‘Who did you kill for Sukru?’ Inspector Jagat Lal began his interrogation.
Sukru looked at him. A faint shade of scorn blended with derision shone into his eyes. Crept along, a fleeting smile on his lips before turning into a mocking grin and finally a snicker. Suddenly, as if a volcano erupted, he broke up into a cackle of roaring laughter which halted abruptly when Inspector’s tight slap landed on his face but it couldn’t wipe the smile of contempt off his face.
Sukru’s drawl was no different from his expressions. ‘Eenspekter sahib, you know who did it and why. Sukru is just a tool. You can break Sukru but Sukru never breaks his promise. Like you, Sukru is a professional too, but not a fool to play a gullible scapegoat.’
Sukru’s mocking challenge pierced through Inspector’s fragile ego. He looked at all skin-and-bones Sukru. Gritting his teeth in anger and akin to a raging wolf, Inspector pounced at him. A skinny Sukru was no match for a trained, physically mighty and raging policeman but his mocking laughter never ceased throughout the ordeal.
‘What’s the point Inspector?’ The eldest of the three youngsters, clearly the group leader, was saying. ‘You know keeping us here would only embarrass our parents…’
‘And nothing can be proved, you know, we used all the precaution, Strawberry flavour is my recent fav..’
The other two almost shrieked and doubled up laughing at the sick joke.
‘…no scratches on the girl and us… we always tie them with the bed, you know.’ The youngest of them added and leered, ‘my goodness…. How she was screaming…I like screaming bitches, you know…’
‘…see the guts of this bitch…what was her name…..see I don’t even remember the name…there have been so many of them….’ third teenager complained.
‘Padma Bajaj…’ Jagat Lal informed.
‘…she reported this to you,’ the boy curled his lips in scorn, ‘once we get out of here, this time we will take her to the hostel. When twenty heated up boys will ride that bitch she will remember the lesson. I will turn that salwar-kameez behenji into a mini-skirt whore…I will…’
‘I was just waiting for my money.’ Inspector Jagat Lal spoke in a calm tone. ‘I’ve checked the amount. You are free to go.’
‘But why bother if you have been paid well Inspector?’
‘Procedure. A rape has been reported, so police is supposed to take some action but don’t disappear. You three will be needed for interrogations and court hearings until this is over.’
‘Court hearings?’ Group leader feigned surprise, ‘dad will not even let it go out of this police station Inspector, you know that, no?’
‘That would suit me too.’ Jagat Lal replied and got aside to make way for the three young rapists to leave.
The piping hot cup of tea fought a losing war against Jagat Lal’s troubled nerves. The victim – Padma Bajaj – and her mother had stormed up a riot. But they were helpless against seasoned corrupt policemen. He had advised them to drop the case since her assaulters were financially and socially non-touchable.
He set the cup down with a bang recalling the encounter.
You know Inspector, if rabid dogs could speak then these big….rich…powerful people wouldn’t have tamed policemen like you. The girl screamed the bitter, unbearable truth.
Kya bakti hai (what the hell are you saying!) The lady officer on duty had growled.
The girl had turned her burning eyes at the lady officer and returned the growl in a defiant tone. ‘When I said dog, I meant bitches too.’
Thheher jaa saali. Kutia waaley kaam khud……
Jagat Lal had stopped the lady officer who charged at her with clenched fists. Suddenly, the girl had begun laughing in a fit. With pain in her bloodshot flooded eyes and leering laughter on her face, she spewed all the poison in her heart, mind and soul.
You spineless creeps! You can only hit the helpless! I bet you don’t know who your mother was…or…she had not fed you a single drop from her breasts.
Girl’s mother had dragged her away before the fury of lady officer would smash the bounds.
The laughter pierced into Jagat Lal’s eardrums, jolting him out of his reverie. He jerked his head up to find Sukru laughing from behind the bars of the lockup. His stony stare brought an immediate halt to Sukru’s laughter. Sukru’s face was swollen all over and the defiant smile was making the sight unbearable for Jagat Lal. Then, Sukru spoke in a frank voice. ‘Aarrey Eenspekter sahib. We all are sailing in the same boat. And, this boat is not made of timber but paper. Paperboat you know? But very strong…very powerful paper. Money! Money eenspekter sahib. All these rich lords of the society have been raping us all since the day man learnt walking straight. One threw money at me and I killed for them. Another lobbed a pack of currency at you and you let the rapists walk, they will throw money at the right people and that girl will be proven a whore and people will believe. They will…..’
