Maintaining that there still was a ‘‘very strong’’ case for a second shot at justice in the Best Bakery case, activist Teesta Setalvad, responding to prime witness Zaheera Sheikh’s charge that she had been held against her will, said: ‘‘I am shocked and pained but not defeated.’’
Speaking to reporters outside the special court in Mazgaon where the Best Bakery retrial is being heard by special judge Abhay Thipsay, Setalvad conceded that ‘‘Zaheera was the star witness and this will affect the case.’’
She said the timing of Zaheera’s statement was crucial — just a day before she was to appear in court. Declining to go into details, she said she had suspected something amiss for quite some time.
Setalvad said she had called the public prosecutor more than a week ago and insisted on handing over Nafitullah — Zaheera’s brother, who’s still to depose as a witness in the trial — to police care.
Public prosecutor Manjula Rao, however, said she was not surprised by today’s developments.
How the retrial may be affected
• Zaheera’s latest claims and allegations have no evidentiary value • The court will take cognisance of them only if she repeats them in the witness box under oath • Even so, it will not necessarily be a fatal blow to the prosecution • The prosecution can declare her a hostile witness and subject her to cross-examination to discredit her • Witnesses who have already deposed have by and large identified most of the accused persons. So, one possible scenario is, the court could place reliance on their evidence and convict the accused • But if other witnesses follow Zaheera’s line, it increases the odds against conviction‘‘I had anticipated this would happen the way she was behaving... Zaheera had asked Setalvad for a flat and a bakery in Mumbai. She even asked me for compensation money, but I refused saying that was for the court to decide,’’ said Rao.
But the prosecutor was confident about the case. ‘‘This will not affect the case becauser she is just one witness; there are many others.’’
But senior defence counsel Adhik Shirodkar said: ‘‘The court may have doubts and wonder what is happening. More importantly, the judiciary is being held to ransom by organisations that call themselves secularists,’’ he said, taking a swipe at Setalvad’s NGO. Mumbai Commissioner of Police A N Roy said: ‘‘Zaheera’s mother had met me some days ago complaining she was under pressure. I had told her as we are not investigating the case, she should file a petition before the court.’’
A Mumbai police officer, who did not wish to be named, said Zaheera’s mother was upset that her daughter’s marriage had been put off twice because the family had been dragged into the Best Bakery case. ‘‘She said their life had been shattered after Zaheera was named one of the witnesses in the case,’’ the officer said.