It was sad. The way the Inspector held his cap in his hand, frowning and looking into nothingness. He is an enigma and I had given up deciphering him. I had observed that other officers also left him alone. My busy schedule did not give me time to brood, though I do feel for sincere officers like him. I also wonder, however, if he stretches it too far.
Inspector Chougle had just returned from a court appearance and had sought an appointment with me. As the Superintendent of Aurangabad Police, I frequently frequently toured the district and was at the time sorting out provisions for the forthcoming Ganapati festival. But, of course, I could meet Chougle. He was ushered in, deep creases on his forehead indicating bad news. I braced myself.
“We will lose the trial,” he said in a sad but definite tone. We had been monitoring the trial of a murder case of a disabled young boy in a small village in Paithan taluka. It was a gruesome murder, a deep head injury with a rock in the dead of night. My experiences in the Kolhapur district had shown that murders with a stone are the most difficult to detect. The perpetrators typically leave the stone on the spot because they do not store fingerprints, so linking a suspect to the actual crime becomes very difficult for an Investigating Officer. This modus operandi is usually seen in rural Maharashtra. I am not aware of any study conducted to track the conviction rates of murders with this MO.
Generally, the Superintendent of Police does not visit the crime scene of murders like this one. Having seen the worst in human nature, police officers are supposed to be free of emotions. But even we are human beings after all, and this was a disabled young boy. This case had disturbed me. The parents of the boy and his sister were visibly distraught. They were in asleep their hut, while the victim had been sleeping in another makeshift hut when the murder occurred. There were no eye witnesses, and I had transferred the investigation to the Local Crime Branch headed by Inspector Chougle.
Two days after the incident I was informed that the killer had been identified. The murder was the result of a land dispute between the victim’s family and the neighbouring farmer who wanted a piece of land belonging to the young boy and his family. I asked for case papers which seemed to be in order. However, the Investigating Officer sought an urgent audience and came to see me with the local Inspector.
In the discussion that followed – becoming very heated at times – both the Inspectors wanted to ‘pad’ the case. Their contention was that as the stone was found at the scene of the crime, and there being no other weapon of assault, it would be impossible to convict the accused. He would simply recant his statement when produced before the Magistrate. Besides the motive and his confession, there was no other evidence as no one had seen the actual act of the murder or even the accused going to the hut of the young boy.
I could not believe that ‘padding’ evidence was an option. The worthy officers explained that it is indeed, and that many times they have secured convictions by using what I called ‘doubious’ evidence — they preferred the term ‘practical approach’. My seniority in rank won me the argument, and the case proceeded quickly to trial as the accused farmer had not been bailed.
Inspector Chougle had thus appeared before me after giving his evidence in court as the Investigating Officer. Though his cynical prophecy soured the mood, I clung to the hope of justice for the young boy and his family. Then, about two weeks later, the accused was acquitted and set free on account of a lack of evidence.
It made a very small report in the corner of a local newspaper. No eyebrows were raised. After all, it was a young boy in a small village, whose existence mattered to no one. His parents and only sister were too poor and old to even protest. The Public Prosecutor finally declared “not fit for appeal,” closing the case as there was no evidence.
I am left wondering whether I should have allowed the two seasoned officers to ‘pad’ the case as they had requested; whether it is ethical. If permitted, can it not be used to implicate innocents?
As Chougle put it, “Madam you have to trust some of us otherwise convictions which are already a rarity today shall just disappear from police text books.” Is he right?
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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