I was getting irritated, feeling a little lost too. Lost because we had made no headway in this headless case, literally. I was also apprehensive of the local media and my seniors losing their patience.
Having found a dead body on the national highway – hands and feet tied – in a gunny bag had been a gruesome sight to say the least. No clue for 48 hours and here the local inspector seemed more worried about my stay and food arrangements than about solving the case. Identifying the body would be the first step, anyone would logically think. But what to do when the head is chopped off?
Enquiries by local Police officers had yielded no fruitful information. The crowd that had gathered at the highway, the police station, and the civil hospital, too, had no clue and consisted mostly of idle bystanders that I was now used to. They would stand, stare, narrate horror stories to news channels, but melt away when asked for assistance.
Havaldar Shikre looked at me through his square-framed spectacles. He had been grilling it into me that come what may, I must eat my meals in time. He had served many senior officers and trained them as well. Police work being utterly unpredictable in its timings, he would elaborate, can be done justice to only if we are careful with our daily routines. Eating on time is important, and the one thing I tend to forget the most.
Brushing aside his silent reminder, I began talking to the person who first noticed the gunny bag. Many more witnesses followed, then discussions with other police officers, and finally a thorough check of the records and case diary written by the Investigating Officer. All sterile paper work and no clue about the identity of the deceased. Detection in most cases moves either backwards or forwards but this case seemed stuck in the gunny bag.
As it turned late, I called it a day and retired to the local rest house. To my surprise the thali served for dinner had the best of local food. The rest house keeper informed me that the meal was part of Diwali festivities sent by Havaldar Shikre’s mother. I was told that Diwali in this part of the country is not a one-day affair but a week long celebration. Touched by the gesture, I decided to enjoy my meal and forget about the case. For some time anyway.
I was awoken from deep slumber by the loud knock of the rest house keeper. He wore a wide grin on his face.
“Madam, the case is halph detected,” he said.
At the police academy no one had taught us the concept of ‘half detection’. Nevertheless it did exist, as I learnt during my first few months on the job.
“Chalo, halph detection hi sahi,” I thought, glad there was some progress. I took a quick bath and breakfasted in high spirits, served by an unexpectedly cheerful rest house staff. “Either it’s the coming Diwali or the halph detection,” I thought to myself.
Arriving at the police station, I was surprised to see Inspector Chougle alongside the local Investigator. The latter sheepishly informed that he had sought his batchmate Chougle’s help as he was unable to detect the case. “Batchmate” in police parlance is when you are trained together. Friendships developed during those rough and tough days last literally till the grave.
The story, as it unfolded, was that the Inspector enlisted a young doctor at the civil hospital to retrieve the fingerprints of the dead body. It was a tough task but the doctor was both enthusiastic and skilled. The Bureau ran these prints and found a potential match with that of a known criminal in the western part of Maharashtra. A telephone call to the Control Room in that district confirmed that he was missing and had not been seen for about a week. His family, however, had not lodged any complaint with local police. After Inspector Chougle’s phonecall the police station promised to make enquiries and get back. The case was thus only ‘halph’ detected but had been given the much needed push.
That evening it was confirmed that the missing person was at none of his known haunts. His family submitted a formal complaint and showed suspicion about one member of his gang. The rest peeled off like an onion.
The suspect broke down under Chougle’s intense interrogation. He was a short, jobless youth in his mid-twenties. His unemployment drove him to join the gang but the deceased, after bringing him into the fold, would often laugh at him and mock him for being ‘feminine’. Hurt by the continuous insults, the boy organised a boozy night and, after getting him totally drunk, murdered him with a koyta (butcher knife) and disposed of the body. Some of the details are too gory to put in words. But it made me understand why my family was opposed to me joining the ranks.
A few years later the good Inspector introduced me to the doctor who had so painstakingly recovered the fingerprints. He was now head of the Forensic Department, having made quite a name for himself.
I’m sure the case would have been closed in the records had the first significant clue not emerged through the Bureau matching fingerprints. “That Diwali thali was a good omen,” I thought, recalling Shikre’s hospitable mother and the rest house keeper with his loud knocks about halph-detection.
The author, Meeran Chadha Borwankar, is a serving Police Officer of Maharashtra Cadre.
She believes that her uniform enables her to expedite the social change she wants to see in India, especially for girls and women.
To contact Meeran, visit her website:
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