Thirty-year-old Nimisha Priya does not get access to a phone too often. She can use it only one or two times a week. Lodged in a jail in Yemen’s capital city Sana’a, it was not easy to get through to her. Whatever little time she has on the phone, Nimisha has been trying her best to call her relatives in India, desperate for help, as she has been given the death penalty by a court in Yemen. When we do manage to speak to her, Nimisha says she’s experienced physical torture, death threats and harrasment at the hands of her acquaintance Talal Abdo Mahdi – a Yemen national whom she killed.
Nimisha Priya is a native of Kerala’s Palakkad. Last week, she was found guilty of murdering Talal Abdo Mahdi in 2017, chopping his body into pieces, and disposing of his body in a water tank at her house. An appeals court in Sana’a upheld the trial court verdict giving her the death penalty. Nimisha does not even have the legal aid of a lawyer, and her one possible way to escape death penalty is blood money. This is her story that she recounted to TNM from prison.
It was in 2014 that Nimisha got acquainted with Talal Abdo Mahdi.
In April 2014, Nimisha’s husband Tomy Thomas went back to Kerala with their one-year-old child, as it was tough for the couple to look after their child with their low salaries. While she was working as a nurse in a clinic, he was employed as an unskilled labourer.
Nimisha and her husband Tomy
“I went back to Kerala with my child towards the end of the year. In a month or two, Nimisha and I discussed starting a small clinic in Yemen. At that time we were told that we will need the help of a Yemeni citizen to process the license, and Nimisha suggested Talal’s name. We had gone to his clothes shop once and I vaguely remembered him,” her husband Tomy, who now lives in Ernakulam, tells TNM.
But eventually, Nimisha did not take Talal’s help for the license. “The owner of the clinic she was then working at, a man named Abdul Lateer, got upset that she was starting on her own. He first created a ruckus, and finally he agreed to invest money in our clinic for 33% share, and it was sorted,” recalls Tomy. And therefore, Nimisha told Talal that he need not help them with the license for the clinic.
In 2015, Nimisha started her clinic, but her husband and child could not come back as the civil war broke out in Yemen and the country stopped issuing new visas. And this is when Talal started harassing Nimisha.
A picture of Nimisha's clinic.
“The clinic kick-started really well – within one month, I got a good income. Talal had helped me with a few things, like collecting material and with some money too. My income however jolted Talal. He came up with the demand that I need to pay him a share of the income. He started to assert himself in matters related to the clinic. He even registered the vehicles we bought for the clinic in his name,” Nimisha says.
Without Nimisha’s knowledge, Talal had also added his name as a shareholder of the clinic, when they had made papers to include Abdul Lateef in the clinic.
According to Nimisha, very soon, Talal even started to get hold of Nimisha’s monthly share from the clinic. “It was when I questioned the clinic’s manager over the issue, that it turned out that Talal had started telling everyone in the clinic that I am his wife.”
“The manager said it was due to this, he was giving my monthly share of business to Talal – as he was my ‘husband’. When I questioned Talal about this, he said he had made the claim so others would not pose problems assuming I am a single woman,” she says.
Tomy too says that Talal tortured his wife and he was not aware of it in the beginning. “In January 2015, before the war started, Nimisha had come to Kerala for a month’s holiday. This Talal came along with her. I have entertained this man, taken him for sightseeing, and in turn, he tortured my wife when they got back to Yemen,” Tomy says.
Pictures of Talal during his holiday in Kerala
It was a heavy blow for Nimisha as Talal continued to get hold of her monthly share from the hospital on the pretext that she was his ‘wife’.
“I knew he was already married, (but) still he kept saying we are married and everyone in the hospital seemed to believe him. Though I approached his father, Talal had already made him also believe that we were married. In 2015, Talal had accompanied me to Kerala for sightseeing. This was one favour he asked us after we asked him for help to start a clinic. He had even come to my husband’s house in Thodupuzha. He had taken a photo from my wedding album and he morphed this with his face, and had shown it to his family, saying that we were married,” she alleges.
Since no one believed her, Nimisha says by 2016 she approached the police station in Sana’a. “But I was arrested as per Yemeni law for raising this complaint, along with Talal. I had to be in jail for 16 days. Talal, who had made a fake marriage certificate, submitted it to court and we were let off,” she says.
Nimisha says that ever since she questioned him for claiming that he was her husband, things started becoming worse for her. Talal even got hold of her passport.
“He started to attack me physically. Even in front of the hospital staff, he used to thrash me and even spit on me. When it became unbearable I went to the police station with a complaint in 2016,” she says.
Nimisha says that Talal’s behaviour towards her kept getting worse. “He confiscated my passport, he forced me to live with him. He would come to my house inebriated and attack me physically, threaten me to obey him, inflict injuries on me. He used to even bring his friends to my house at night, force me to do sexual favours for them. I used to run out each time to protect myself.”
“Those were sleepless nights for me, I had no one to help or support me. I was all alone. Yemen is not a place where one would see women out at night. But I would run through the road out of my house, escaping from the assaults,” she recounts.
