family friends who knew Narendra Modi, then Gujarat CM, personally.
"They knew him before his days in politics. He would come to their house often and I too have met him many times," Ramani said. In 2003, Modi was serving his second year as Chief Minister when the couple met him several times, and requested him to look into Sajini's murder. He agreed to do the needful, Ramani recounts.
This marked the beginning of a 6-year long investigation which began under the Joint Commissioner of Police AK Sharma and DCP Himanshu Shukla. The case was later inherited by DCP Deepan Bhadran, a Malayali officer, and his team who successfully nabbed Tarun with one phone call made from the Oracle office's landline number to his mother Annamma Chacko's phone.
The Ahmedabad police traced one lakh calls made and received on Tarun's mother Annamma's phone number for many months, which finally led them to Oracle's office in Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru. Leading the investigations in Bengaluru, inspector Kiran Chowdhary, went into Tarun's cubicle and called him out saying, "Tarun..it's over..let's go."
As for Tarun's current family, his wife Nisha and children had been unaware of his past. Living as Pravin Bhatale, he had told them that his parents and brother had passed away in a car accident long ago. With things coming to an end in Bengaluru, Ramani and Krishnan too have found some kind of closure. However, Sajini's death has changed the course of their lives forever.