Indians react in horror after man kills girlfriend, chops body into 35 parts

28-year-old Aftab Ameen Poonawala (L) chopped Shradha Walker, his girlfriend, into 35 pieces and hid the pieces in the fridge (Times of India)

A 28-year-old Indian man who wanted to “silence” his 26-year-old girlfriend during a fight ended up strangling her, then chopping up her body into 35 pieces and hiding the parts in a fridge, police have revealed.

The grusome murder has come to light after six months.

Aftab Ameen Poonawala allegedly strangled his live-in partner Shraddha Walker in May this year and cut her body into pieces that he later dumped into a forest near their apartment in Mehrauli in south of the capital Delhi.

Police said that he used to venture out around 2am on some nights with pieces of his girlfriend’s body to dispose of them. He allegedly spent two to three months dumping the pieces, the Indian Express reported. Police sources revealed he removed the intestines first so that they could decompose easily.

Poonawala has told the police he was inspired by award-winning drama crime series “Dexter”. He has revealed that he wanted to “silence her” but ended up strangling her. He has told the police that he kept Walker’s body parts in small black polythene bags allegedly inspired by the show’s main character, vigilante serial killer Dexter Morgan, played by Michael C Hall.

There was an outpouring of grief and condolences for the Walker family as they grappled with the gory details of their daughter’s murder.

Mr Poonawala and Walker met on the dating app Bumble in Mumbai in 2019, fell in love and decided to move in together. After Walker’s family objected to the move as they belonged to different faiths, the couple decided to go to the mountains. They went to Himachal Pradesh first, then travelled to Delhi where they rented an apartment in the Mehrauli neighbourhood.

In May, the couple had a fight over a “petty” matter when Walker suggested they get married, according to senior Delhi Police official Ankit Chauhan.

Mr Poonawala, a food blogger and photographer, allegedly strangled her and then cut her body into pieces in their bathroom. Local media reports, quoting police sources familiar with the investigation, mentioned that to dispose of the body parts, Mr Poonawala used to walk to dumping yards, cremation grounds and jungle areas.Police said that he discarded the head and the torso after almost two-three months.

The Print, quoting police sources, said that Poonawala stored his ice-cream and cold drinks alongside the body parts in his refrigerator.

To cover up his act, Mr Poonawala allegedly used Walker’s Instagram account to keep in touch with her friends. He kept using it till June. It was only in September that a friend of Walker’s grew suspicious of her switched-off phone and inactivity on social media. She informed her brother.

The accused got away with the murder for months. Police on Saturday finally arrested him and he has been sent to five days in police custody.

Besides the general public, several prominent personalities in the country reacted with shock and horror at the murder of Walker.

Kavita Krishnan, a prominent activist said in a statement that “Aftab must be tried, convicted and punished for murdering Shraddha, chopping up her body and covering up his crime”.

Swara Bhaskar, actor and activist tweeted: “No words for how horrifying, gruesome & tragic this case is. My heart goes out to this poor girl — awful betrayal by someone she loved & trusted. Hope police speedily conclude their investigation & hope this monster gets the harshest punishment he thoroughly deserves.”

Police have said that after hiding the body parts of his girlfriend in the new fridge (that he purchased to store the chopped pieces), Poonawala continued living his life and even started dating again. On one occasion, he even invited a woman with whom he had matched on Bumble to his home.

All this while, Walker’s body’s pieces were in the refrigerator.

Poonawala used incense sticks, potpourri and air fresheners to mask the stench from the remains in the fridge.

Local reports said that Delhi Police may write to Bumble to get details of Poonawala’s profile on the dating site and to find out more about the woman who visited his house when Walker’s body was still in the fridge. Their common friends have also been called for questioning.

Meanwhile, Walker’s father, Vikas Walker told the media that he “suspected a love jihad angle” in the murder of his daughter. He was quoted as saying by the Indian Express that “she was a different person before she met Poonawala. She was sweet and ambitious. I don’t know what happened but she changed after she met him. She stopped talking to me and would rarely speak to her mother. I was worried after her mother’s death. I knew she was in a toxic relationship with that boy. I tried stopping her but she wouldn’t listen”.

Walker’s mother died two years ago.

Love jihad is a theory perpetuated in India by right-wing fringe groups according to which “vulnerable” Hindu girls are romantically targeted and eventually converted to Islam by Muslim fundamentalists in order to increase the numbers of Muslims in the country and decrease the population of Hindus.

On social media, there was a raging debate over the faith of Mr Poonawala. Some claimed that he is a Parsi [Zoroastrian] but others said that he was Muslim.

Meanwhile, the father of the girl said: “We demand the death penalty for Aftab. I trust Delhi Police and the probe moving in the right direction. Shraddha was close to her uncle and didn’t talk to me much. I was never in touch with Aftab. I lodged the first complaint in Mumbai’s Vasai.” But the case was later transferred to Delhi, based on Walker’s last location.

He said that he spoke with Walker “over the phone in 2021. I don’t even remember the conversation now but she was not happy. She was upset because I didn’t accept them. We don’t have such inter-religion/inter-caste relationships in our family. How could I? I had told her to not leave Mumbai. I met Poonawala once two years ago. It was the time when my wife had died. My daughter was stressed and he was there but we didn’t talk much. I still can’t believe he hid everything for months”.

Mr Poonawala was arrested on Saturday and allegedly confessed to the murder. On Tuesday he is said to have accompanied the police to the Mehrauli forest where he disposed of Walker’s body parts. Local reports said that some remains were found but it is not yet confirmed whether they are of Walker.

The knife used by the culprit has also not been recovered so far.

Reacting to the news, Delhi Commission for Women chief, Swati Maliwal, tweeted: “In a heart-wrenching case, a girl was killed by her boyfriend in Delhi and kept in the fridge in 35 pieces! The pieces of her dead body were thrown in different areas of the city. What kind of monsters are living in society? The police have arrested the accused, he should be punished severely.”

The National Commission for Women [NCW] has also asked Delhi Police “to conduct a fair and time-bound investigation in the matter. NCW has also sought action taken report and medical reports of the victim from the police.”

Hundreds of social media users expressed their grief and shock at the spine-chilling details of the murder. One user tweeted: “Aftab Poonawala is apparently as ‘woke’ as ‘woke’ can possibly get. LGBT activist, humanist, backed ban on Diwali crackers and rightly endorsed the view ‘women aren’t born with labels’. But when Shraddha reportedly asked her to marry him he chopped her up into 30 pieces.”

Jairam Ramesh, a member of parliament wrote: “No words can describe the nation’s sense of shock & anger on the killing of young Shraddha Walkar by her live-in partner Aftab Poonawala. The horrific crime is beastly and the perpetrator must face strictest punishment. Shraddha and India’s daughters deserve justice.”