Love, deceit and murder: A notorious case that is too chilling for India to forget


by Anirban Bhattacharyya

9 min read
Read later

“You will marry Akbar,” said the Gulam Hussain Namazie to her 14-year-old daughter Shakereh Namazie, holding her hands.

Gulam was referring to Akbar Mirza Khaleeli, her first cousin. Those words laid out Shakereh's destiny and unchained events that would end up with her being buried alive in a wooden box.

In hindsight, when we look at tragic events that transpired, especially those of crime and murders – we realise that we are always faced with the question of ‘What If…’ at every juncture in the lives of the criminal and the victims.

What future she might have had if her father, Gulam Hussain Namazie, had not put this thought into her head? What if Shakereh had married someone of her choice? What if she had not been a diplomat’s wife enduring loneliness due to her husband being overseas? What if she had never met a Murali Manohar Sharma? What if… What if… What if?

If you believe in Karma and fate, it is clear that nothing could have changed her life.

Shakereh was born in Madras just 12 days after India gained her independence. She was the granddaughter of Mirza Ismail, Dewan of the erstwhile Mysore state, and grew up in an upper-class environment with a posh and plush lifestyle. Since her family resided in Singapore, she received her education there. If you ever visit Singapore and see the Capitol Theatre, remember that it was her father who opened this theatre which was Singapore’s first movie theatre!

When she came back to India, she was the cynosure of all the single men of Madras. Her height and sharp features made her look regal and aristocratic.

However, to the surprise of everyone, Shakereh heeded her father’s words and married her first cousin Akbar Mirza Khaleeli. Her husband was smart, handsome, an avid reader and a great orator. He had studied to be a lawyer but joined the Indian Foreign Service and went on to become the Indian High Commissioner to Australia and the Indian Ambassador to Iran.

Akbar Mirza Khaleeli, Shakereh Namazie

They looked like a couple madly in love with each other. Shakereh travelled with her husband and stayed with him like a dutiful wife.

But Shakereh soon became restless as she had to dress up and always look pretty for either attending the Embassy parties or playing the host for a party. Being the wife of a diplomat had taken a toll on her.

“I need to go back home,” Shakereh informed her husband one evening while the couple was getting ready to go out for dinner. Akbar was surprised by her sudden change of mind. She wanted to do something on her own, and no longer wanted to be the tag-along wife. However, Akbar loved his wife and gave in to her demand.

Shakereh moved to Bangalore (now Bengaluru) and soon nurtured her innate quality for the real estate and construction industry. Her Great-grandfather Agha Aly Asker was a renowned architect of the city and constructed the Governor's residence, the State Guesthouse- Balabrooie, and Leela Nivas off Cunningham Crescent, among many other buildings.

She tried hard to balance her career and family time with her four daughters - Zeebundeh, Sabah, Rehane and Essmath. Akbar also disturbed by the increasing emotional distance between him and his wife. The marriage also faced setbacks as Akbar travelled to foreign countries frequently, which often ended in quarrels.

“Madam often gets upset with her husband's travels, leading to quarrels between them,” the servants Raju and Josephine later told Inspector C Veeraiah.

It was at this juncture the Khaleeli couple met with supposed Godman Swami Shradhananda alias Murali Manohar Mishra in 1982. He was short, stocky and had a rough voice and worked for the royal family of Rampur, helping them with their property matters. He also claimed to have tantric powers as well. There was no indication of romance between Shradhananda and Shakereh at this stage.

However, he used to visit Shakereh often in Bengaluru while running errands for the Rampur family and often stayed at the house at her request. It is argued that it was Akbar who sought Shradhananda's help with some property matters and convinced him to come down to Bengaluru.

Akbar never thought about the extent of the damage he had done to his married life and his wife when he left India for a two-year stint in Iran. In her husband's absence, Shradhananda used his trickery to earn the trust of ‘lonely’ Shakereh.

When Akbar returned in 1985, his world came crashing down. Shakereh wanted a divorce. Akbar citing the future of their daughters refused to grant her a divorce.

