Under pressure: on Gurugram's Ryan School murder case

The poor quality of police investigation in the country has once again come under focus. The twist in the probe into the murder of a seven-year-old boy at a school in Gurugram, Haryana, in September exposes how unreliable the police can be when it comes to investigating grave crimes amidst a public outcry and close media scrutiny. The Central Bureau of Investigation now claims that it was a 16-year-old student who murdered Pradyuman Thakur at the Ryan International School, and not the bus conductor arrested earlier for the offence by the local police. If the latest account is true, the police must explain why it made the sensational claim that Ashok Kumar, the conductor of the school bus, had committed the murder in the school’s washroom on September 8, and that he had “confessed” to it. The motive, the police had claimed, was that the child had resisted his attempt to sexually assault him. The CBI says that in fact a Class XI student had killed his junior school mate in a bid to get examinations postponed and a parent-teacher meeting called off. Closed-circuit television footage is cited as a crucial piece of evidence against the senior student, who is now under arrest, although the CBI says the role of Ashok Kumar remains under investigation. In their eagerness to show results and demonstrate their efficiency, the Gurugram police announced the bus conductor’s arrest on the very night of the murder. Reports that the school’s bus driver was under pressure to identify the knife allegedly used in the murder to be part of the bus toolkit add to the suspicion that the police were trying to frame the conductor.

Given the media glare that accompanies such tragedies, the police must learn not to succumb to the temptation to wrap up probes under public pressure. That the police had to extract a false confession is downright disgraceful, but it is not an isolated case in a country known for its primitive investigative methods. Studies on police reforms have highlighted the need to make the investigation process more scientific and more rooted in forensic analysis, but custodial torture and extracted confessions continue to be reported. The muddle in the Aarushi-Hemraj murder case probe is a telling example of how both the local police and the CBI can botch up the investigation and lead to unfair incarceration. When two narratives emerge from different police agencies for a heinous murder, a sense of disquiet among the public is inevitable. The onus is now on the CBI to avoid such pitfalls and show that the initial narrative was false and its subsequent account is closer to the truth. Another notable feature of the case is that there is a likelihood of the 16-year-old suspect being tried as an adult under provisions introduced in juvenile law in 2016. It would be unfortunate if these provisions were to be reflexively invoked.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 8:41:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/under-pressure/article20055509.ece

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