It was like looking for a needle in a haystack until unusual sweating on Sanji Ram's face on a chilly January morning hinted he was hiding something, recalls RK Jalla - the chief investigator in the gang-rape and murder of an 8-year old girl in Kathua.
Sanji Ram, along with two others, were sentenced to life in jail by a sessions court in Pathankot on Monday for the child's rape and murder in January last year, a case that shocked the nation to the core because of the sheer brutality involved.
Retired from service barely three months ago, Mr Jalla was handed the case that was transferred to the crime branch on January 27, 2018.
One of the most decorated Jammu and Kashmir police officers, Mr Jalla spoke to PTI, recounting the challenges his team faced.
"After having investigated the crime scene, we went to meet Sanji Ram (the mastermind). As I and my team started enquiring about his family members including his arrested juvenile nephew, I asked about his son Vishal.
"Sanji Ram immediately conveyed to me in a boastful voice that his son was studying in Meerut and I can go and check from his CDR (Call Data Record). I started wondering about two things -- why is he insisting that I should go and check Vishal's call records and second, why the hell is he sweating on a chilly morning of January," the 60-year-old Jalla recalled.
The sessions court in Pathankot had on Monday sentenced Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Parwesh Kumar to life and the three dismissed policemen - Anand Dutta, Tikal Raj and Surinder Singh - to five years in jail.
Vishal, son of Sanji Ram, was acquitted by the court because of lack of evidence.
Mr Jalla's only regret in the case was Vishal's release on benefit of doubt.
"I can only hope that an appeal is filed challenging the acquittal," he said. Jalla said Sanji Ram made every attempt to save his son.
"I can only hope that the evidence collected by the crime branch during a painstaking investigation is appreciated by High Court," he said.
Inspector General (Crime) Ahfadul Mujtaba has talked about an appeal against Vishal's acquittal.
The case took on a political turn with at least two former BJP leaders, Lal Singh and Ganga Singh, joining a protest march on March last year to press for the release of Sanji Ram and the other accused.
The case strained ties between Jammu and Kashmir's ruling alliance partners at the time, the PDP and BJP. Mr Jalla said he "had received not a single call from any of the BJP leaders".
"There was no political pressure whatsoever on me or my team and we were doing our job with complete dedication and honesty," he added.
Mr Jalla was part of the first batch of police officers that joined Special Operations Group - an anti-militancy crack force formed in the early 1990s.
He retired on March 31 this year as Senior Superintendent of Police (crime branch).
The officer's role was appreciated by the prosecution team comprising SS Basra, JK Chopra, Bhupinder Singh and Harminder Singh, who said Mr Jalla had laid a strong foundation for the case that ensured defence witnesses were on the back-foot.
JK Chopra, who led the prosecution team along with Basra, said Mr Jalla's dedication saw many of the defence witnesses backtrack after evidence, be it technical or physical, was produced in court.
Mr Jalla said it was never a one-man-show. "It is absolutely a wonderful team work where prosecution and investigators were always on the same page. It may be for the first time that the prosecution has not sought a single adjournment in the case," he said.
The officer remarked that the case made him revisit all that had been taught to him during training at the police academy.
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