Jagat Lal was not listening to Sukru’s rattle. His mind flashed back to what the young rapist had said before: …this time we will take her to the hostel. When twenty heated up boys will ride that bitch she will remember the lesson. I will turn that salwar-kameez behenji into a mini-skirt whore…
He turned his attention back to still laughing Sukru. This bloody two penny contract killer dares laughing at a three star police officer on duty, that too in his own police station. Bastard!
For a whole one minute he had his stare fixated at the bloody two penny contract killer through his narrowed eyes. Then, suddenly, he barked at the Senior Police Constable outside. ‘Lala! Open the lockup! Will you?’
Slowly, he stood up with his thumbs tucked in his uniform belt. Sukru stood ramrod straight, bracing himself for another session of third degree – grabbing the cold raw iron of the bars only to let his laughter dilute down to a smirk – mocking yet.
The case didn’t stand even for a few weeks.
The public prosecutor didn’t need to exercise his deft skills much to put up the defence for, the alibi of the accused had been unshakeable. All the five key witnesses had been proved wrong. They had been screaming since the beginning that the man they had seen killing the three youngsters remorselessly was now standing right in front of them in the opposite witness box. But their description of the accused matched several thousand other people roaming around in the big city.
The case had been kicked into motion when, on a cool evening; in the semi-dark car parking outside the renowned youth club, a man shot the three youngsters into their groins before putting a bullet each in their heads as they crawled in agony, along the asphalt, leaving a blood trail behind.
Of more than a dozen onlookers, Inspector Jagat Lal could manage to round up five eye witnesses who claimed to have not only seen the killer but to recognise him from a mile. Their description of the accused matched closely to that of Sukru. But the obvious question was: How could Sukru be that killer who was already locked up under the investigation of another case?
Padma Bajaj had been present in all the hearings of the case, evidently enjoying each moment of it and the obvious reason was that the three murdered youngsters happened to be her rapists. Inspector Jagat Lal did not miss the shade of bliss and joy on the girl’s face.
Everyone knew the verdict long before judge K L Asthana affirmed it. Sukru couldn’t be and wasn’t found guilty.
Still wondering why judge K L Asthana had sent for him to see him in private, Jagat Lal looked at the old man sitting in his chair. Judge signaled him to take the chair. Jagat Lal did.
‘You know Inspector.’ Judge Asthana spoke in a deep, thoughtful tenor in his voice, ‘in most of the cases, and many times since the beginning of the case, we know, and with my long experience I bet, everybody concerned, knows whodunit… who the criminal is, long before the verdict comes through all the rigmarole of so called fight for elusive justice.
A puzzled Jagat Lal decided to keep quiet.
Judge continued. ‘This case was one such case. My heart told me that the convict Sukru was the killer. His beaming face was not of an innocent man…’
Jagat Lal’s back tensed as the old judge moved on. ‘..the five witnesses went hoarse in claiming they actually saw Sukru do it. Poor men. They were not lying.’ Judge paused to throw a straight look at the nervous sleuth in front of him.
Jagat Lal ran his drying tongue on his already dried lips.
‘But who can question the fact that Sukru had been in your custody and when his appearance matches countless men walking out there.’
Jagat Lal desperately wanted to ask what the shrewd judge meant but his realization of his smaller – almost incomparable – position kept his tongue tied.
‘And if I had not been reading newspapers, I wouldn’t have recognized that girl sitting in the audiences…what was her good name….’
‘Padma Bajaj’ Awkwardly escaped from Jagat Lal’s lips.
‘Aah yes, Padma Bajaj. See the coincidence that her accusation of her rape had gone down the records as an unsolved case and surprisingly this man… Sukru… is accused of killing ruthlessly the same three youngsters in cold blood who are said to have raped her earlier…Sukru…who had been in your custody. An open and shut case for him. Even a third grader can do the arithmetic Inspector. No?’
Jagat Lal’s adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed hard. Seeing the policeman too restless to respond, judge carried on. ‘Today, Inspector, two cases have gone down the records unsolved. An earlier case of a rape and a cold blooded triple murder but we know the truth. Sometimes, Inspector, even I like when justice takes such interesting turns with the hand of God in it…. I like it….’
Judge stood up – signaling the end of the meeting – and concluded with an almost imperceptible smile, ‘…The hand of God.’