How Parvez Tak lost his head

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The back story of how a Kashmiri carpenter met a Mumbai starlet and her mother and why it ended in death. By Riyaz Wani

Snuffed out (L to R) Laila Khan, with sister Zara and brother Imran. (Below) Saleena Patel

ON THE night of 5 July, DSP Abrar Chaudhury was earnestly reading from the Quran and translating the words into Urdu for a junior colleague at the Kishtwar Police Station, 200 km from Jammu. Also present was Parvez Tak, a new inmate who had been brought from his cell to listen to the reading. As Chaudhury recited the chapter on the punishment for sinners, Tak started crying inconsolably.

Between sobs, Tak, 36, confessed that he had murdered Bollywood starlet Laila Khan and five members of her family 11 months ago. He then narrated how he — a carpenter in a remote Jammu & Kashmir village — moved to Mumbai and became Laila Khan’s stepfather, after marrying her 55-year-old mother Saleena Patel.

Tak and his father Muhammad Amin were the most sought-after carpenters in Maran village, just 100 km from Kishtwar town. Until 2006, Tak regularly helped his father with work. But he was dissatisfied with the confining life.

Tak soon gave up carpentry for politics, joining the Congress in 2006. But finding little prospects for growth in an overcrowded Congress, he switched over to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), a non-entity in J&K politics that gave him a ticket for the 2008 Assembly elections.

Tak lost by a massive margin to Congress candidate GM Saroori in Inderwal, garnering only 800 votes. He had raised Rs 4 lakh on his own to run the campaign, banking on the NCP’S promise of Rs 8 lakh in reimbursement. But that never happened, forcing him to flee Maran to escape the wrath of moneylenders. But he continued his association with “an NGO backed by the NCP”.

It was at this point that Saleena Patel entered his life. Tak came across her at a meeting of the NGO in New Delhi in early 2010. Saleena caught his attention when she mounted a strong defence of Kashmiris in the face of contrary opinion during an informal discussion. Tak was impressed and later thanked Saleena for her support.

Their paths crossed again at a subsequent meeting of the NGO in Mumbai the same year. According to Tak, Saleena portrayed herself as a divorcee living a sad, solitary life. “You are so beautiful. You deserve to remarry,” Tak had told Saleena. However, he didn’t tell her that he was already married with two kids. But he told her about his debt. “Come to Mumbai, I will help you,” Saleena replied. And he did.

Saleena was killed with a blunt object following an argument, while the others were killed for having witnessed it

On reaching Mumbai, it was Saleena who came to receive him at the railway station. She took him to her Meera Road apartment where, according to the police, they spent several days together. After a few months, they went to a local shrine and exchanged vows in filmy style.

After the wedding, Saleena took him to her Oshiwara apartment, introducing him as her new husband to her four children. One of them was Laila Khan, a starlet who had essayed the heroine’s role opposite Rajesh Khanna in the 2008 movie Wafa: A Deadly Love Story.

Staying with them, the activities of the household unfolded before him. Despite his own philandering ways, Tak was revolted by the family’s ‘liberal’ culture. His traditional village values, though compromised and adapted to suit his ambition, reasserted themselves. He started objecting to the late-night partying of Saleena’s children Hazmina, Laila, Zara and Imran, which they ignored. He sought to enlist the support of stepson Imran but he too didn’t help, saying the siblings didn’t interfere in each other’s personal affairs.

More galling for him was Saleena’s alleged intimacy with other men. He also told the police about Laila’s affair with Mumbai builder Afghan Khan and her reported link-up with Wafi Khan, the son of Kamal Jadhwani, “the right-hand man” of Dawood Ibrahim. Over time, Tak’s importance in the household dwindled. Saleena used to make him run errands like cooking and driving, leaving him grumbling about his status in the house.

It is still not clear what led to the family’s murder. One version Tak gave the police is that he and his friend Shakir Hussain killed the family following an argument with Saleena. Hussain hails from Gundoh in Doda district and Tak had earlier brought him to Mumbai to look after the family’s Igatpuri farmhouse, in Nashik, about 120 km from Mumbai. Hussain is still absconding.

The J&K Police believes the family was primarily killed to inherit the property but acknowledges that there are also sufficient pointers to call it a “crime of passion”. The family was planning to move to Dubai, after handing over attorney rights for the sale of their property to Saleena’s former husband, Ashif Sheikh, which Tak resented. He didn’t have a passport either, which made him insecure.

Deathfarm The farmhouse in Igatpuri, where the murders took place. (Above) Parvez Tak
Photo (top): Deepak Salvi

On 8 February 2011, after a family dinner, they all trooped into the Igatpuri farmhouse late at night. Hussain was already in the house. The murders, sources in police say, began around midnight, following a heated argument between Tak and Saleena. He hit Saleena with a blunt object, killing her instantly. Her children were horrified and began beating Tak. Hussain, Tak told police, came to his rescue. Thereafter began the massacre. After Saleena, the twin siblings Zara and Imran were killed, followed by Laila, Hazmina and their cousin Reshma. Tak went on the killing spree with surgical precision. He told the police that he buried the bodies between 2 and 3 am in a trench, already dug by the family for the construction of an underground water tank. The bodies were buried stacked on top of each other, interspersed with rocks and mattresses to prevent wild animals from digging them out, the police said.

THREE DAYS later, Tak and Hussain left for Kashmir at 7.30 am on 12 February, taking along with them the family’s two vehicles — a Mahindra Scorpio, which was seized by the J&K Police near Nehru Park in Jammu on 24 February this year, and a Mitsubishi Outlander, which was confiscated from a shop at Kishtwar on 29 May.

Tak soon moved to Nepal, reportedly working as a salesman. “We conceived a plan to bring him back and succeeded,” says Doda DIG Garib Das. “And after sustained interrogation, he has accepted his crime.”

Like many of the circumstances surrounding the murder, the motive for the crime is also largely unclear. However, the J&K Police has ruled out any links between the murders and the Delhi High Court blast in September 2011. A police officer rejected the possibility of the Outlander being used to ferry explosives, as is being alleged by a section of the media. “The Outlander was brought to Kishtwar in February 2011, whereas the Delhi HC blast took place in September 2011,” he says.

On 8 July, Tak was flown to Mumbai where the police has been probing Laila’s mysterious disappearance for the past 11 months. The Mumbai Police swung into action after a missing complaint was lodged at the Oshiwara Police Station by Laila’s biological father Nadir Shah Patel. But they had little to play with until the J&K Police got hold of Tak and he confessed to the murders. Based on Tak’s testimony, they recovered six skeletons from the trenches of Saleena’s Igatpuri farmhouse. The search team also found the likely murder weapons: an iron rod, a knife, and a bag with the victims’ clothes.

Tak has revealed an intricate plot spanning passion, glamour, money and the underworld. The challenge for the Mumbai Police is to join the dots.

Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka. 
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