Secretly recorded conversation reveals that senior members of the Oshwal community tried to “sell” Alika to keep parents out of prison

The recording referenced in this article was adduced before the Chief Magistrates court in Case No. 1458 of 2015 and admitted as evidence.

 Given the nature of the claims made in this recording, names of those in the recording have been redacted.

 Phrases in the conversation transcribed in this article that are in parenthesis were spoken in Gujarati in the recording.

 

It has been, almost to the day, four years since Alika*, now nine years old, was removed from the custody of her parents. She still lives with Mr and Mrs Mehta*. Her parents, Mr and Mrs J*, who were acquitted of charges of abuse by a Nairobi court, have since been deported to India by Kenya’s Immigration Department. Kenya’s Department of Criminal Investigations publicized the deportation. Welcomed by some who had followed Alika’s case online, there was little in legal precedent for the deportation, prompting a groundswell of rumours targeting Mr Mehta as having been behind the move.

Mehta and his family now bear the scarlet letter, allegedly isolated by a community that he is perceived to have gone against.

A Whatsapp message doing the rounds days after the deportation of Alika’s parents, spoke to perceptions about Mehta in some quarters:

“It is a well-known fact that Mehta’s* motive’s from the beginning were not honest. He forcefully took the girl away using his power and money…. Mr Mehta*, use your money and power, but the truth will always prevail. Not everyone is scared of you.”

A casual reading of the way this story unfolded lends itself to this assertion. Mr and Mrs J*, not particularly well to do, are dragged before a court on charges of abusing their own child. They triumph. Mehta lodges an appeal. They are inexplicably deported. Mehta wins. Yet, aside from the reams of evidence that were presented before court speaking to Alika’s abuse, there was one conversation that went to the heart of this case. It was presented in court and accepted as evidence, but never openly debated. The conversation took place four years ago.

The secret was out. A five-year-old girl, whose parents belonged to Nairobi’s sizeable Oshwal community, was now at the heart of an ugly standoff. In the weeks of July 2015, Alika* had been taken from her biological parents, Mr and Mrs J*, and temporary guardianship handed over to Mr and Mrs Mehta – a couple whose oldest daughter went to school with Alika. She was the one who made Mrs Mehta first take notice of Alika, after constantly pestering her to pack extra snacks for her friend, “who was always hungry.”

Mehta says he was outraged when he saw what Alika had been going through. He claims that, upon seeing how much Alika had suffered, his first thought was that he should broker a meeting between him and her relatives, in order to find a way to protect the girl.

“They were completely unresponsive. I tried calling them, some of their relatives, as well as senior members of the Oshwal community, but they were all defiant,” he alleges.

“This was about a fortnight before the end of the school term. Ten days to the end of the term, we were told that Alika’s parents had withdrawn her from school. We panicked, thinking that she would have no chance if no one was looking out for her. So that’s when we decided to involve the Children’s court.”

Mehta would make an application to have Alika removed from her parent’s custody on July the 7th. Two days later, Alika was taken from their home in Parklands, and driven straight to the Aga Khan hospital.

“We needed to know whether she was being abused, and the extent of her injuries,” Mehta said.

By this time, word had gone round of the incident. Mehta claims that people who just days earlier refused to take his calls, were seeking him out. Those looking to talk with him were senior members of the Oshwal community. After what he says were tens of calls and pressure from friends to meet, Mehta says he agreed to do so.

According to Mehta, the meeting was set for 7:30 pm on the 16th of July 2015, in a cafeteria inside Doctor’s Plaza, opposite the Aga Khan hospital. Mehta claims that he was suspicious of the motive of the meeting. So, before he sat down to meet Mehta, he pressed record on his iPhone and slipped it into his shirt pocket.

A year later, Mehta would enter this recording as evidence in the now-concluded criminal case, where Alika’s parents were being charged with the offence of causing grievous bodily harm to her.

The conversation is held largely in English, with some exchanges in Gujarati. We had a Gujarati speaker listen to the conversation and translate these sections.

The first exchange of the recording is spent with the first speaker introducing himself:

M “My name is M*

Mehta: “Yes, yes, I have heard the name”.

M* is a successful businessman, linked to numerous philanthropic initiatives.

There is a third voice in the recording. Mehta claims that the third person is a Mr K*, who Mehta claims had been speaking to him about Alika prior to the meeting. K* is closely linked to the Visa Oshwal managing committee.

Both K* and M* can be heard complimenting Mehta for taking the initiative to rescue Alika. Then M* comes out with the first proposal:

M: “Custody of the child should go to you.”

Mehta: “Ok”.

M: “That’s my proposal.”

Mehta: “Ok.”

M: “Now if we were to punish the parents, let’s say put them in jail for abusing this child, we want to weigh what will it affect and how will it affect (sic), what are the detrimental (sic).”

