From the case books of hired assassins: How an eye-doctor’s wife was murdered

A new book examines infamous criminal cases fought in the courts of India.

Narendra Singh Jain’s case marks the infamous 1973 contract killing of Mrs Vidya Jain. This case came to everyone’s attention possibly because both the killer and the deceased belonged to the upper echelons of society. Somehow, when a murder takes place among well-to-do people, it has a higher impact on the public. In this case, the accused was Dr N.S. Jain, the personal eye surgeon of the then Indian President, VV Giri, who hired two people to kill his forty-five-year-old wife in conspiracy with his paramour, Chandresh.

On 4 December 1973, Dr Jain came back to his house in the posh locality of Defence Colony in New Delhi at about 7.15 p.m. He asked his wife, Vidya Jain, to get ready so that they could visit his sister who lived in the same neighbourhood.

They were to go in their car, which was parked the house next door. A few minutes later, the couple came out of the house. As Dr Jain walked towards the right side of the car to open its door, his wife proceeded towards the left. Before he could unlock the door, he noticed that his wife was nowhere to be seen. He went around to the left side of the car and saw a figure lying prostrate in the nearby drain. Just then a man jumped out of the drain, brandished a pistol at Dr Jain and ran away along with another man towards the north.

Vidya’s body was found in the ditch from which the assailant had emerged. She was pulled out of the drain with the help of some guests of the Jains and their domestic help. Vidya had suffered fourteen brutal knife injuries. She was bleeding profusely, so Dr Jain put her in the car and drove to a nearby nursing home, where she was declared dead on arrival.

The plan to kill Vidya Jain was extremely complicated and riddled with hiccups. Dr Jain had a paramour called Chandresh Sharma whom he was intimately involved with while being married to his wife. Together, they wanted to kill Vidya so that they could continue their relationship in the open. Chandresh knew Rakesh Kaushik, a twenty-five-year-old man working as an education havildar, whom she approached.

On 4 December 1967, Rakesh, at about 4.30 p.m., asked Ramji to accompany him to New Vig Restaurant as “the job” had to be done that day.

They hired a taxi and went to Chandni Chowk. Chandresh, Bhagirath, Kalyan, Ujagar and Kartar were already present outside the restaurant. They went inside, and while they were drinking coffee and eating Dr Jain arrived. He talked to Ujagar, cautioning him to execute the job carefully. He also assured him that he would get the amount he wanted and that the case would also be taken care of.

After Dr Jain left, Chandresh told the other conspirators that she would also be reaching Dr Jain’s house in the doctor’s car at about 6.30 p.m. She informed them that she would get down from the car outside the house, and instructed them that when the doctor emerged from the house along with his wife, Ujagar and Kartar were to kill her. She asked them to ensure that the doctor did not suffer any injury.

From the restaurant, Ramji, Bhagirath and Kalyan left for Bhogal in a taxi and reached Defence Colony at about 5.45 p.m. Bhagirath and Kalyan went to the latter’s house while Ramji returned to his jhuggi. The plan was executed later the very same evening.

No plan to commit a crime is ever foolproof. This case had several subplots, some of which failed. However, even though the final stages were meticulously planned, certain glaring features pointed the investigating agencies to Jain and Chandresh:

  1. Robbery was not the motive. Nothing was stolen.
  2. The crime was pre-planned.
  3. Why was Dr Jain not attacked?
  4. Why did Dr Jain not attempt to pursue the assailants? Why was he a mute spectator?

All these incriminating circumstances, coupled with the disclosure statement of Chandresh and Ujagar, concurrently pointed towards the guilt of Dr Jain.

When the police investigated, they found that Chandresh Sharma had been his secretary, whom he had fired to maintain peace at home. Chandresh was given a house by Dr Jain and regular cheques higher than her salary as his secretary were deposited in her account. It was established in court that Dr Jain and Chandresh wanted to marry each other and, therefore, conspired together to kill Vidya.

The trial court charged Dr NS Jain, Chandresh Sharma, Rakesh Kaushik, Bhagirath, Kalyan Gupta, Kartar Singh and Ujagar Singh under Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), for having entered into a conspiracy along with Ramji, the approver, to commit the murder of Vidya Jain and for murder.

Kartar and Ujagar were tried separately under Section 27 of the Arms Act for possession of the pistol and cartridges as also for the knife recovered from them. The sessions judge found Kalyan Gupta and Bhagirath guilty only for conspiracy while the rest were found guilty of all the charges against them and sentenced to imprisonment for life. Kartar and Ujagar were also sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for two years and one year respectively under Section 27 of the Arms Act.

