Mumbai: Can an artist’s works be construed as indicative of his mental state, and more crucially, does it have evidentiary value in a murder trial? This was the question that came up on Tuesday in the long-winding trial in the double murder of artist Hema Upadhyay and her lawyer Harish Bhambhani.
Upadhyay, one of India’s leading artists, and her lawyer were found dead, their bodies packed in cardboard boxes, floating in a nullah in Kandivali in December 2015. Hema’s estranged husband Chintan Upadhyay, a well-known artist in his own right, is one of the accused.
On Tuesday morning, there was a dramatic moment in the trial which has seen multiple delays, when the prosecution presented four small canvas sketches and 74 paper sketches before additional sessions judge SY Bhosale at the Dindoshi sessions court.
The special public prosecutor Vaibhav Baghade was examining Vinod Kumar, a Delhi police officer who had acted as panch witness during the search and seizure from Chintan Upadhyay’s home in Delhi on December 26, 2015. The couple had been leading separate lives and Chintan was in Delhi the day Hema Upadhyay was found dead.
During Kumar’s examination, the prosecution opened all the articles seized from Chintan’s house. They included 9 diaries, four small canvas drawings and 74 sketches along with an iPad and a pen drive.
The prosecution then pointed to the inscriptions on the back of each canvas and read them aloud as: kaali zuban, mama khoon, sunny days and popcorn man. These canvases were being produced in the court for the first time. The prosecution is relying on those parts of Chintan’s diary entries, which purportedly expressed his everyday feelings about Hema Upadhyay. It’s the prosecution’s case that Chintan was in a disturbed frame of mind on account of his divorce.
The prosecution had earlier, at the time of the bail hearing, claimed that Chintan had drawn a sketch of his deceased wife with the words, “I will destroy you” inscribed on the back of the sketch. The prosecution told the court these sketches and drawings indicated that Chintan nurtured feelings of hatred against his wife, and that the sketches and the drawings depicted his state of mind at the time.
As Chintan Upadhyay quietly observed the proceedings from his seat in the courtroom, his lawyer Bharat Manghani inspected the sketches, most of them depicting a woman in the nude, semi-clad and in various sexual positions. One of the sketches was of a man masturbating. After examining the paintings and the sketches Manghani told the court the defense had not been provided copies of the same. He also argued that the private drawings and sketches do not further the prosecution’s case against Chintan in any way.
In his cross examination of the Delhi police officer who was the panch witness, Manghani claimed the officer had never visited Chintan’s house and that he was falsely deposing before the court on the prosecution’s instructions. The defense lawyer said Chintan’s Delhi home was a ground-plus-three-storey structure, while the witness claimed that it was ground-plus-two and this indicated that he had not visited the place. The Delhi police officer refuted the claim.
It is the prosecution’s case that Chintan, disturbed by his discordant relationship with Hema Upadhyay “hired contract killers” to carry out the murders. It is also their contention that Vidyadhar Rajbhar — a fabrication artist whom both he and Hema knew — was hired to execute the killing. Vidhyadhar Rajbhar, however, has never been arrested, and no one knows his whereabouts. Three others who worked with him at the fabrication unit, Pradeep Rajbhar, Azaad Rajbhar and Shivkumar Rajbhar, have been arrested and are facing trial.