On September 8, 2017 at around 7:50 am, 7-year-old Pradyuman Thakur's father dropped him to Ryan InternationaI School. Between 7:50 and 8 am, he visits the toilet where he is found seriously injured with knife injuries. He is immediately taken to hospital but declared dead on arrival. At the same time, as per CCTV footage according to the Gurgaon police, a bus conductor Ashok Kumar is seen entering the toilet around 7.53 am.
Scene of crime
When Pradyuman is taken to hospital, a sweeper starts cleaning out the bloodstains in the toilet area. It is not clear if he did this on his own or on the instructions of the school authorities.
Investigation by Haryana Police
On the basis of the CCTV footage, Haryana police zero in on Ashok Kumar, a bus conductor who promptly confesses to this crime. The motive according to him was sexual assault on the victim. He says that he had gone to the toilet to clean a knife when he saw the victim and then tried to sexually assault the victim. When the child resisted, he cut his throat with the knife. The knife was later recovered from the commode of the toilet.
As per the Haryana Police, the case had been solved based on the confession of the accused, CCTV footage, recovery of weapon of offence and the motive of sexual assault. The conductor was also produced before the media and is shown confessing to the crime.
Investigation by CBI
The CBI took over the investigation about two weeks after the incident. By re-examining the entire crime scene and CCTV footage, they found that apart from the conductor and victim, three other persons had also entered the toilet at around the same time. This included a class 11 student who was the first to inform the gardener that a boy was lying bleeding near the toilet. On interrogation, he allegedly confessed to the crime. The motive was to get a parent-teacher meeting cancelled and also because he wanted the examinations postponed. He thought that by committing this crime, the school will be closed for some time.
Other students when examined stated that this boy was of a volatile nature and had been seen carrying a knife to school a few days earlier. He had also told his class mates that they need not worry about exams because they won't take place.
The investigation by the CBI is still at a very preliminary stage. As the investigation progresses, fresh evidence to buttress the CBI theory is likely to be collected.
The theories of the CBI and the police are totally contradictory. The motive in both the investigations appears very weak and not convincing. In the Haryana Police theory, the post-mortem has ruled out sexual assault. The motive in the CBI version lacks credibility. We have all tried to avoid exams and tests while in school by pretending to be ill or sick, but to murder a boy randomly for such a trivial matter defies logic. The CBI needs to delve deeper into the motive for the crime.
Two contradictory theories, based solely on confessions, in the absence of eye witnesses, forensic evidence and a credible motive will weaken the case, thereby giving benefit to both the suspects.
In all sensational cases, there is terrific pressure from the media and public to declare a crime solved. The senior officers in turn put pressure on their subordinates, pressing for early detection and closure.
Investigation is a time-consuming progress in which every action has to be studied in minute detail. The police must be given sufficient time to investigate without putting them under pressure.
In my early career, I faced a similar situation. I was SP in Jamshedpur when a servant was found murdered on the rooftop terrace of the house of a prominent businessman of the city. The businessman was alone in the house with the servant as his family had gone to Bombay. There was a guard at the gate of the house, which was locked and was the only entrance. Immediately, the local press started saying that the businessman has committed the murder and the local police was protecting him. Pressure was mounting on us to arrest the businessman.
After a month of the incident, a source told us that we should interrogate a driver who had been sacked by the businessman a year prior to the incident. A team was sent to get the driver from his village in Orissa. When interrogated, he immediately confessed to the crime and said that he was having an affair with the maid and the servant used to object, as a result of which he was sacked.
He then decided to take revenge. On being asked how he reached the roof of the house, he took us to the back alley where there was 30-ft drainage pipe going to the roof. As a child, he used to climb coconut trees in his village and he clambered up the pipe to reach the roof in seconds. This demonstration was given in front of the local press and everyone was satisfied that the correct person had been arrested.
This illustrates why it is so important not to bow down to public and media pressure but deal with an investigation in a professional manner. It is also important to show patience and restraint while investigating sensational cases.
Preservation of crime scene
It appears that the crime scene had already been contaminated even before the police arrived. This, along with different versions of recovery of the knife from the commode and its sourcing, will further damage the case.
Falsification of evidence
If the local police has obtained the confession of the conductor by coercive means and have planted false evidence to strengthen their case then it is a very serious matter, and will surely be part of the investigation by CBI.
Liability of promoters/principal/teachers
It also appears that initially there was an attempt to shift the focus of the investigation by attempting to arrest the principal/teachers/promoters. This should not happen unless they are directly part of a conspiracy. We have all had teachers and principals who we highly respected. To treat them as common criminals is unfortunate. They may be liable for certain administrative lapses but are surely not criminally liable.
Lessons to be learnt
- Police must learn how to withstand media pressure and make no definitive statements till the investigation is complete and they are ready to file a charge-sheet in court.
- The scene of the crime has to be preserved till the first responders arrive. It must be ensured that the scene of crime is not disturbed till the forensic experts have examined the crime scene in detail.
- Confessions must be corroborated by forensic and other evidence and not taken at face value.
- In all cases of murder, it is essential to establish a clear and convincing motive.
- CCTV cameras must be monitored during school hours
- X-ray machines to check all bags and body search of children entering the school, just as in airports.
- Keep classes for teenagers specially 16-18 years in a separate building as they are prone to experiment with alcohol, drugs and sex and can be a threat to the younger students.
- Employ only women staff and teachers for children till the age of 12.
- Security audit to be done of all private schools by retired police or military officers every six months. For government schools, this task can be given to the CISF or the local police.
Finally, irrespective of the result of the investigation, the safety of children in our schools is of paramount importance and must be ensured.
AP Singh was the Director of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) from 2010 to 2012.
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