The police investigation started. For the first week or so, they were constantly around, making many inquiries, both around the restaurant and at Shridhar’s house, cross-checking parts of Janaki’s statement. But then the investigation cooled down. At first, when Sandhya’s parents or Janaki tried to get information about the progress of the investigation, the police would respond. But after some time, they were politely brushed off. If they had been poor, they would have been thrown out of the police station. They were not poor, so they were politely escorted out, with a litany of platitudes. The police have other duties to perform too, you know. And when has justice for women, their safety or their security been a priority for our society, or for the police, who, in the end, are a part of the same society?
Janaki started going to the police station after college to make inquiries. I started accompanying her as well. If it ever happened that Janaki was unable to come, then I would go with Sandhya’s parents because they went every day, without fail.
Two months passed by, but the rapists had not even been identified and named. That was the first glimpse that I had of the delays in our police and judicial systems.
Finally, we decided that something had to be done. That was when I realised how delays can be reduced if you belong to a particular class; how our police can adopt different approaches for different persons. Amit was a doctor and, of course, had some political contacts. He reached out to the MP of his constituency and was taken seriously because he was respected and had some influence in the community. Within a few days, the investigating officer politely requested Sandhya’s parents to come to the police station and reassured them that the police were trying their best to find the culprits. The MP had called on their behalf.
The rickshaw was never traced. In the end, the police used mobile phone records to find the three men. The restaurant was not in a residential area, and most of the other establishments there had shut by the time Sandhya had gone looking for the rickshaw. Thus, there were very few cell phones in that area at that time. A list of all cell phone owners who were present there was drawn up based on the call records, and they were called to the police station. Five youngsters were detained and questioned. One of them was a medical shop attendant and the rest claimed that they had been with the attendant that night. Based on their own observations and Janaki’s testimony about seeing a group of men outside a medical shop that night, the police concluded that they were innocent, but insisted on verifying this with forensic evidence. Those results showed that they were not the men who had raped Sandhya, and they were allowed to go.
Apart from this set, there were three more numbers in the list that were listed as belonging to young men. All three of them were switched off, which led the police to believe that they belonged to the culprits. The posters based on Janaki’s descriptions were shown to rickshaw drivers in the area, who confirmed that the suspects were the same persons named in the mobile companies’ records. Finally, the rapists were identified. Their names were Raghav, Mohan and Mohammed Ali.
After this breakthrough, the investigation continued, but for some time, the police could make no headway. The mobiles continued to be switched off and untraceable.
The police found out that Raghav and Mohan were cousins and questioned their families, but they had no idea about the whereabouts of their sons. Mohammed Ali was not from Pune and no one seemed to have any information about him either. Six months later, by end of April 2007, the police were no closer to nabbing the suspects. They seemed to have disappeared.
Then, in May, they made one mistake. Raghav, believing that the surveillance must have stopped, switched on his cell phone to call his mother in Pune and then switched it off again. The police were alerted that he, at least, had fled to Mumbai. The investigating team went there, and were soon able to catch all three suspects. They were brought back to Pune to be tried.
We were told by the police about the arrest and detention. Raghav and Mohammed Ali were sent to police custody. Mohan was seventeen at the time of the rape, as attested by his school records, so he was sent to an observation home for juveniles.
In custody, Raghav and Mohammed Ali confessed. They told the police exactly what had happened and the police passed the information on to us. Vaginal swabs had been taken at the time of the post-mortem, and DNA tests conducted on the three proved that they had been the rapists.
But one major problem that the investigators faced was that the knife used to stab Sandhya was never recovered. The DNA reports would show irrefutably that the men had raped Sandhya. But in order to build a rock-solid case against the men and prove that they had also killed her, recovering the knife was necessary. If the knife was not found, we would have to rely completely on circumstantial evidence and they could claim that even if they had raped her, they had not killed her, to get a less severe sentence.
According to the police, Raghav had said during the interrogation that he had thrown the knife into a dustbin nearby, while they were escaping in the auto rickshaw.
The police told us that they had searched the area more than once when they first began the investigation, but I suspect that they had not done their work properly.
Their handling of the forensic evidence had been shoddy, to say the least. They had preserved the vaginal swabs only after we had applied to them to do so. Raghav might also have disposed of the knife in some other way and may have lied to the police to protect himself.
A legal-aid lawyer was appointed by the court to defend the three men as they did not have a lawyer of their own, and probably would not have been able to afford to pay one. We had expected that the accused would plead “guilty”, as they had confessed to the police. But by the time the trial began in mid-June, their lawyer had persuaded them to plead “not guilty”. In court, they claimed that they had been pressured by the police to confess. Confessions made in police custody are not treated as evidence.
As the trial began, Janaki became more and more withdrawn. She did not speak openly to anyone anymore. She stopped talking to her parents almost completely. She stopped going out with her friends and locked herself in her bedroom. She had lost weight. She continued to go to college, but there was an emptiness about her which was depressing. Looking at her face, it seemed inconceivable that a smile could have ever appeared on it. She went back and forth between the police station and the court as though she had made it her mission to get justice for her friend.
Excerpted with permission from A Patchwork Family, Mukta Sathe, Speaking Tiger.
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