From identity of car to forensics and cause of death, a changing official version

Seven-year-old Yogita Thakre's parents dispute the police conclusion that her mysterious death on May 19, 2009 was due to suffocation and have raised 23 points in the magistrate's court, starting from the car in which the girl's body was found in Bharatiya Janata Party leader Nitin Gadkari's driveway, which they insist is a white Honda and not a brown Fiat.

They note that the post-mortem report by Dr. P.G. Dixit and Dr. T.M. Dahake of the Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), Nagpur found small blood stains over her underwear and there was evidence of blood oozing from her nostrils and mouth. The child had dried blood stains on her right shoulder area and both thighs. Her mother, Vimal Thakre believes someone tried to sexually assault her daughter and later killed her.

Yogita's body was found around 7 pm. Her father, Ashok Thakre, filed a police complaint which was accepted at 12.40 am, a case of accidental death was registered at 2.30 am on May 20, 2009 and her post-mortem was conducted that evening.

The forensics

On October 10, 2011, the Kotwali police station which initially conducted the investigation, stated in a reply to queries raised by Yogita's mother, Vimal, under the Right to Information, that the girl died in the Fiat Linea (MH31 CS 2727) parked in Mr. Gadkari's house. It added that fingerprinting of the Fiat was not done as many people had touched the car when the girl's body was being removed. The reply also states that the Honda was not examined by the police.

It is the case of the police to the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court that samples of seat cover containing blood stains and other material like that of hair samples found on the seat of the Fiat were sent for chemical analysis and blood stains found on the car tallied with that of Yogita. But on May 22, 2009, the Investigation Mobile Unit of the Crime Branch Nagpur said it had gone to the spot to examine the Fiat Linea on May 21 and the vehicle was thoroughly examined but there were no chance prints or clues. The Unit submitted that no blood stains were found in the car at the time of investigation. The Fiat in question was only seized on June 9, 2009, according to the police affidavit in the high court.

Ms. Thakre's lawyer, Naresh Kolhe, told The Hindu that when the girl's body was found in the car, a local doctor examined her. The mother was told her daughter was “asleep in the car” and that she should take her away. Mr. Gadkari, who was Maharashtra BJP president at that time, and his wife, were not at home when the incident occurred.

The car

The Thakres' lawyer pointed out a crucial inconsistency in the police account to the High Court. He submitted that the police investigation said the car was locked at 10.30 a.m. and it was opened at 7 p.m. The investigating agency has not been able to find out how Yogita got into the car. In any case, Vimal insists her daughter's body was lying in the Honda. She submitted an affidavit on June 17, 2009 to the High Court saying this and also identified it on June 2, 2009 after the police called her. Even the spot panchnama conducted on May 20 at 1.50 a.m. by Assistant Police Inspector Jitlal Yadav — and obtained by the family through RTI — mentions a white Honda CRV four wheeler number MH31 DB 2727. The panchnama says the car was closely examined but there was no trace of blood or any evidence to collect.

The police say the family is mistaken about which car the body was recovered from and ruled out the white Honda because Mrs. Gadkari had used it to travel out of town to Ramtek.

The police also took great pains to investigate the central locking system of the Fiat to prove it was not working. They consulted A. K. Gandhi Motors, who found fault with the system, but the Regional Transport Office said it was functioning properly. Finally the police concluded the central locking system was not working properly because the locks failed in two out of three attempts.

To a question from The Hindu, Sudhir Dive, the business associate of Mr. Gadkari in whose name the Fiat is registered, replied that the driver had said the car was not locked at the time of the incident. “However, it could lock automatically after some time and this is what happened after the little girl got inside the car — it got locked,” he said.

The post-mortem

While filing the FIR on June 1, 2009 against unknown persons charging them with murder (302 IPC ) and destroying evidence (201 IPC), senior inspector and investigating officer R.M. Katole noted that the post-mortem report and treatment records of ward number 6, GMCH, indicated Yogita could not have died in the closed car. He said in the FIR that it is clear that some unknown or unidentified persons covered her mouth and nose and murdered her and to destroy the evidence had dumped her in the car.

Mr. Katole sought expert opinion from the department of paediatrics at GMCH where Yogita was treated earlier for congenital heart disease and sub acute bacterial endocarditis. In her reply on May 30, 2009, Dr. Saira Merchant, associate professor, said Yogita had recovered fully from the sub acute bacterial endocarditis, and though her heart disease was serious, it could be cured with heart surgery. Asked by Mr. Katole if these illnesses could cause her death in a closed car, Dr. Merchant said “No.”

Mr. Katole was transferred to Malegaon on July 31, 2009. In a turnaround, police later claimed Yogita was suffering from sickle cell anaemia and heart disease, and sought to pin the death on her ailments.

The chemical analysis report of Yogita dated June 5, 2009 states that no semen was detected from the swabs and there is no evidence of sexual intercourse, nor was she poisoned. She had nine surface injuries on her private parts, forehead, lips and abrasions on her right forearm and right knee. The post mortem report notes that these injuries can be caused by a hard and rough surface and all the injuries were fresh and before her death. The cause of death is stated as “smothering” and the manner of death homicidal or accidental.

The injuries

The inquest panchnama of Yogita's body held before the post mortem records several injuries on the forehead and blood from the nose. Blood spots on the underwear indicated an injury, and there was bleeding from her private parts.

To counter the panchnama details, the Kotwali police station sent nine queries to Dr. Dixit, and Dr. Dahake, who had conducted Yogita's post-mortem. In a letter dated June 9, 2009 the two doctors said there is no evidence of forceful sexual intercourse and it is difficult to comment on whether sexual intercourse was attempted or not. They said the absence of contusions, lacerations on both sides of the face, nose and mucosal surface of lips were against homicidal smothering. Their findings in favour of accidental smothering were: presence of minor injuries on one side of the face and mouth, history of sickle cell and congenital heart disease, absence of bleeding from vagina. They dismissed the injury in her private parts – “… a small abrasion on the labia is a common finding in the girls of lower socio economic strata which is because of bad hygiene of local parts leading to a condition of pruritus vulvae which leads to itching resulting in abrasion.” The nine surface injuries are possible by repeated falls and during terminal convulsions before the deceased finally got smothered by falling on a soft material with her face in prone position, the report said.

The Thakre family says that if all of Yogita's injuries were acquired within the limited confines of a Fiat Linea, this would amount to a contortionist's feat.

Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil, despite several attempts to contact him, did not respond to questions about the case from this correspondent.

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