However, Shakereh was adamant and went to a mosque in Madras and pronounced herself single. Eventually, her daughters relocated to Italy to live with their father.

Now that Shakereh’s support system in the family had been eliminated, the sinister Swami began advancing in his plans to usurp her properties. According to Shradhananda, it was Shakereh who was attracted to him and wanted to marry him. It is unbelievable that a woman of such rare beauty and high stature would be swayed by a lowly, ordinary-looking man! In his confessional statement, Shradhananda revealed that he promised to give her a son through his tantric powers. Shakereh was desperate to have a son after delivering four daughters. And this is what perhaps blinded her.

And in 1986, in a shocking case of hypergamy (a term used in social science for the act or practice of a person marrying a spouse of a higher caste or social status than themselves), Shakereh went against the wishes and advice of her mother Gauhar Taj Begum Namazie and married Shradhananda, just six months after her divorce. Her family threatened to disinherit her – but she did not care and wanted to live with Shradhananda.

People were startled by how Swami managed to trick Shakereh, yet nobody saw the incredible game of a long con. A ‘long con’ in a relationship is an elaborate confidence game that develops in several stages over an extended period of time wherein the con man gains the victim’s trust, often bypassing small profits with the goal of reaping a much larger payout in the final manoeuvre. The key to a successful long con is to give the victim the illusion of control while the conman manipulates their choices.

Shradhananda played the same card and acted as a sycophant. He would sit at Shakereh’s feet and would call her ‘Amma’ even after their wedding.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Inspector Veeraiah recalled one incident. "Once, his hands accidentally brushed against Shakereh, and he reportedly went into spasms of guilt. He asked Shakereh to throw him out of the house. The docile conduct continued even after marriage.”

Shradhananda’s smooth talks blinded Shakereh to the impending danger. Slowly, Shakereh stopped meeting her friends and relatives. The orthodox Shia community did not want to have anything to do with her. She was ostracised, and this perhaps made her even more stubborn in her love.

The couple went on a world tour, travelling first-class and staying in seven-star hotels. The luxurious lifestyle was a dream come true for Murali Manohar Sharma alias Swami Shradhananda. He was the son of a small-time school teacher in Sagar, Madhya Pradesh. He dropped out of school and finally ran away from home before reinventing himself as Swami Shradhananda.

Shakereh mistook his false ‘devotion’ towards her, entrusted him blindly, gave him a general power of attorney and made him a joint account holder in all of her bank’s accounts and lockers.

Everything was going according to plan for Shradhananda. Suddenly fate intervened to put a twist on proceedings after Shakereh accidentally bumped into her daughter, Sabah, at the New Delhi airport. The meeting rekindled her relationship with her daughters, guiding her to attend Essmath’s wedding. She might have felt guilty about having abandoned her daughters and wanted to make amends and so promised Sabah that she would pay for her further studies in London.


Shradhananda feared he might lose access to her wealth after witnessing that Shakereh had restored her relationship with her family. Shakereh also ignored his objection.

When interrogated later, the maid Josephine mentioned the couple fighting over the daughters in 1991. Shakereh is said to have slapped her husband and threatened to throw him out. She even wrote to the State Bank of India, Queens Road branch, telling them to remove Shradhananda’s name from their joint locker.

Shradhananda knew that time was running out and came up with a devious plan. He informed Shakereh that he wanted to construct an underground water tank in the courtyard. At first, she objected but gave in. And so over a period of a few days, labourers dig up an eight-foot-deep pit, without her realising that she had just paid her own money to dig her own grave!

28th April 1991. The day began like every day, with Josephine handing Shakereh a cup of tea and the newspaper to Shradhananda. It was around 10 am. When Josephine left the room, Shardhananda mixed powdered sedatives into the tea and delivered it to his wife. Unsuspecting, she drank the tea and soon fell asleep. Shradhananda informed the servants that Shakereh was not well and that they could take the day off.

