The only facts we can be certain of are these: More than eight weeks after seven-year-old Pradyuman Thakur was murdered in his school’s toilet, two separate investigative agencies have obtained two separate confessions — both equally worthless for the purposes of a criminal trial under Indian law. The Gurgaon police, which first investigated the case, said the child was killed by a bus-conductor. The Central Bureau of Investigation blames another student, with possible mental-health issues. There is now the awful possibility that the killer may be able to use failures in the investigation to evade justice. Forensic evidence, which may have been recovered from the site of the crime, does not appear to have been protected by the police. Nor was the alleged murder weapon, a knife dumped in the toilet, carefully examined by experts. The knife was never put under an electron microscope to match it with the victim’s wounds. Though enzyme cleaners and bleach can remove DNA from knives, trained crime-scene experts are adept at recovering genetic material from sinks, drains and sponges. The nails and clothes of all present at the crime scene should have been tested; by all accounts, this was not done.
It is often difficult to distinguish police investigation, especially carried out in the face of public outrage and political pressure, from the witch-hunt. Police with only rudimentary training in modern investigation, using beatings and threats as their main truth-seeking tools, have a long record of securing wrongful convictions, as well as letting the guilty walk free, sometimes wearing the halo of martyrdom. To explain this away as the failure of individuals is inadequate. Indeed, Gurgaon’s Commissioner of Police, Sandeep Khirwar, has served two tenures in the CBI. In a case as high profile as this, it is hard to believe the officer would not have applied the skills he learned there to test the integrity of the investigation.
The truth is simpler: Since 1953, when India’s first national crime survey pointed out that “no facilities exist in any of the rural police stations and even in most of the urban police stations for scientific investigation”, the state and national-level political leadership has made almost no investment in capacity-building. In the 1993 case in Britain of two ten-year-old boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, arrested for killing two-year-old James Bulger, police had video footage and confessional testimony. But they still took the trouble to match paint on the boys’ clothes with that found on Bulger’s body, his blood on their shoes, and established the bruising on Bulger’s right cheek matched the pattern of Thompson’s shoe. Few police forces in India have the training or resources to carry out such an investigation. The pillars on which a republic rests are justice and security. India’s failure to build functioning, modern police forces not only threatens our safety as individual citizens, but places the entire society in peril.