Fact-finding report in the Jawahar Nagar death case: an enquiry into the extremely unfortunate death of a young boy and the biased investigation by the local police
Ricky James a boy aged 13 years and studying in 8th class died on 9 November 2014. The individuals the parents hold responsible for Ricky’s death, the local police and the media’s account is that Ricky hung himself to death.Ricky’s parents say they have reason to believe Ricky did not commit suicide as reported. Upon coming to know that the investigation into this case is not being done in an impartial manner, a fact-finding team comprising of 4 members of the Human Rights Forum looked into this matter over the course of 4 days, 5-8 December, and came to the following conclusions.
Ricky James is the elder son of Gala Samson and Gala Suvarna. Theirs is a Christian family belonging to the Madiga caste (SC). They live in a small house in Subhadramma Colony, Santosh Nagar, which comes under the Jawahar Nagar police station limits, on the outskirts of Hyderabad. Ricky’s father, Samson, works as a supervisor in Cafe Bahar, a restaurant in Basheerbagh. Ricky’s mother, Suvarna, works as a nurse in Lifeline Hospital, Kapra, situated about 3 KM from their home. Ricky was a student of Eklavya Memorial School which is not far from their house. Ricky’s younger brother lives along with their grandmother in Jangaon, Warangal district.
On Sunday, 9 November 2014, in the evening, Ricky played cricket with his friends in a playground nearby. They played multiple matches betting against each other and Ricky’s team supposedly won 3 out of 4 matches due to which Ricky got Rs. 150. After the cricket game the friends dispersed and Ricky played “Tip-Top” (Hide and seek) with some other friends near his house. After that, around 7 PM, he went to his aunt Anitha’s house, which is right next-door to theirs. Shortly onwards he went to a store belonging to a lady by the name Samadhanam nearby to buy some snacks as he usually does. However, there was no one in the store as Samadhanam went to her house next-door to drink some water. What ensued after she came back is uncertain. However, there are two main versions:
1) The storekeeper, the police and the media version:
When Samadhanam came back to the store, she saw Ricky coming out from inside the store with money stuffed in his pockets. And, according to her, the cash box in the store was empty which led her to assume that Ricky stole the money. The quantum of money Ricky allegedly stole varied from about Rs. 1500 according to Samadhama’s son Ramesh to about Rs. 5000 according to Ramesh’s wife Sandhya. Newspapers reported Ricky as having stolen Rs. 3000 to Rs. 5000 from the store. According to Samadhanam, her son Ramesh, and daughter-in-law Sandhya, after being caught stealing, Samadhanam held Ricky’s shirt and scolded him for taking money from the cash box and told him they would report it to his parents when they are back. Ramesh, Sandhya and Saraswati, a neighbour also reprimanded Ricky for having taken money from the store. Thereafter Ricky supposedly threw all the money from his pockets into the store and ran towards his home.
2) The parents, relatives and some neighbours’ version
Samadhanam, soon after returning to the store, having noticed the money Ricky had in his pocket, assumed he stole the money from the store’s cash box. Samadhanam, Ramesh, Sandhya and Saraswati, a neigbour, scolded and beat up Ricky rather roughly. From being beaten up thus Ricky fell unconscious, the exact reason for which is not known. Being frightened of what that might lead to, Ramesh and others took the key to the house that was in Ricky’s pocket, and took his unconscious body to his house. (There are supposedly three keys to their house, one each with Ricky, his father and his mother.) The parents say they have reason to believe that after having taken the body stealthily to Ricky’s house, Ramesh and others tied a saree to the fan to make it seem like a case of hanging. Then they bolted the doors of the house and the gate as if Ricky would’ve himself if he were committing suicide and got out by climbing the compound wall.
Though these two versions of the intervening period are radically different, what happened after that seems to be consistently agreed upon:
Samadhanam, Sandhya and Saraswathi went to Ricky’s aunt Anitha’s house which is right next to Ricky’s home to inform her that Ricky was caught stealing and that now he has locked himself up in his home. Anitha said she’ll come look into the matter herself. When no amount of calling Ricky from outside their compound wall yielded any response from Ricky, Anitha’s elder son was helped to climb over the wall. He went and knocked on the locked door trying to elicit some response from Ricky but there was none. Then, a neigbour of Samadhanam and Ramesh, Bhaskar, along with another individual climbed onto the window overhang and tried looking into the house through the ventilator. They yelled that Ricky has hung himself in the room. Hearing this Anitha started screaming in a panic. Some neighbours ran to the scene hearing the screams. It was almost 7:30 to 8 PM then. Bhaskar and another individual from the area, Ankam, kicked open the door and went in.
Thereafter Anand and Praveen, who live close to Ricky’s house also jumped over the wall and went in. When they entered they noticed Ricky’s body lying on the bed in the room. Pending the post-mortem report, assuming even that is honestly done, the only individuals to testify to Ricky hanging from the fan are Bhaskar and Ankam. And those are two individuals Ricky’s parents and Aunt have no faith in as they believe they were acting at the behest of the storekeeper Samadhanam and Ramesh.
