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Delhi food blogger allegedly cut girlfriend up, kept pieces in fridge and dumped them bit by bit

BENGALURU, India – Delhi police have arrested a 28-year-old man for allegedly killing his live-in partner, cutting her up and dumping the pieces in the Indian capital.

The investigation has revealed a gory cover-up and a history of domestic violence, which the victim was reportedly trying to flee from before she was killed.

The accused, Aftab Amin Poonawala, a trained chef and food blogger, started living in a rented house in Delhi with Ms Shraddha Walkar, a 27-year-old call centre employee, in May this year.

The couple, both from Mumbai, had met there through the dating app Bumble in 2019. 

Mr Ankit Chauhan, a senior police official in the Delhi south district, said the police had so far recovered a dozen body parts from the Mehrauli forest, on the fringes of the city, near the couple’s residence.

“The recovered pieces have been sent for DNA testing. The search is on for the other missing parts,” Mr Chauhan said. 

The case came to light when her father, Mr Sharad Walkar, complained to the police in Mumbai that his daughter was missing.

Mr Walkar, who lives in Mumbai, was worried because her boyfriend of three years had been allegedly abusive. 

On Nov 9, the Mumbai police contacted their counterparts in Delhi.

“Initially, Aftab said they had had a fight, and she had left him. But after sustained interrogation, he confessed that he had murdered her,” Mr Chauhan said, estimating that the murder had taken place in mid-May. 

The police arrested Mr Poonawala on Nov 12. Forensic teams combed the couple’s home, as well as neighbouring areas including the forest where they recovered “severed bones”. He remains in police custody.

The latest police status note about the incident said that Mr Poonawala had strangled Ms Walkar, then cut her body into at least 35 pieces.

Mr Chauhan said the accused went out at night and dumped the body pieces in the forest over 16 to 18 days. 

Mr Poonawala told the police that he was “inspired” by the American TV show Dexter, whose protagonist is a serial killer.

The police reported that he used Google searches to find ways to clean the blood-stained floor, bought a refrigerator to keep pieces of the body, and used incense sticks to keep the foul smell from alerting neighbours.

The investigating team has not yet found clinching evidence like a murder weapon or the victim’s phone, or arrived at a clear motive for the gruesome crime. 

There have been various reports in the Indian media on what may have led to the alleged murder.

Some police sources have told the media the couple fought frequently over Ms Walkar wanting marriage, while others said she was trying to break up with the accused. The police status report, however, said that “at this juncture, it will be premature to provide any single theory which will stand the test of judicial scrutiny”. 

In the police complaint, Mr Walkar, 59, said that before she moved in with her boyfriend, his daughter was living in Mumbai with her younger brother and their mother, who died in 2020.

Ms Walkar was estranged from her father since 2019 because he had disapproved of her relationship.

“I am a Hindu and the boy is a Muslim, and we do not believe in inter-religious marriage,” Mr Walkar’s complaint said. 

He told the police that after her mother died, Ms Walkar had admitted to wanting to leave Mr Poonawala because he hit her regularly. Nonetheless, she moved with him to Delhi after he apologised. 

Some of Ms Walkar’s friends grew suspicious when her phone remained switched off for more than two months, even though her Instagram account remained active.

The police said that Mr Poonawala kept her social media presence going to cover up her disappearance. The food blogger and photographer has more than 28,000 followers on Instagram.

The horrifying details of the “Delhi fridge murder”, as some Indian media outlets are calling the case, have triggered divisive anti-Muslim rhetoric and sexist remarks from politicians blaming the victim for choosing a live-in relationship in defiance of her parents.

Live-in relationships are legal in India, with the courts extending the same rights to women in such relationships as they do to married women, including property, rights to children, and protection against domestic violence. But much of Indian society still sees it as a taboo. 

The alleged murder has also revived debate about pervasive domestic violence in the country.

One in three women in the 18 to 49 age group in the country faces partner violence, which grew sharply as women were cooped up in homes with their abusers during pandemic-induced lockdowns, according to official data from the 2021 National Family Health Survey.