Aquitted by court, guilty in people’s court
Xelvona residents wake up to a new era of uncertainty and fear after the Sameer Mapari murder accused go scot free
Team Investigations ,Xelvona 02 March 2013
As South Goa Additional District and Sessions Judge Desmond S D’Costa read out the verdict of a five year, three month and seven day long painstaking trial, Sita Mapari looked in disbelief. Her son Sameer’s accused killers acquitted and were about to walk away, free. Outside the courtroom, Sita took her chappals and attacked the murdering brothers Rajesh and Balesh in disgust. For the Maparis and scores of others back home in Xelvona, five years of hope for justice has been buried. Will they have the will to fight again, in a higher court? Will they force a re-investigation into this this case, with political ramifications, since the accused who were acquitted have political connections?
26 year old Sameer Mapari was not exactly the most popular face in Xelvona. He was a quiet, young man. But the place where he went to make a living, as a driver for Rajesh and Balesh Dessai, brothers of former BJP Industries Minister Ramrao Dessai, is widely believed to be the cause of his death by locals and his family. With the acquittal stamp from the court, the Dessais have a right to be called not guilty, but it’s the voice of Xelvona that needs to be heard. In a sense this case Sameer Mapari could well be Goa’s Jessica Lal, the Delhi model whose high profile killers including a former Haryana ministers son were acquitted by the court, but a public outcry and phenomenal media investigation forced the case to be re-opened leading to the conviction of the killers.
When Mapari was killed in Xelvona in July 2007, the village rose in unison against its young son brutally murdered in cold blood. BJP MLA Ramrao Dessai and the now free brothers Rajesh and Balesh were boycotted and driven out by the villagers who alleged that they were suffering their tyranny and reign of fear in September 2007.
The Dessais are back in Xelvona and fear seems to be creeping back, not just in the village but across Curchorem. “Everything is in the hands of God now. How much security will the government provide me or the other witnesses?”, wonders Laxmikant Desai, the prime prosecution witness who made the iron stretcher like channel to which, according to the prosecution, Sameer’s drowned body was found tied. Laxmikant had deposed that he was under threat not to reveal anything by the Dessai duo. He also identified that the contraption the prosecution claimed was used as a murder accessory, was the same as what the accused had ordered and taken from him. “I have deposed before court and told the facts. I can’t take my statement back,” says Laxmikant helplessly.
Life may go on in the village, known more as a mining village. But with the mining dust settled for the moment, the return of acquitted Dessai brothers has spread uneasiness in the village. “They are banking on the shortness of public memory and the typical Goan capacity for forgiveness, but we have seen in the past that a backlash is always round the corner in cases like this,” concur most of those from the village, who testified against the duo in the sensational murder case. Their only prayer “we need security for our life.”
Almost all Mapari family members who had deposed before the court against Balesh and Rajesh Dessai, claiming that they are the murderers, are terrified. “There is only one PCR van which patrols our village and that too at irregular intervals”, reveals Prashant Mapari, another one of the witnesses. Curchorem and Xelvona has many deserted roads and corners where the police cannot be omnipresent. When Sameer could be picked up and murdered from their midst, no one is safe they feel.
Srikant Mapari, Sameer’s uncle did not miss a single hearing in the case in five years, “We saw them behind bars and believed in the courts and felt safe from their tyranny. Now we see them out and have to live in the discomfort that they are acquitted of the charge of killing him and are lurking amongst us, unchecked and free to do what they want to do. Many testified against the Dessais in court . Now nobody knows where will the next attack come from”, says a scared Srikant.
Sameer’s distraught mother Sita Mapari makes a charge, which isn’t substantiated but which shows her state of mind. “Now, they have their own party’s government in power which helped set free them from law. Even if appeals happen they are out on the streets and free. Sameer was killed even after the Dessais were accused of attempting to murder Mariano. They are out acquitted, we don’t know what next,” shudders Sita, recollecting the sight of her dead son’s bloated body being fished out of the river almost six years ago.
The court said that it hasn’t been proved beyond doubt that the body was of Sameer Mapari. But a mother who lost her son has no such doubts that her son was indeed killed. The Dessai’s ruthless and painful ways have come back to haunt Xelvona.