The co-worker whom Shraddha Walkar told about an assault by boyfriend Aftab Poonawala two years ago, Karan, said today that he was under the impression that they had broken up after intervention by the police and Aftab's parents. Karan said he had tried to help her then and kept checking on her for a few weeks, but now saw in the news that Aftab allegedly murdered Shraddha in May this year.
"November 2020 was the first time I came to know of the domestic abuse. She used to call in sick often before that," said Karan, her team manager when she worked at a call centre near her hometown Vasai in Mumbai.
"In the chat over WhatsApp, I told her to send me a photo. I was very shattered and heartbroken to see how someone could manhandle her so badly. She had bruises under her right eye... also on her neck," he told NDTV. "Later a friend whom I contacted to help her also told me she had burn marks on her stomach."
Screenshots of their chat show he offered to help her - he said she could be with his mother and sister for immediate safety - apart from helping her approach the cops. He said he knew of Shraddha and Aftab them as being married as she referred to him as her husband.
"After she went to the police, she gave a written complaint. But in the meantime, she spoke to Aftab and he told her he would do something to himself (if she left). She also went to his parents' place and they told her he would move out of the house (that he and Shraddha had rented together) and that he will cut off all ties and never harass her. Only after that she thought of not filing a police complaint," Karan said.
"I was following up every week or two weeks to make sure she was safe, to make sure she was not going through the same thing again. We were under the impression that he was no longer with her," he added.
"I don't know how they got back together again later. I did not know she had moved to Delhi. When all this came in the news, I got to know," he added.
Shraddha, 26, and Aftab, 28, both call centre employees, had moved to Delhi in May and four days later, following yet another argument over expenses and infidelity, he strangled her to death, later chopping up the body into 35 pieces that he kept in a fridge and disposed of in a jungle over 18 days, police have said.
The crime was revealed over the past month as her father - who hadn't spoken to her since May 2021 as he didn't approve of her inter-faith (Hindu-Muslim) relationship with Aftab - went to the police as her friends alerted him that she'd been out of touch with them, too, for months.
When she left the job in March 2021, she told Karan she had got a new job at a content writing company that would give her travel opportunities. "I was very happy for her that she had all the time in the world to make her career. She was very young, just 23 or 24."
A month before the job change, she had told a doctor about her depression and how her boyfriend Aftab was violent over minor issues. She told him she feared he might harm her, himself or both.
Karan said he has not yet got a call from the police but "I will be willing to help if they contact me".
"I just want to tell all the girls living alone - and it's not about religion, be it Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian, any race or caste - that don't isolate yourself; always keep contact with friends and family," he said. "There is always someone who will support you. It's better to get out of an abusive relationship."
Aftab was, on November 17, sent to five more days of police custody by a Delhi court as police said key evidence - such as identifiable body parts, the knife he used, their clothes from the day of the murder, and Shraddha's phone - need to be found.
Police have also got permission to conduct narco-analysis, a chemical-based lie-detection test, which may lead the police to material evidence and corroborate his alleged confession.