Ricky’s body was taken over the wall and to a nearby hospital where the chief doctor there supposedly said that Ricky had died quite a while ago.
When this case came to the notice of the Jawahar Nagar police, the investigating officer, Mr. N. Venkanna came onto the scene. He oversaw the Panchnama of Ricky’s dead body. He supposedly demanded and took Rs. 2000 from Ricky’s family for the Panchnama process.
Thereafter the body was sent to Gandhi Hospital in Secunderabad for post-mortem examination. Meanwhile Ricky’ father Samson and a couple neighbours and elders from the areas went to the police station to give a complaint in this case. The S.I. of police Mr. Venkanna, did not take down Samson’s complaint which he wrote himself but had a different version written by the staff at the police station and insisted that Samson sign that complaint. Samson wasn’t willing to sign that complaint as the complaint stated that Ricky had committed suicide. Samson repeatedly informed Mr. Venkanna that he has doubt over how Ricky died and that he doesn’t believe he committed suicide and therefore that he won’t sign the complaint that Mr. Venkanna had drafted saying Ricky committed suicide. However, Mr. Venkanna did not heed what Mr. Samson or the other individuals that came along with him, including their Church pastor. Not only would Mr. Venkanna not let Samson write a complaint on his own, he warned Samson that said that if he didn’t sign the complaint that Venkanna had drafted, they won’t get Ricky’s body back anytime soon from the hospital. After having been made to sit in the police station until 3.00 am that night without his complaint being taken, when Samson heard that Mr. Venkanna wouldn’t let Ricky’s body come back soon, he felt compelled to sign the complaint that Mr. Venkanna had drafted.
Ricky’s body was taken to Gandhi Hospital at around 1 AM on 10 November. At around 4:30 PM on that day Dr. Mohan Singh at Gandhi Hospital supposedly said that he’s done with his working hours at the hospital that day and that if he has to work overtime for conducting the post-mortem exam, they’ll have to give him Rs. 6000. When Ricky’s family pleaded that they cannot pay that amount and when they told Dr. Mohan Singh that one of their relatives is an employee at the hospital, he reduced his demand to Rs. 2000. However, Ricky’s family supposedly only gave him Rs. 1500. Ricky’s family further claims that Dr. Mohan Singh went out with the police S.I. Mr. Venkanna on his bike for about half an hour and that that raised doubts in their minds regarding the honesty of the doctor.
Newspaper accounts
Three Telugu newspapers, Namasthe Telangana, Saakshi and Eenadu reported the incident in an extremely biased manner. They declared him a thief without any qualifications and based solely on the police and the shop-owning family’s version though they did take down Ricky’s family’s and his neighbours version of the story too when they went there for reporting. As if this weren’t enough, they have printed a picture of the boy and his family in the papers. Such biased and humiliating reports were printed not only in the Hyderabad edition but in the Warangal edition too since Ricky’s mother is originally from Warangal. Ricky’s parents, relatives and friends of the family are extremely hurt by this unfair, defamatory reportage done in an extremely careless manner that judged Ricky as having committed theft.
The role of the police: in the taking of complaint(s) and investigation
If the newspaper reporting has been humiliating for the family, the extremely insensitive and corrupt manner in which the Jawahar Nagar police have handled the case is hurtful to say the least. The police wouldn’t take a complaint from Samson until the 26th of November. The police were finally compelled to take the complaint on that day as Ricky’s parents appealed to several higher officials in the Government and they had asked the Inspector of Police in Jawahar Nagar, Mr. Venkatagiri, to take Samson’s complaint. On 26th November, Samson filed a complaint in the Jawahar Nagar police station saying he was made to sign the original complaint that was drafted by Mr. Venkanna against his wishes and that Ricky’s family doesn’t believe Ricky committed suicide because neither Ricky’s parents, nor his aunt, nor their immediate neigbours, nor the S.I. Venkanna had seen Ricky’s body hanging. Further, very importantly, he says in that complaint that they suspect Ricky’s death is due to being beaten by Ramesh, Sandhya, Samadhanam, Saraswathi, Bhaskar and Ankam.
The police, on their part, have taken statements only from Ramesh, Sandhya, Samadhanam, Saraswathi, Bhaskar, and maybe one or two other individuals. All of these are individuals that Ricky’s family has suspicion about. Just based on their statements, they have come to the conclusion that it’s a straightforward case: theft by Ricky followed by oral reprimand by the storeowner’s family and neighbours and subsequent suicide by Ricky fearing that his parents would be informed.
The police did not talk with the some of the first people that were there who are claiming to have witnessed a version of events different from what they have concluded based on the suspected individuals’ statements. For example, they did not talk with Anitha, Ricky’s aunt, nor did they talk with Anand or Praveen who entered the room to have seen Ricky lying motionless on the bed. They did not talk with Asha, Mr. Anand’s wife, and a neigbour who took Ricky to the hospital and who was told that the death happened quite some time ago and not just some time ago. All these witnesses are shocked at how the police could have arrived at the conclusion they did without finding out if those conclusions have a basis in the accounts of anyone other than the storeowner’s family and their friends.
