Justice served, or is it?
Justice served, or is it?15 mins 140 15 mins 140
**This story is based on a true events. It makes us wonder whether it’s fair for the judiciary system to be blind and give out its verdict based on the evidence alone. It would make sense if morality and ethics were also given due weightage.
The retirement party was grand. I knew I would miss all the laurels that came with being the Director-General of Police, Crime branch. Nevertheless, I was at peace as it meant I could finally spend some quality time with my family. I, Arvind Akkineni, hailing from the small town of Warangal, Andhra Pradesh rose to the position of Chief Investigations Officer through sheer grit and hard work. This journey was never easy. It was never meant to be. Today, as I stand here with the people applauding and wishing for me... I feel nostalgic... It feels surrealistic.
As the celebrations drew to a close, I proceeded to my cabin for the last time. My heart felt heavy as I went back home bidding adieu to my colleagues and friends there. I chose to return home by myself instead of my colleagues accompanying me home, as it felt like I was on my final journey. Though retirement meant that I could live a stress-free life, I felt like something very close to my heart was being left behind in that office space.
As I was driving back home, my career seemed to be playing like a film reel. I still remember my first case; the one where I was the team lead for the first time. It was May 1972. I was transferred to Mangalore, a small town in Karnataka. Being a small town, I wasn’t expecting any crime or action. Nevertheless, I packed my bags and moved to the officers quarters. Being April, the weather was sweltering and the creaky ceiling fan did little to bring relief. The police station was also quite neat, though the walls had cracks and the paint was peeling at the edges. A very peaceful place, we seldom had any people coming over with their complaints and issues. Until that faithful day, which changed everything. The incident took Mangalore's name down to the pages of criminal history. A murder case... Justice was finally served in accordance with the Indian Penal Code. Though I played a pivotal role in closing the case, today when I look back, it was a classic case of justice served but humanity suffered.
It would have been around 4 AM, that we got a call from the railway station. Being the wee hours of the morning, we weren’t on our full alert when the landline rang. On answering the call, the person on the other end responded,” Good morning Sir. An unidentified stinking trunk is found in a train arriving from Kerala. There was a strange odour emanating from the trunk. The passengers tried to locate the owner of the trunk and realised that it was abandoned. On arrival at the Mangalore station, they alerted the station master.” We immediately left for the railway station, intimating the forensics team, the photographers and the medical team on the way to join us at the station. The railway police had already dragged the trunk out onto the platform by the time our team arrived.
The entire area reeked like rotten eggs. We covered our noses as we neared the trunk. The trunk was locked with a padlock. Though the trunk was tightly shut there was some grimy substance by its sides. We broke the lock in the presence of the station master and the rail police force. The sight that greeted us was grotesque.
It was a decapitated ostracised body of a man, cut into pieces. There were several stab injuries over his chest and abdomen. It was a very bloody sight. He would have been dead for over twelve hours as the body had begun to rot and decay. The only piece of clothing that he had on him was a pair of green socks and the sacred thread worn by Hindu men- the janeu. We concluded that the deceased was a Hindu brahmin. The forensic team and the photographers had already arrived by then. They immediately got homework, looking for fingerprints and taking samples, clicking away photos from different angles. The entire area along the railway platform was cordoned off with “Crime scene. Do not cross” barricade tapes. Working in that foul-smelling was posing a real challenge for all of us. There were many sets of fingerprints on the trunk, which had to be as the station authorities had solicited help from the porters to unload the trunk. They identified two sets of fingerprints on the body. Probably the murderer had an accomplice. After we finished noting down the initial findings, the body was sent to the Government Medical College for post-mortem.
The post mortem was carried out by Dr Reddy, a renowned pathologist. The report said the cause of death being stabbed into the heart with a sharp object. The head had been severed at the base of cervical vertebrae. There was one more finding, contradicting our initial observation. He was circumcised, for non-medical reasons. The media presence being nothing like today, the communication took time. We had faxed the details of this case to police stations across Kerala and Karnataka. The next step was to find the head of the corpse to confirm the identity. We started the search from missing person cases that would fit the description.
Meanwhile, A truncated head was found at the sandy beach of Bekal in Kasargode district of Kerala. The fisher-folk of the area found a putrefying human head and reported it to the nearest police station. The head was found wrapped in a shirt, buried between the rocks jutting into the sea. The movement of the tides caused the sand to slide away and the buried head appeared. The malodor and the squawking of the crows had drawn the attention of the fishermen. Fate would be that the head was sent to the same Dr Reddy for autopsy. The rest was plain logic. The cut along the base of the neck and the DNA match proved that the decapitated head and the headless body belonged to the same person. The autopsy report stated his age to be of 40 to 45 years.