Since there was only circumstantial evidence leading up to the event, the prosecution’s task was a tough one. However, the prosecution, through the help of unprecedented efficient investigation and intrepid witnesses, established the convoluted chain of circumstantial evidence. Appeals were led by the accused and cross appeals by the state for enhancement of the sentence.

This case is treated as a landmark for its exposition on circumstantial evidence as we all still seem to rely heavily on direct eyewitness accounts and motive.

It was a complex conspiracy with myriad actors. Interestingly, all were convicted; the doers and the bystanders. This trial is also historic for the stand the defence lawyers took in admitting the affair. It is rare for defence lawyers to admit anything directly or indirectly incriminating.

Mr AN Mulla, counsel for Chandresh, and Mr BB Lal, counsel for Dr Jain, correctly proceeded with the stratagem to not deny the affair between Dr Jain and Chandresh, the latter obtaining a decree of judicial separation from her husband and the flow of money by way of cheques and bank drafts from Dr Jain to Chandresh as proved by the prosecution. But motive to murder was denied. Counsel for Dr Jain contended, “There was no earthly reason for Dr Jain to develop a devastating desire to marry Chandresh after their liaison had brought him all the desired gratification over so many years.” The contention was that Dr Jain had no motive whatsoever for having Vidya Jain killed.

Mr Mulla urged with equal vehemence that Chandresh also lacked motive to murder Vidya Jain and submitted that Vidya Jain’s resentment and opposition to the intimacy between Dr Jain and Chandresh began as far back as April 1967, but Chandresh never did anything to harm Vidya Jain by way of retaliation or revenge. He contended, “Nothing new having occurred to aggravate the hostility on Chandresh’s part [if any], there could be no ‘compelling motive’ for her to get Vidya Jain slain.”

The Delhi High Court observed:

“It is now well-settled that where direct evidence of commission of the crime is creditable, motive recedes into the background and is not accorded much importance. However, in a case depending wholly on circumstantial evidence motive is one of the material factors calling for consideration.

Not that an accused can be convicted merely on the proof of motive, but it certainly helps in the appreciation of the evidence bearing on the offence charged.

Now, it may be possible to prove motive in one case while in another case no evidence thereof may be forthcoming. Its remaining shrouded in mystery would not, however, necessarily mean positive absence of motive. It is again beyond the pale of controversy that the prosecution need not make out adequacy of motive. How different persons behave in and react to diverse circumstances is incapable of prediction. What may appear to one as a very minor matter, to another may strike as grave enough for committing the most heinous crime. It would thus suffice for the prosecution to lead evidence suggesting a motive and leave the matter at that.”

The Delhi High Court did find any motive in the love affair and the disproportionate payments, observing:

“It cannot be gainsaid that there was a motive for both Dr Jain and Chandresh to get rid of Vidya Jain. The affair between Dr Jain and Chandresh was neither ephemeral nor shallow. It was quite abiding and deep. Vidya Jain complained to her next-door neighbour, Mrs. Sheela Khanna (Public Witness 4), that Chandresh ‘behaved on the dining table as if she was the mistress of the house’. Though Dr Jain terminated Chandresh’s services as his Secretary within a month, it was only to buy peace in the house.  e a air continued and the infatuation prospered. He continued remitting moneys to Chandresh regularly and the amounts involved were always in multiples of hundred and much more than Rs 300 the salary of which she had been deprived by her dismissal. It may be repeated that the one cheque he gave her on November 25, 1968 was for no less than Rs 8,400 the sum which she would have earned through 28 months’ continuous labour.”

Back when the crime was committed, it was more likely that the poor went to the gallows and the affluent survived, albeit in jails.

On awarding the death penalty to the remaining co-accused, the bench ruled in the negative. Though Dr Jain, Chandresh and Rakesh were present at the time of the incident, and it is also true that they were active members of the conspiracy, the court chose to make a distinction and held that the crimes committed by the other co-accused would seem to stand at a lower plane as compared to the roles attributed to Ujagar and Kartar. “They wished Vidya Jain dead and plotted her murder but all what they did would have accomplished nothing if Ujagar and Kartar had not undertaken to fulfil their wish and kill her.”

This decision seemed rather questionable since all had plotted and conspired to kill. It goes against the general law of the land that every conspirator who conspired to commit the act is equally guilty even if he or she did not commit the act. But Jain and Chandresh got off with life imprisonment. Ujagar and Kartar’s sentence was enhanced from life imprisonment to death.

Excerpted with permission from Trials of Truth: India’s Landmark Criminal Cases, Pinky Anand and Gauri Goburdhun, Shobhaa Dé Books, Penguin Random House

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