Nimisha says Talal had gone to jail multiple times in between – some of those times based on her complaints of assault, and others allegedly pertaining to money fraud, land fraud and vehicle threat of other persons.
Tomy recounts that his wife had around 22 SIM cards. “Each time he would confiscate a SIM card, she would somehow buy another. I really did not know the extent of the problem till it went out of hand,” he says.
It was in July 2017 that Talal was killed, when Nimisha injected him with sedatives in order to retrieve her passport that was in his possession. She did not mean to kill him, she says.
“There was a jail near my clinic, where Talal was frequently jailed based on my complaints. The warden of the jail knew my issues as he had also been a patient at my clinic. Since I could in no way escape from Talal, especially without my passport, the jail warden told me to try to sedate him when I get a chance. He offered me help by saying that once he is sedated, he will by some means take him to some place and coerce him to return my passport,” she says.
“So when I got a chance, I injected him with a sedative, but it did not have any effect on him as he was already high on drugs,” she says. Nimisha alleges that Talal was a substance abuser.
“Then another day in July 2017 while he was in my house doing drugs, I injected him with Ketamine, a sedative. A few minutes later, he fell on the floor and started to scream out loud. But suddenly, he stopped and laid still. There was no breath and when I checked his pulse, I couldn’t get it,” Nimisha recalls.
“I was afraid, I had not meant to kill him. I quickly called my friend Hanan, she is also a nurse, who was living downstairs. She knew the issue I had been facing. She quickly told me that we had to do something to dispose of the body. I was panicking with anxiety and took sedative tablets. Then, it was Hanan who chopped his body and disposed of it in the water tank. I barely remember this as I took the tablets for my anxiety attack,” claims Nimisha.
Hanan, who is also a co-accused in the case, has been sentenced to life imprisonment. Both Hanan and Nimisha were arrested in August 2017 and the trial court sentenced Nimisha to death.
Nimisha says that she got sentenced to death, the highest punishment, as she did not get any legal support while her case was being considered in the court.
“Though I pleaded with the court that I was not his wife and was subjected to torture, and that I did not mean to murder him, I could not prove this in the court without the help of a lawyer,” says Nimisha.
“The court could easily identify that the marriage certificate is fake. It is not even my name in it. Talal has put my photo with a Muslim name. If the judge cross-checks it with my passport, this will be revealed. If my neighbours are quizzed, they could recount the torture I underwent,” Nimisha says, on the verge of tears.
She says that though an advocate was assigned to her by the appeal court last year, he was not of any help. As per Nimisha, he was a junior advocate and did not even appear for her properly. Since he is a junior lawyer, Nimisha says, he cannot also be present in the apex court for her next appeal. This means that Nimisha will again be left without any legal help, once her appeal goes to the apex court.
Nimisha and her family hopes that Talal's family would relieve her if blood money is paid. Though an amount of Rs 70 lakh as blood money has come up in discussions, Talal's family has not confirmed this and Nimisha says she has no means to pay this.
Nimisha’s husband Tomy now drives an auto rickshaw in Kerala for a living. Her daughter who is now seven years old stays with Tomy. “I haven't met my daughter in years, I want to come out alive. One-and-a-half years back (2018), I wrote to the Kerala government seeking help with the compensation, but there has been no reply. My husband cannot even raise Rs 10,000. There is absolutely no means,” she says, her voice cracking.
Though the Kerala government and India's Ministry of External Affairs intervened to appoint a lawyer through the Indian Embassy recently, he was not able to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Advocate KL Balachandran who was directed to go to Yemen for Nimisha by NORKA (Non Resident Keralites Association), tells TNM, "On December 17, 2019 I got the order to appear for her. The final verdict was set to be held on December 22, but since I only had a few days to reach there, we sent this order to Yemen and asked to postpone. But very soon, COVID-19 broke out in the country and the judge hearing the case got the disease. By the time he recovered, India imposed COVID-19 restrictions and I could not go."
Tomy is devastated at the media coverage so far. “They have been saying that Indian woman killed her Yemeni husband, some said she chopped him into pieces. She is my wife, he tried to pretend they are married, even though he knew me, and he himself had a wife. I have somehow tried to live through all the trauma. A few years ago I bought an auto and don't even have money to pay the loan for it. How will I help my wife?” he asks.
Nimisha and Tomy after their wedding
Nimisha will file her appeal against death penalty at the apex court of Yemen soon. Balachandran confirms that after getting an appointment from the jail authorities, representatives from the Indian Embassy and an Indian resident in Yemen will meet Nimisha and get her signature for the application. In two or three months, the court will consider the plea, but without legal aid, she will be helpless in court. Her mother Prema Kumari, who works as a house help in Ernakulam, and her husband, are continuing to knock on doors to find some way to help Nimisha. But many people who are aware of the legal proceedings say that paying the blood money would be an easier option than legal recourse.
If you wish to help Nimisha’s family, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to her @neethujoseph_15.