To identify the person, we called for a missing persons' list from Kerala and Karnataka. Out of 476 people missing, we filtered out women, men out of the said age group and death confirmed cases to arrive at 16 people who would fit our case. On the other hand, the forensics team tried to give a face to the skull to aid identification. Once our face was ready, we were able to match it with a man missing report filed at kanhangad, Kasargode. His wife, Mrs Janaki had filed a missing complaint about her husband, Mr Sethuraman on 13th May 1972.
Sethuraman was a businessman dealing in imported perfumes. He had a small shop set up on the west end of the Nileswaram market. He was an amiable person who maintained cordial relations with all. On 12th May, he got back to his store post-lunch. When he did not return home that night, an anxious Janaki came to the market. The store was already closed. The neighbouring storekeeper, Musthafa, told her that Sethu, as they all called him, had closed the store and left early in the evening that day. A burkha clad beauty had come visiting him and he left with her. An upset Janaki went back home. When he did not return until the next morning, she went to the police station. They would not take a man missing case until 24 hours, hence she had to wait until evening. She fervently wished that her husband would be back home soon. When there was no update regarding Sethuraman, Janaki retraced her steps to the police station to file a mm missing complain. She shared the details and gave a latest photo.
We intimated the kanhangad police station of the body and asked them to come to the Mangalore Medical College with Janaki for corpse identification. Janaki arrived with tear-stained eyes. She had visible eye-bags. She was in a complete dishevelled state. Supported by the female Constables, Janaki walked into the morgue. The dimly lit room was freezing. Rows of bodies were neatly arranged on steel gurneys covered with white bedsheets. Our exhibit was placed on the east end of the left row. When they reached the said gurney, the diener removed the sheet, showing the face. Though decomposed, the face had been patched up to tone down the horrifying look. Janaki almost fainted at the very sight of the body. She came out with the help of the constables. She confirmed that the body belonged to her husband.
Once the identity was confirmed, we moved to the next phase of the investigation. The motive for murder. Janaki said that they did not share a very romantic relation. On further inquiring, she said that he had got himself circumcised to heighten the pleasures of making love. Now that settled the case of a Hindu circumcised man. Sethuraman was a dealer of imported perfumes. He had his fragrances sourced from the middle east and the European countries. In those days, it was very prestigious to own fragrances.
But the question of who was the murderer still loomed high. We had to find that burkha clad lady with whom he was last seen. Janaki was unaware of Sethuraman's endeavours. She wasn’t willing to accept any of our inferences. “There can never be a person as large-hearted as my chettan. Even when these lady buyers found it difficult to pay off their debts, he gave them all the time. Rather there have been instances when he has written them off too”, she claimed.
We had to go back to the Nileswaram market. While I contacted Musthafa to know if he had seen that woman before, my team led by SP Raghav Kumar interrogated the shopkeepers in the precinct and got lucky. She was Aisha, living in a rented house at the Nileswaram block co-operative housing society. Our next stop was at Aisha's place. We found her door locked. On enquiring around, we learnt that they had left for their native in a hurry a week back. Aisha's father-in-law had suffered a stroke and they had to rush back home. It was quite possible, but they had left the place as though leaving for good. The house owner wasn’t in town, hence they left the keys with their neighbour and moved out. Since Aisha and her husband, Ahamed had been amicable, the house owner had been accommodating. On asking around people, we learnt that Aisha was working as a Hindi liasoning officer at a semi government office. On week ends, she would take Hindi and mathematics tuitions for children of the locality. Aisha’s husband ran a small restaurant that specialised in meat delicacies. His meat favourites were a talk of the town. Aisha had come home with a gentleman the other afternoon. Nobody saw him leave though. And Aisha's family left the city early next morning. Based on the photo that we had, this samaritan confirmed that the person whom Aisha had brought home was Sethuraman.
Having collected the keys, we entered the house. A sweet flowery fragrance assaulted our noses. It was a very strong odour that was kind of masking some metallic tang. The house was exceptionally spick and span, too clean for someone who had packed and left in a hurry. It seemed as though a lot of effort had been put in to ensure that the floors and the walls were squeaky clean.
Meanwhile, our team tried to locate the porter who might have helped load a trunk on a train going towards Mangalore side. It was just a gut feeling that the trunk would have been loaded from Kasargode station. As fate would-be, we found a porter who had helped a very smart looking man with a trunk of similar specifications. The porter remembered the trunk as it was exceptionally heavy and the owner said was books. This porter was able to identify this smart-looking man as Aisha's husband.
This was a breakthrough. We had answered the question of who was killed and by whom. The question “why” was still looming large. And for that, we would have to locate Aisha. Aisha's husband was from Malappuram. On enquiring, we found that her father-in-law was dead for over a decade. That was interesting. We sent out lookout notices to all the police stations in Kerala and Karnataka. But the question here was that what if Aisha and her husband had moved out of either of these two states. It’s under such circumstances that we realise that social media and internet connectivity is a boon to mankind. But slog we had to.
