Rajabai Tower Mystery
Two young girls fell to their deaths from the tower and the case was never really solved. Here are some of the details
It was a lazy April afternoon in Bombay 1891. The city was vibrant yet luxurious. Students were busying studying for their upcoming exams as is the case with April.
Henry Charles Shon, a professor of German, French and Russian was at the Bombay University attending to his work. Two other students were around the campus as well.
Enty, an assistant managing clerk along with Rattanji Aga was working at Ms Conroy and Brown Solicitors. He had a clear view of the majestic Rajabai Tower. If you ever climbed the top, you could see the entire city of Bombay, right up to the docks.
On such a lazy afternoon when the summer’s about to catch up, it would have been fun to climb up the Rajabai Tower and overlook a city on the brink of dusk. A watchman would guard the tower’s entry just to make sure that the students were up to no naughty business. Atmaram Babji was on duty that day, guarding the University gates.
Mullakbhoy Manikbhoy, Syed Lall and Prabhashankar had decided to pay a visit to the Rajabai Tower.
The clock chimed, it was 4pm. Maybe it was the sound of the clock chiming or the sheer beauty of this stunning tower, Bhagwandas Ranchhoddas had been looking at the tower yet he couldn’t believe his eyes! Two young girls had jumped off the Rajabai Tower, and they were hurtling down towards the ground. A hit would mean sure death. Surely his eyes had been deceiving him.
Henry Charles Shon, the teacher had come out of the Bombay University building for some fresh air. As he walked beneath the tower, he too was in for a shock of his life. Two young girls lay dead right at his feet. Good heavens, what on earth had happened?
The police had been sent for and the questioning began almost immediately. The two young girls were identified as Bachubai Godrej, the 19 year old wife of Ardeshir Godrej and her cousin Pherozebai Sorabji Kamdin who was 16 at that time.
The two clerks at the law firm Ms Conroy and Brown stepped forward telling the police that they had each seen two men arguing with two Parsi girls.
On the same day, a Parsi man was accused of assaulting the two girls which ended up with them jumping from the tower to save their dignity. The newspapers, especially the Zoroastrian newspapers, picked up this news and made it a testament of heroism. The two young girls had chosen their dignity instead of giving in to the horror of assault, loosing their lives in the process.
The police however were not convinced or at least thats what they said. The inspector appointed to find the culprit, Mr McDermott, maintained that the young girls had jumped to their deaths due to personal issues. There had been no one on the tower apart from the victims. The eye witnesses and press seem to think otherwise.
Major witnesses like Bhagwandas Ranchhoddas, Henry Charles Shon and others readily pointed their fingers at a man named Maneckji Aslaji. Henry Shon had also mentioned that he had seen Maneckji and the inspector McDermott having a secretive chat under a tree.
Maneckji Aslaji was the son of a rich man. He had recently inherited a lot of money. That night on the 25th of April, 1891, a manservant in his employ saw Aslaji and his companion arriving at home looking rather grim. Their jackets had been ripped.
Bala, Aslaji’s manservant promptly disposed off the clothes. He went to a khoja Ahmed Thooar demanding Rs.5 for the garments. Thooar examined the coat to find a strange note- “To Nensi Peru and Seth Nur Mohammed Suleman, Let it be known to you that you must come to Rajabai Tower this evening at 3pm and bring Rs40 with you. Don’t forget. Pay one rupee to the bearer of this note.”
Thooar refused to keep the bundle with him, it was after all evidence in a crime. He gave it to a Marwari trader. From then on, the bundle soon went missing.
Another clue popped up in the investigation. Reportedly, the police took 56 hours to go and retrieve it. By that time, this crucial evidence had also been lost.
As the case closed in on Maneckji Aslaji, he did the best he could, he bribed the police with money.
Mohansingh Dhansingh, a driver, gave a testimony that he was present when Maneckj Aslaji payed a sum of Rs.5,000 to Inspector McDermott and a further Rs.500 for other police officers to keep their mouths shut on the case. The driver claimed that Aslaji himself counted the money out before handing it over to the starry eyed inspector.
At the morgue, four medical professionals took possession of the deceased young girls. At first they were sure that it had been assault. There were scratch marks on the girls’ limbs and chests. Needless to say it took only a while before the main examiner said that it wasn’t the case. The scratches had been caused by the buttons on the girls’ clothes and the rubble on the ground.
After a couple of weeks, the police simply had to arrest Maneckji Asalji. The newspapers had caught on to him as well as multiple clues and testimonies pointed to him. Its funny what money can buy you, Aslaji was released that same night at 3am.
The newspapers were outraged, so were the residents of the city. The case had reached Westminster in London. The Police were accused of not carrying out their duties. The British Parliament however stuck to their answer saying all procedure had been adhered to and that a real suspect had not been found.
The people decided to raise their voice instead and wrote a Memorial to the Bombay Government asking for an independent body to re-investigate the case. The Memorial got 45,000 signatures, an impressive number considering that the population of Bombay at the time was a mere 821,764 and there was no internet. Big names like businessmen Sir Jamsetjee Jeheebhoy and Sir Dinshaw Petit also signed the Memorial.
In all this you might have thought, why didn’t Bachubai Godrej’s husband Ardeshir Godrej yield his own influence? At the time of the tragedy, Ardeshir Godrej was a young man of 22. He was deeply hurt by the sudden death of his wife. Above all, he was studying to become a lawyer and not yet selling locks. So the money and fame of the Godrej name came later to Ardeshir Godrej. Until then, loss and sorrow was all that he had.
Certain biographies say that Godrej was deeply hurt for life. He would often think about his wife in his free time and he never remarried.
Soon the case of Bachubai Godrej and Pherozebai Sorabji Kamdin receded in the background. 126 years later, almost every Mumbaikar has forgotten this case which caused a huge sensation across the British Raj. So much has it evaded our minds that the internet has no stories whatsoever about the two women.
If you ask my verdict of the case, I would say that what the two youngsters did was truly bold. They had a second to take the decision to jump off the tower. However I also think that its possible that Maneckji was stalking the young Bachubai. Her cousin had been at the wrong place and wrong time. Maneckji only had to shove young Pherozebai over the edge to silence her forever. Bachubai might have jumped a little while later to protect herself from the miscreants.
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