Mehta: “7-14 years in prison, minimum is 7 years maximum is 14 years. That is the prison sentence.”

M: “Now they also have a daughter, the other daughter.”

Mehta: “I know about her, yes.”

M: “Keep that in mind as well”

Mehta: “Yes”

M: “Also what I would call collateral damage what I am sure you understand collateral damage (sic).”

Mehta: “Yes.”

A long exchange then ensues, with M* mostly praising Mehta’s efforts to rescue Alika, giving his own examples of the benefit of selflessness and philanthropy. Then he interjects with a proposal:

M: “Now, we want to find a solution, which will benefit this very young girl who has been abused…”

Mehta: “Yes.”

M: “I accept that.”

Mehta: “Yes.”

M: “We must do everything we can to protect her…

Mehta: “Yes.”

M: …from future damage at all.”

Mehta: “That I am there (sic).”

M: “Great. So I would put you as a Godfather to the child.”

A strange proposal, given that M* and Alika are not relatives. As the conversation wore on, Mehta goes into a long diatribe, explaining his commitment to Alika, and the difficulty he would have in withdrawing the case against Mr and Mrs J. That was a faux pas, as in any case, it was the state that had moved to prosecute Alika’s parents. M* then makes their request even more clear:

M: “So excuse me, your concern, as I understand, if (sic)the parents are not treating their children well?”

Mehta: “Well is an understatement. They want to kill this girl. Now I tell you something…”

M: “That’s one girl, what about the second girl?”

Mehta: “Second girl is treated so well! Apparently this girl, the second girl, has been trained to beat up the first one.” *an unproven allegation made about Alika’s twin sister

M: “Now if we separate them completely, you have the custody of the child.”

Mehta: “Right?”

M: “We will endorse that, me and K* will endorse that…”

Mehta: “Done…”

Mehta: “And the parents will endorse as well.”

Mehta: “OK, OK…”

M: “I want to assure you Mehta*, I work at the highest level of the committee. At the moment we are doing a housing project of 3 billion shillings.” (*M is referencing an Oshwal Committee)

Mehta: “Yes I know, I am aware of it, I am aware of it.”

By this stage in the conversation, it is clear that the interest of the pair is to have Mehta back down from supporting the case against Alika’s parents, with the expressed motive being to shield that family from further trauma. But M* goes further to outline what the true intention for their “giving” Alika to Mehta may have been all along.

M: “Whatever it takes yeah, we’ll ensure that we do not tarnish your image at all; ever, ever, ever!”

Mehta: “That’s not possible, not possible, not possible.”

M: “Listen to me please, you know listen to me we are a community of eight thousand people.”

Mehta: “True.”

M: “Everybody has their own sentiments, yeah…”

Mehta: “True.”

M: “(And you know) how they paint a picture.”

Mehta: “Yes.”

M: (They took the girl away).

Mehta: “I know, I have heard.”

M: “You know what I mean.”

Mehta: “For the last four five days I have been hearing a lot of rubbish about me and I don’t really care.”

M: “So, so, OK, OK. We are with you. We will do everything to protect what you are doing, OK? We will go to the extent that both…

A scathing indictment of both M* and K*, who, it would appear, were negotiating to protect the name of the Oshwal community from the stain of condoning abuse of one of its minors.

This reporter reached out to both the individuals in the recording.

M* refused to discuss the recording, instead, referring this reporter to his legal team. On the 24th of August 2018, they wrote back, claiming that the recording was part of a continued campaign to defame M’s reputation, adding that Mehta had previously attempted to extort money from M* using this method.

They did not offer proof of this allegation.

K* refused to comment on the recording.

The actions of the two men in this recording do not represent the views of an entire community. However, given their influence which M* went as far as to elucidate in the recording, the decisions arising from this exchange, and the court battle that ensued, spoke to a narrative of the unchallenged power of the few over the many. Sadly, even after abuse that was exposed and confirmed by a court, that power remains undiluted and unchallenged in the face of injustice.

 

Read more about Alika:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

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John-Allan Namu

John-Allan is a Kenyan investigative journalist and the co-founder of Africa Uncensored. He has been a journalist for 14 years, based out of Nairobi, from where he has reported on issues and events in Kenya and the region. He has interviewed high-level politicians and power brokers from across the region, and investigated crimes committed in the highest reaches and lowest rungs of African society. John-Allan is the 2015 and 2017 joint journalist of the year Annual Journalism Excellence Awards, a 2015 Global Shining light award finalist, and the 2009 CNN African Journalist of the Year. He is a 2009 CNN fellow and a 2017 Archbishop Desmond Tutu Fellow. He holds a BA in Journalism from the United States International University – Africa.

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