Possible Motive Emerges in Tragic Murder of Indian Artist Hema Upadhyay

The brutal murders may have been over a $7,500 debt.

Anne Maniglier, portrait of Hema Upadhyay.
Image: Anne Maniglier.

Police in Mumbai have now arrested four suspects in the double murder of Indian artist Hema Upadhyay and her lawyer Haresh Bhambani, who were found dead on Saturday. Fabrication artist Shivkumar Sadhu Rajbhar claims to have killed Upadhyay because she owed around $7,500 to his employer, warehouse owner Vidyadhar Rajbhar, for the creation of a metal statue.

Inspector-General Sujit Pandey told CNN that Sadhu Rajbhar said that he murdered the 43-year-old artist because she refused to pay, and Bhambani because “he just happened to be present there (at the time).”

Sadhu Rajbhar, a suspect who has confessed to the murder of Hema Upadhyay and her lawyer Haresh Bhambani. Photo: via the <em>Indian Expres</em>.

Sadhu Rajbhar, a suspect who has confessed to the murder of Hema Upadhyay and her lawyer Haresh Bhambani.
Photo: via the Indian Expres.

The other suspects, Azad Rajbhar, Pradeep Rajbhar, and Vijay Rajbhar, are also workers at Vidyadhar Rajbhar’s warehouse, which is thought to be the site of the crime. Upadhyay reportedly stored her artworks at the facility.

Police believe the murderers bound their victims with duct tape and gagged them. The pair were found wrapped in plastic and stuffed into cardboard boxes.

The contemporary art world in India has been rocked by the death of one its most prominent members. “Her work spoke of a wide range of issues—uneven development, transforming societies and crises of adaptation,” Abhay Sardesai writes in the Hindustan Times.

Hema Upadhyay, Where the bees suck, there suck I 2009).Image: Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Hema Upadhyay, Where the bees suck, there suck I (2009).
Image: Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In addition to confessing to the killing, Sahu Rajbhar was found in possession of the pair’s credit and debit cards. Nevertheless, authorities are still looking into his exact role in the crime. “What we can say with certainty is that he was associated with the murders, but it would be too early to say how and to what extent until further investigations complete,” Pandey told CNN.

Vidyadhar Rajbhar, an artist and metalworker, allegedly fled Mumbai by train after the murders and is the subject of a police manhunt. In recent weeks, he had made several calls to Upadhyay’s estranged husband, Chintan Upadhyay. The Upadhyays have been engaged in a bitter divorce since 2010, and he is currently being investigated by the police.

“Vidyadhar’s father used to work for Chintan. After his father’s death, Vidyadhar worked with Chintan and he was the one who groomed him. The call detail record (CDR) of Chintan’s phone shows numerous calls were shared between the two around a fortnight ago. Chintan is not able to explain the calls. Only when we get Vidya will the murder motive be clear,” a senior officer told the Indian Express.

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