The Big Story: Botching it up

Almost two months after a bus conductor was arrested on allegations of sexual assault and murder of a seven-year-old student of the Ryan International School in Gurugram, the sensational case that shook the education system took a dramatic twist on Wednesday. The Central Bureau of Investigation arrested a class 11 student of the same school with the accusation of murdering the child and has now let the bus conductor go.

Media reports state that the CBI has also ruled out sexual assault and has pointed to an alleged confession by the class 11 student. The details of the investigation throw up some shocking questions that point to lethargy and complete disdain for procedures on part of the investigation agencies.

Days after the murder in September, bus conductor Ashok Kumar was picked up by the Haryana police. Leaks to the media through the police said Kumar had confessed to the crime. The case was later transferred to the CBI, which on Wednesday produced the class 11 student in a court, alleging that a newly found closed-circuit television footage established that it was he who pushed the seven-year-old child Pradyuman into the toilet where the body was later recovered. The CBI is also learnt to have told the Juvenile Justice Board that the student has “confessed” to murdering the child, as per media reports.

The investigation clearly reeks of inefficiency and invokes the memory of past cases, such as the sensational Aarushi Talwar-Hemraj murder case of 2008. There seems to be a clear class bias in the manner in which the police go about their investigations. When the Aarushi Talwar murder first came to light, the police on the very first day decided that the Talwars’ domestic worker Hemraj was the clear suspect and launched a manhunt only to be shocked the day next to find his body on the terrace of the same house.

In the current case, the bus conductor was picked up within days, with the Haryana police even suggesting a sexual assault. Two months later, the man has been cleared of the murder charge, though the CBI states that he is still under investigation for crimes such as destroying evidence. The immediate question that arises is: Why would a person who did not commit the murder try to clean the murder scene?

The arrest of the class 11 student raises even more serious questions. Media reports on Wednesday said the CBI “interrogated” him several times in the last few days. Were the parents of the boy given any indication that he was being seen as a suspect? This is a crucial element because such information would help the parents seek legal support for their son. Interrogation by agencies such as the CBI could be intimidating even for an adult offender. It would obviously be more stressful for a minor. And to point to the so-called contradictions in the student’s statements obtained in such a scenario exposes the utter insensitivity of the CBI. The agency has also pointed to a trivial reason as possible motive. The class 11 student apparently wanted examinations postponed. Further, agencies often cite so-called confessions by the accused with scant regard for law, which does not admit such statements in a trial. In this case, the bus conductor has now alleged that the Haryana police forced him to sign a blank paper after arresting him in September.

Investigation agencies should realise that their responsibility is towards the criminal justice system. Rather than thoroughly building a case, these agencies often crumble under media pressure and act in haste to show progress in high-profile cases. This undermines the case and the very idea of justice.

The Big Scroll

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  3. In the New York Times, Thomal L Friedman writes on the ensuing chaos in the Saudi royal family. 


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