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What a pity, he was innocent!

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What a pity, he was innocent!
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The revelation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that Pradyuman, the Class II student of Ryan International School, was murdered by a Class XI student of the same school, has given a dramatic twist to the case. Prayuman was found dead with his throat slit with knife in the washroom of the school on 10 Sseptember. Gurgaon Police soon determined that the culprit was the school bus conductor Ashok who killed the boy after sexually assaulting him and when the boy tried to raise an alarm. The police also stated that he had confessed to the crime. But even at that time allegations were raised that it was all doctored by the police.

The parents of Pradyuman had expressed dissatisfaction with the enquiry, pointing out that the boy used not to travel by bus and the conductor had not even known him. It was after the CBI took over the case following wide spread demand that the latest turn happened. If the CBI statements are to be believed, it is time for serious thoughts about the growing criminal propensity of juveniles. Here it transpires that the 16-year old boy who was poor in studies found murdering someone as the only way to get his examination postponed.

In the earlier Nirbhaya incident of Delhi also, adolescents were involved. Instead of investigation into the socio-psychological causes behind this trend, all we did then was pass a legislation to treat those in the age group of 16-18 as adults, prosecute and sentence them on that basis. It is almost a police version of the same short-cuts that was implemented by the Gurgaon police in the Pradyuman case which is: catch whoever comes by, extract confession by torture, file a case and close it.

The incident again proves that prevention of crimes requires greater application and dedication. There is increasing evidence for the fact that the police force and the judicial system are not functioning in a creditable manner. It was the CBI that found the boy innocent in this case, and they say that there were enough statements and circumstantial evidence pointing at the complicity of the senior student.

It is true that even the CBI cannot be said to be conducting criminal enquiries in a fool-proof manner. Long before the Ryan School episode, the Aarushi Talwar murder of 2008 was investigated by UP Police and later by the CBI. The police first charged the domestic servant Hemraj who went absconding and then soon his dead body was found. The CBI then took over the case and arrested the compounder of Dr Talwar together with the servant of a doctor friend of Talwar and subjected them to examination. Finally they filed a charge sheet accusing the parents of Aarushi as the real murderers. The court acquitted both for want of sufficient evidence.

The real concern has to be about innocents being tortured, rather than culprits escaping. On this score, neither our law and order machinery nor the criminal justice system has an honourable record. In both the Arushi and the Pradyuman cases, the final accused turned out to be hailing from high-ranking families, but the initial 'confessions' were made by those who had no money power or social stature. It would appear as though the police has a line up of certain class of people from whom some could be charged at any time with crime.

Although the number of cases in which innocents are sentenced may be relatively low, we have ample number of instances of those who are acquitted after having to suffer the 'punishment' by the police for years on end. In 1998 a Delhiite, Mohammed Amir was arrested at the age of 18 and had to spend 14 years in jail and was charged with one case another. By the time he was declared innocent by the court which found all charges against him baseless, the spring of his life was past. No different was the case of Nizaruddeen Ahmed who was put in jail for 23 years. By the time he returned home from jail, his family had collapsed. These are just some of the cases known to us, but there may be scores of instances which do not come to light. It has become imperative to have special laws regarding innocents subjected to unjust torture, which should clearly provide for compensation, rehabilitation and bringing to books those responsible for them. If the Pradyuman case leads to identifying the serious lacunae of the existing mechanisms, that will be a positive fallout.

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