(Trigger warning: Descriptions of violence. Reader discretion advised.)
Shraddha Walkar was "always so active and outspoken," says Rajat Shukla, who studied with her in college for three years. "She was straightforward – and had an opinion about everything," he recalls.
When Shukla first met Shraddha in 2015, she was an extrovert who loved travelling and was passionate about theatre.
"It's unbelievable what has happened to her. The Shraddha I knew wasn't convinced easily; she never backed down."
Twenty-seven-year-old Shraddha was strangled to death allegedly by her partner Aaftab Poonawala, 28, in Delhi's Chhatarpur in May 2022. He reportedly chopped her body into pieces and disposed of the parts in different locations in Delhi over the course of a few months.
But beyond the gory details of her murder, Shraddha was many things – a theatre actor, an aspiring journalist, and a dancer.
'We Nicknamed Her After the Airtel 4G Girl'
Shraddha did her Bachelor's in Mass Media in Mumbai. Shukla, who was a close friend of hers at the time, said that they would call her by the nickname '4G' because her pixie hairstyle resembled that of actor Sasha Chettri in a popular Airtel advertisement.
"We used to do theatre together, and she was a great performer and dancer," recalls Shukla.
Though Shraddha wanted to be a journalist, Shukla says she "lost track" of her dreams after graduating college and meeting Poonawala. He says that apart from her call centre job, she had also worked at a Decathlon store for a while.
'Things Changed After She Met Aaftab'
Shraddha had a big group of friends, but after she met Poonawala, things changed, Shukla adds.
"We got to know of her relationship with Aaftab in 2019. I was in touch with her, but she had changed as a person – she was a little rude. She was distancing herself from everyone she knew."Rajat Shukla, Shraddha's friend
He adds that when her friends got to know Poonawala was assaulting her in 2020, some of them confronted him and warned him that they would inform the police. "But he made up a story, and they ended up giving him a final warning, as per Shraddha's request."
Later, in June-July 2021, Shraddha alerted her friends about yet another alleged assault by Poonawala, according to The Indian Express. She was covered in bruises and stayed with a friend for a few days. Shraddha was determined to file a police complaint but her friend told IE that he managed to convince her to come back, saying he would die by suicide if she didn't.
According to IE, before their communications stopped in mid-May – when she was allegedly killed – Shraddha told one of her friends that she was going to leave Poonawala. Her friends waited for a few months for her messages, assuming she was recovering from the breakup. But as they couldn't reach her for two and a half months, they alerted her family.
"She was a strong person, I don't know how she fell into the clutches of Aaftab. Even with me, she would fight for what she believed in. She was not someone who got convinced easily," Shukla recalls.
Strained Relationship With Family
Shraddha reportedly lived with her mother Suman Walkar and younger brother Shreejay Walkar until 2019 in Maharashtra's Vasai. Her father Vikas Walkar lived separately in a different locality.
Talking to The Quint, Vikas Walkar describes Shraddha as a "quiet teenager, whose behaviour changed shortly before she graduated from college."
When Shraddha fell in love with Poonawala, she told her mother that she wanted to live with him. But her family, belonging to the Koli-Hindu community, was opposed to her inter-caste/interfaith relationship, according to the First Information Report (FIR) filed in the case, based on her father's complaint.
"She (Shraddha) reasoned that she was 25 years old and that she had the freedom to live with whoever she wanted to," says Vikas Walkar. He adds, "'Consider I'm not your daughter anymore' is what she told us."
But before her mother died in 2020 of a heart ailment, Shraddha told her that Poonawala would often beat her and abuse her, according to the FIR.
"Shortly after my wife's death, Shraddha spoke to me over the phone a couple of times. She told me that he (Poonawala) beat her. She then came home. I told her to leave him but she went back to him after he apologised."Vikas Madan Walkar, Shraddha's father
Vikas Walkar says that he last spoke to her over the phone in 2021. Shraddha lied to him that she was in Bengaluru, when she was, in fact, in Mumbai with Poonawala, claims the father.
He says that she didn't confide in him or her brother about her relationship with Poonawala thereafter.
(With inputs from The Indian Express.)