Was the law intern at a Bengaluru firm Prema*, being pushed to withdraw her complaint of sexual harassment against her seniors, days before she died? TNM has obtained a copy of a recorded telephone conversation, allegedly between Prema and a Bengaluru lawyer, who is also a friend of the accused – advocates Chandra Nayak and Chetan Desai.
According to sources, the call was allegedly made by a lawyer named Kirti to Prema before she filed a complaint of sexual harassment against Chandra Nayak and Chetan Desai at the Commercial Street Police Station on November 19 – a day before the FIR was filed in the case, and five days before Prema was found dead.
During the entire course of the conversation, the man tried to convince Prema not to file a police complaint. "See Prema, just have a discussion. I had a talk with Gowda (another lawyer). Gowda called me yesterday and he will also come,” the man is heard saying in the recording.
“We'll just meet up and discuss. What I am saying is, there is no point discussing after going to the station at all,” he added, when Prema told him she was planning to meet the Deputy Commissioner. “My only intention is, and the reason why I am calling you repeatedly is because somehow you compromise in this matter," he said.
However, Prema did not give in to multiple pleas made by Kirti, and informs him that she is adamant about taking the case forward.
“I'll tell you Prema. If this issue becomes serious, if you give the complaint, criminal action will be taken against Nayak and Chetan. The issue will be known by all the advocates,” the man said, adding, “All the advocates will know. Once the FIR is registered, they will come and arrest Nayak and Chetan (the accused).”
When Prema didn’t budge, he warned her that she will not find work in Bengaluru if she pursues the case. “Then this issue will be known to all advocates,” he said, “One serious thing is, and if it continues, they will not let you be in Bangalore.”
“I was not going to stay in Bengaluru,” Prema retorted, “But if at all they do this, I will see to it that I practice in Bengaluru. I will see to it. How they'll stop me? I'll see.”
“When I am saying no, how can he say that it was consensual? Who is he to say I consented to everyone? Let them arrest whomever they want. And I have taken this matter very seriously,” she said.
On November 19, Prema had filed a complaint of sexual misconduct and harassment against her senior, Chandra Nayak T of Jayanth Pattanshetti and Associates, a law firm on Infantry Road, and another advocate named Chetan Desai, with the Commercial Street police station. An FIR was registered on November 20. On November 24, Prema was found dead in her paying guest accommodation located in Malleshwaram. The two accused are currently out on bail.
Police sources said that Chandra Nayak and Chetan Desai had contacted Prema's parents in Andaman and asked them to come down to Bengaluru and settle the matter outside of the court. However, before the meeting could take place, Prema was found dead in her PG. Prema's brother Sunil and father Tulasi arrived in Bengaluru on November 25 and cleared her belongings from her room. They returned to Andaman the very next day, police said. "The parents are not too keen on following up on the investigation. It is possible that the lawyers will persuade Prema's parents to settle the matter with some compensation but so far nothing has happened," a police source said.
A case of unnatural death has been filed with the Vyalikaval Police Station. The Bengaluru police have begun a twin probe in the case with the Vyalikaval police investigating her death and the Commercial Street Police looking into the sexual harassment case.
Police investigating the case said that the autopsy report did not determine the cause of death and that the samples have been sent to the Forensic Science Lab. "Only once we know the cause of death will we know if it was a suicide or anything else. We have to wait for a few months for it," the police said.
However, police sources said that they have call recordings and also screenshots of WhatsApp messages Prema had sent her friend and parents regarding the sexual harassment complaint. "We have evidence but we have to see if it is connected to her death, too," the police said.
*The name has been changed to protect identity. The audio has been blocked when the victim's name is being said.