Months of ordeal for a Hindu woman in Saudi with just days old child and a dead husband

published on December 24, 2010

Falsely accused of killing spouse, doc jailed in Saudi

NEW DELHI: It was an ordeal that will haunt Dr Shalini Chawla for the rest of her life. Her husband died in his sleep of a heart attack in Saudi Arabia, where the couple worked. But she was told that he had converted to Islam and accused, without a shred of evidence, of poisoning him.

That was bad enough. But Shalini was then put behind bars with an infant in a foreign land and later kept confined to a home for months with hostile people around her and the fear of death hanging over her every living moment. It was an ordeal that could have broken the strongest of people. But on Thursday, a day after she landed in the capital with her husband’s body, she was a picture of fortitude.

Tears welled up in her eyes as she stood with folded hands at the Uthala ceremony. Dr Ashish Chawla’s body had finally been cremated at Nigambodh Ghat on Wednesday, bringing an end to a sordid tale of how human rights of Indians working abroad are violated.

Shalini and Ashish met as interns at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, fell in love and married 10 years back. Four years ago, both accepted job offers from King Khalid Hospital in Nazran in Saudi Arabia. He joined as a cardiologist and she worked in the internal medicine department.

2010 in Dubai as she not only lost her spouse but was also accused of killing him. The hospital stated the cause of Dr Ashish Chawla’s death as ‘myocardial infraction’ or a simple heart attack. In an advanced stage of pregnancy, Shalini had to look after her two-year-old daughter. She had already resigned from her job in anticipation of her second child and now she had to expedite the process of taking her husband’s body back to India. On February 10, came her second child, Vedanta. It was a caesarian delivery which kept her confined to bed.

But the worse was yet to come. ”On March 1, Shalini was suddenly summoned to the local police station at Nazran and informed that on the basis of new evidence that her husband had converted to Islam before his death, she was being accused of poisoning him. Bewildered by the turn of events and seized by fear, she denied the allegations but was sent into detention at the police station on March 16 with her 34-day-old baby. She stayed there for 25 days and learnt that some Pakistani colleagues and locals had conspired in the whisper campaign. After being released, she was confined to the hospital campus with her movements severely restricted,” said her paternal uncle, H Nagpal. Her family was sending her money which kept her going.

The body was preserved at the hospital and last rites disallowed. A second medical report from the Centre for Toxicology and Forensics confirmed the autopsy report that there had been no poisoning but there was no respite for her, and the days dragged on. The Indian consulate did pull some strings, with her uncle even meeting minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor in Delhi, but things didn’t move any faster.

Speaking to TOI on Thursday, Shalini said, ”They put me in jail with my newborn child for a crime I never committed.” Ashish had never mentioned any intention of converting to Islam but the entire incident had assumed a communal colour and she was at her wits end.

”I lived with the two-year-old girl in the hospital complex when Shalini was sent to prison. Later, when she was released, we were so frightened. We could not go out fearing a backlash from the locals. We would go out only once a week,” recalled Uma Nagpal, Shalini’s mother.

Her father had passed away two years ago.

Barred from communicating with anybody, Shalini suffered severe mental trauma and agony. The case was now referred to the headquarters of the bureau of investigation and prosecution in Riyadh, which ordered a third autopsy by an independent panel of doctors.

It was once again confirmed that Ashish had died of a heart attack. Finally, the file was closed, and on December 3, she was given permission to leave the country.

Read more: Falsely accused of killing spouse, doc jailed in Saudi – The Times of India

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