Joseph Stalin was the dictator of Russia (the erstwhile Soviet Union) for more than three decades. One day, he lost his watch. He telephoned Lavrentiy Beriya, chief of the Soviet security and secret police apparatus and informed him that someone had stolen his watch. Now, Lavrentiy Beriya, who was notorious for his cruelty and wickedness, gets on to the job immediately by arresting suspects and interrogating them. After some time, Stalin telephoned Beriya again, this time to inform him that he had already found his watch in his bathroom where he had kept it and forgotten. So, Stalin asked Beriya not to bother about the watch. However, Beriya told Stalin that he had already arrested 10 suspects for stealing the watch, and out of them, 9 persons had already confessed to having stolen the watch, and also that the last suspect was also about to confess it. So, how come his watch was not stolen?
Forgive me if I have exaggerated this story a little. This is what I had heard several years back. I have narrated it in my own words, so there may be some aberration here and there. But, the basic issue remains intact. This story tells, in unequivocal terms, what happens when a man is made to confess about an offence before an officer of police or armed forces. Under the threat of torture, even an innocent person may confess having committed an offence, notwithstanding the fact he might never have committed such offence.
This is the brutal power of third degree or the torture!
In fact, there could perhaps be degrees of third degree also. A completely innocent person may be forced to confess an offence. Or, an accused who is reasonably suspected to have actually committed an offence, on the basis of other evidence available during investigation, can be made to confess. In the second scenario, it is the use of third degree methods that may be said to be objectionable. But, in the first scenario, it is not only the use of third degree methods, but also the serious charge of false implication in an offence, which may be objected to and it may be highly unjust and unpardonable to send an innocent person to jail or to the gallows.
Let us now examine the fact situation in the Ryan International School murder case in the light of the above discussion.
If we go by the CBI version, then we must credit the Haryana Police of forcing a completely innocent person to confess the offence of murder which he never committed. It is a rare achievement of Haryana Police! The concerned police officers must be conferred with awards for being so professional that whomsoever they “touched” turned into a guilty person!!
The school bus conductor Ashok Kumar was made by Haryana Police to confess, in front of camera and before media, his crime of murdering the 8-year old student who was studying in Ryan International School at Gurgaon.
Now the CBI says that Ashok Kumar is innocent and a Class 11 student had instead committed the murder. If the bus conductor Ashok Kumar was innocent then why did he confess in front of camera? Can an innocent person ever confess to a crime, much less an offence of murder of a sensitive nature where death penalty was a reasonable probability, given the nature of the crime and the media glare it had received? Isn’t it only because of third degree?
One can understand if an accused person who has actually committed a crime confessing it under threat of or actual use of third degree, but can a completely innocent confess to such a crime unless it is only due to torture or some other similar pressure?
Moreover, the CBI investigation also suggests that Gurgaon police had planted the murder weapon, a knife, on school bus conductor Ashok Kumar as they accused him of being the killer and declared the case as “solved” within hours.
Gurgaon police had even created a strong motive for the murder by claiming that the conductor had tried to sexually assault the child, before slitting his throat.
It is noteworthy that Gurgaon Police Commissioner Sandeep Khairwar had declared in a press meet on 10 September (while the offence took place on 8 September) that bus conductor Ashok Kumar was the killer and that he had tried to sexually assault Pradyumn. He had also said that the charge sheet would be filed within 7 days of the murder. Gurgaon police was so confident that Ashok Kumar was the murderer!!!
But, now, faced with the results of the CBI investigation, the Police Commissioner says that they were yet to complete the probe when the case was handed over to the CBI and that the police were taking all the logical steps during the investigation and going where the evidence took them. Really? Then, why was it announced that the charge sheet would be filed within 7 days, and it was on 10 September itself, within two days of the offence?
If the CBI investigation reflects truth, this is not only completely unprofessional but also a grossly inhuman act on the part of the Haryana Police to falsely implicate an innocent person in a serious murder case. This act of Haryana Police is unpardonable and will damage whatever little credibility the police has.
True, there was public pressure and continuous media coverage. But, that does not mean that you falsely implicate an innocent person and plant weapon of offence just to placate the public. A professional police force would have enough professional courage to withstand such public and media pressure and stick to its basics and concentrate on a comprehensive investigation, instead of hurriedly finding a scapegoat through shortcuts and proclaim a victory on the basis of a confession forced by torture.
Will the guilty police officers be punished ever for falsely implicating Ashok Kumar? This act of police officers is punishable with life imprisonment under Section 194 IPC.
At this juncture, let me point out that in order to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, on May 06, 2010, the Lok Sabha had passed the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010. However, subsequently this Bill went into a state of limbo. But now, just two weeks back (on 30 October 2017), the Law Commission has submitted its 273rd Report (see here) and has recommended ratification of the above UN Convention and enactment of the new POTA (Prevention of Torture Act). The punishment for inflicting torture under the proposed Act is imprisonment that may extend to ten years. Such punishment may even extend to death penalty if the torture results in death of a person. Torturing any person (a) for the purpose of extorting from him or from any other person interested in him, any confession or any information which may lead to the detection of an offence or misconduct, or (b) on the ground of his religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, is covered under the provisions of this Act. Torture results from causing of (i) grievous hurt to any person, or (ii) danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of any person.
So, it is right time that the police forces in India take the right lessons at the right time.
Whatever has been written above is on the basis of the presumption that the CBI investigation is perfect, professional and truthful. Of course, going by the CBI’s record in such cases, there is no guarantee that CBI investigation would be thoroughly professional and perfect. Remember Aarushi murder case?
Though nothing is impossible nowadays, generally one would not believe that a 16-year old boy would directly plan to murder a child only to get the examination and the parents’ meeting postponed. Did the juvenile have a past criminal record of a serious nature to go to such extent for such a silly thing? Couldn’t he have thought of some other ways of getting over the examination fear? The easiest one perhaps could have been “falling sick”, as is quite common. Of course, this is what an ordinary rational person would think. Exceptions are always there. A criminal mind can go to any extent. But, then, the question arises – does the juvenile have such a criminal mind? In fact, there appear to be many holes in the CBI theory, but that is a separate topic for another article, perhaps, and one may perhaps have to wait for the CBI investigation to complete.
There is a need to conduct a fully scientific investigation, including but not limited to DNA examination. The CBI needs to depute its best officers in order to ensure that this time an innocent juvenile does not get falsely implicated.
This case will ultimately be based on the circumstantial evidence. Unless the circumstantial evidence is so strong that the accused juvenile could be safely convicted within the conditions prescribed by a large number of judgments of the Supreme Court based on circumstantial evidence, CBI should not file charge sheet. It should not become a prestige issue for CBI that it has to charge sheet every case that is detected. There are cases that remain undetected. But, then there are cases which are detected but evidence is not sufficient to get the accused convicted. In the latter category of cases, the investigating agency should not feel shy of admitting the weak character of evidence and should not unnecessarily charge sheet just to show temporary results which may ultimately turn out to be hollow. This is more important in a case like this where a juvenile is involved who can be prosecuted like a normal accused person of the age of majority, courtesy the latest amendments to the juvenile laws that permit it. CBI should take lessons from the Aarushi murder case, where it had to receive stinging strictures from the high court bordering on false implication of innocent persons, much like what is being faced by the Haryana Police in the present case.
Either way, this case is likely to be a weak prosecution case and a poor motive would not be the only reason. Failure of the CBI theory could save the Haryana Police officers, giving them benefit of doubt. Only a thoroughly professional investigation based on scientific inputs can lead to a conviction. But, will the CBI be able to deliver it, this time?