Years passed by with no further progress. It seemed like Aisha had disappeared into thin air. Our entire team had got dispersed. Some of us even got transferred to as far as Delhi and Mumbai. One of my then team members, ACP. Raghav Kumar, who was transferred to Mumbai, saw someone resembling Aisha in the run down neighbourhood of Andheri- west. He followed her discreetly. Aisha entered her dwelling place. Her husband was at home. SP Raghav asked around the area and learnt that they were Rahmath and Raiza. They had moved to Mumbai some three years back. Though they claimed to be from Solapur, their language skills and mannerisms did not seem to match. Rahmath would neither go to work nor socialise with anybody while it was Raiza who was worked as a salesgirl in a nearby textile store to make the ends meet.
It seemed like we made headway. Though they had successfully relocated to a new town and donned new identities, they could not escape from the clutches of law. SP Raghav, informed me of the advancement while keeping an eye on the two suspects. At that time I was posted at Vijaywada, Tamil Nadu. It took me a day to reach Mumbai. Upon reaching Mumbai, with the assistance of the local police, we remanded both Rahmath and Raiza.
Rahmath's fingerprints matched with the set of fingerprints that were found on the Sethuraman's body. But we had not found fingerprints that could link Aisha\ Raiza with this murder. It took very little effort from our side before Aisha broke down. She accepted to have committed the murder.
This was when Aisha wasn’t married. She was working as a Hindi administrative officer. Once when she was shopping along the Nileshwaram market, she came across a perfume seller who was selling exotic fragrances at EMI options. Aisha was ecstatic. Her meagre salary did not allow her to indulge in luxury; but the flex payment method suited her. She bought the silver horse perfume priced at Rs. 45\-. Having paid Rs. fifteen upfront, she said she would repay the balance in coming months. Aisha paid another twenty rupees over the next year, but was unable to pay the balance. Sethuraman was a charming fellow who was never once rude with his customers. A glib tongued seller, he convinced Aisha to spend nights with him and he would write off her debt. This relation went on for six months odd until Aisha got transferred to Solapur for training. That was the end of their arrangement. Later Aisha got married and her job brought her back to Kasargode. Fate was it that when she was going around the Nileswaram market with her husband, she bumped into Sethuraman who recognised her. It was an easy feat for Sethuraman to meet her at her workplace. He contacted her and proposed to continue with their previous arrangement in exchange for his silence concerning her past. Aisha was in a dilemma. This became a regular affair. Her colleagues had started noticing Sethuraman’s approaches and a visibly uncomfortable Aisha. Unable to take it anymore, she came clean to her husband. The next time when Sethuraman approached her, she invited him home. That evening when Sethuraman went to meet Aisha at her home, he was welcomed by her husband. What started as a verbal argument turned to a physical face-off in no time. In the showdown that ensued, her husband lost his temper and hit Sethuraman with a solid wood tripod stand. It hit Sethuraman on the base of his neck. Sethuraman fell and lost his consciousness. But this did nothing to appease Ahamed's anger. He pulled out his cleaver which was hanging behind the door and stabbed him into this heart. Being adept in butchering animals, Ahamed handled Sethuraman in a single stab. Ahamed repeatedly stabbed him to placate himself.
After the entire episode, Ahamed and Aisha started getting worried. After musing over, they decided to dump his body into an old unused trunk and send him off in a train before they left the city for good. While Ahamed got busy handling the body, Aisha cleared up the place and informed their neighbours of leaving the city due to a medical emergency back home. The neighbours wished them good and did not think anything further. In the meantime, Ahamed had loaded the trunk onto a Mangalore bound train and disposed the head on a beach shore. He returned home well past midnight. They washed and scrubbed the house clean before leaving the city.
The entire narrative shook us. Now the question was whether the murder was right. Well, murder is never right; nobody has been permitted to take the law into their hands but still... Aisha and Ahamed were transferred to Kasargode for the trial. They were sentenced to prison for eight years on the charge of murder. It was a comparatively milder sentence when we consider the brutality of the murder. But then the society was cleared of a scumbag. I could still remember the look on the faces of Aisha and Ahamed when they were being transported to the Central jail to serve their sentence.
I was so lost in my thoughts that I did not realise I had already arrived at the gates of my community at Naim Nagar. The gates were adorned with yellow and orange marigolds. I got off my car and chose to walk along with the people who had gathered in my honour. My neck was burdened with the weight of a dozen garlands. They cheered for me as though I was a war hero. But my mind was weighed down by several of those convicts who got ostracised by the same society whom they tried to protect; though the mode might not have been the most optimal one.