A few days previously, Shradhananda had visited a shop in Bangalore and commissioned the construction of a six-foot by two-foot wooden box on wheels on the pretext of packing and exporting antique furniture. He was waiting for the moment and moved the sleeping Shakereh with a mattress and dumped her inside the box.

He then nailed the box down, dumped it into the pit and covered it up. The next day workers covered the surface with tiles before Shradhananda put a Tulsi plant over them.

When neighbours asked him the whereabouts of his wife, he said Shakereh was on vacation. He continued to lead a lavish life at the house at 81 Richmond Road, often throwing parties and dancing in the tiled area where he buried his wife.

And so, for the rest of the world, suddenly Shakereh disappeared from the face of the planet in 1991. When her second daughter Sabah confronted Shradhananda, he kept inventing stories of her being in England or on holiday.

In 1992, Sabah filed for habeas corpus at the Ashok Nagar Police Station in Bangalore. But the police could find any clue about her whereabouts and were unable to find anything from Shradhananda. Plus, he had already applied for anticipatory bail, which meant the police could not arrest him unless they had solid proof.

Shradhananda continued keeping the illusion that his wife was alive and living abroad. She was kept alive ‘on paper.’ In 1991 he floated a company Shakereh Shradhananda Finance Ltd, whose records show that she was an active partner! The maid Josephine also heard him ‘talking’ to Shakereh on the phone. He would even dial some fictitious number and hand the phone to the daughter Sabah who would find the phone silent or just the dial tone. And Shradhananda would say that “Shakereh must have disconnected” or “Shakereh was not feeling well and did not want to speak.”

Over the next three years, the police kept up their interrogation to crack the case, but they needed solid evidence. And finally, they followed leads through Josephine and Raju and cornered Shradhananda, who finally broke down.

In 1994, the police of Karnataka uncovered the skeletal remains of Shakereh's body buried deep in the courtyard of her own house. When they opened the box, they found scratch marks on the insides, indicating that Shakereh had desperately tried to claw her way out of the box. The traces of wood chips identified below her nails supported the claim that she had been buried alive.

Imagine loving and trusting someone and the person betraying you so heinous! Imagine waking up inside a mattress – the world all dark around you, as the oxygen level depletes in the grave as you try to push open the box that you are trapped inside!

The case is considered to be a landmark case in the Indian judicial system as it is for the first time that the exhumation process was recorded on video, and DNA tests were used and accepted as evidence.

The trial began in 1997, and after eight years on 21 May 2005, the court sentenced Shradhananda to capital punishment by hanging. The 60-year-old man did not show any emotions and only said, "This is just the beginning of the battle."

On 12 September 2005, the High Court called the murder a ‘rarest of rare case’ and said, "The sessions court is justified in awarding the death penalty to the accused."

However, Shradhananda filed an appeal, and his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2008.

In 2022, the 83-year-old criminal once again tried his tricks and appealed to the Supreme Court to release him. His counsel pleaded saying he had already spent 29 years in prison without a single day of parole, which had led to him suffering from various ailments.

The Supreme Court on 26th April 2023 refused to entertain an application for parole by an 82-year-old murder convict.

In a recent documentary series on an OTT platform, he claimed that all of it was a lie to frame him for the murder.

Currently, Swami Shradhananda is living out his sentence at the Sagar Central Prison in Madhya Pradesh. How ironic is it that the same city that he had run away from has now become his prison for life?

Add Comment
Related Topics

Get daily updates from

Disclaimer: Kindly avoid objectionable, derogatory, unlawful and lewd comments, while responding to reports. Such comments are punishable under cyber laws. Please keep away from personal attacks. The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of readers and not that of Mathrubhumi.

19th-century sketch put up online by Israeli Professor Shalva Weil

5 min

19th-century sketch put up online by Israeli Prof draws attention to dying community of Cochin Jews

Oct 1, 2023

Representative Image / Photo: Pradeep Kumar BS

5 min

Happy Water– “Happiest Beverage Ever”

Sep 6, 2022

Representative Image | Photo: Canva

3 min

Retired bureaucrats and their insipid memoirs

Sep 27, 2023