Neither the police nor the news reporters made a visit to Ricky’s school to find out what kind of a child Ricky was.
Questions and concerns that raise doubts on the honesty of the police investigation
Despite the complaint Samson, Ricky’s father, gave on the 26th of November, expressing the doubts he did, the police did not care to interrogate any other individuals besides whom they interrogated already by then: Samadhanam, Ramesh, their family and friends. Many residents in the colony who were present that night are willing to talk about what they have seen but they say no police officer has come to ask them what they have seen. What explains this strange investigation process?
Contrary to Anand’s testimony, Ramesh’s wife Sandhya told us that Bhaskar held Ricky up while Anand untied Ricky’s body from the fan.
Everyone says the lights were off in the room that Ricky was found in that night. And with the lights off, nothing in the room is visible through the ventilator that late in the evening as we have witnessed ourselves. So how could Bhaskar and Ankam and whoever else that looked through the ventilator that night see so clearly that Ricky had hung himself?
Why did Bhaskar and Ankam (and Ramesh too?) not try to easily break open the glass window panes before they broke open the door or climbed the window overhang? Could it be that they were afraid others looking over the compound wall would see that Ricky wasn’t really hanging from the fan?
How come the police do not have any pictures indicating how the hanging could have taken place? After having untied Ricky’s neck, who removed the saree tied to the fan and why?
According to Anand, who is one of the prime witnesses the day of Ricky’s death and who is willing to give his testimony which has a different version of events, on Saturday, 22 November, Ramesh called Anand around 10:30 AM and told him the S.I., Venkanna, wants him to come to the police station. This call can certainly be established through call records. What’s the motive behind such a call?
Though we didn’t get a chance to talk with him as he was in school when we went to the colony, we heard of a child Rakesh, studying in 9th class, who overheard Saraswathi, Samadhanam’s neighbour, having said, in the midst of scolding Ricky, that he might as well hang himself than live like a thief. It seems possible that such unwitting utterances by the shopkeeper’s family and neighbours could have had an influence in how Ricky chose to deal with the situation, if at all it is established in an unbiased manner that he did commit suicide.
And doesn’t it seem extremely unimaginable how a 13-year old, without fear, without pausing to re-think at any point the action he’s going through, and without difficulty, would go through all the steps involved in hanging oneself to death? Carefully locking the gate in their house, locking up all the doors, taking a saree out, tying it to the fan in a strong knot, tying the saree at the right distance from the fan around his neck and then finally jumping off the bed.
And can a child do all this in total darkness? The witnesses that were present outside the wall that night, while Bhaskar and Ankam broke open the door and entered the room Ricky was found in, say all the lights were out in the house that night.
Veeresh, one of the individuals that went with Ricky’s body to the hospital supposedly asked Ramesh at the hospital what happened. And Ramesh supposedly told him that he beat Ricky and that he has taken some 10 rupee notes. Ricky’s friends who played cricket with him that day also say that the Rs. 150 he won that evening through the cricket matches were mostly, if not all, 10 rupee notes. They also said that Ricky kept taking out the money and counting it frequently that evening after the cricket match. Could he have been doing that even at the store while he was waiting for someone to buy his snacks from. And could Samadhanam have mistakenly assumed that the money Ricky had with him was taken from the store’s cash box?
According to our enquiries at Ricky’s school and in Ricky’s neighbourhood, Ricky never felt deprived of money, relative to most children. Some classmates of Ricky’s even told us that Ricky used to bring about Rs. 200 to Rs. 300 to school since about 2-3 days before his death. He supposedly told them his mother gave him that money. His mother also independently agreed that she gave him that money for buying cricket gear. His friends additionally said that as far as they could gather, it seemed to them that Ricky was friendly with his parents and not terrified of them as some children are. In light of Ricky not seeming to be a deprived child, and in light of Ricky having just won Rs. 150 in cricket matches, it does not seem entirely plausible that a 13 year old like him from a lower-middle class family would want more money that same evening and that too by stealing.
The police didn’t seize the money that Ricky allegedly stole and threw down into the store before leaving. Given the gravity of the case, they should have had the money forensically examined to see if there were Ricky’s fingerprints on the notes.
What we are asking for — what needs to be done
How Ricky seems to have died is not as obvious as the police claim. The police are playing a very dubious role in this investigation. This is obvious from the first stages of the investigation itself: refusing to take Samson’s complaint, drafting a complaint as they saw fit and lodging an FIR on that basis. Why are the possibilities of murder or abetment of suicide not being looked into given all the questions and concerns that arose through our very basic enquiries? We feel that in light of the extremely flawed investigation that is taking place, the possibility of the investigating officer, Mr. Venkanna, and Mr. Venkatagiri, the inspector in charge of the Jawahar Nagar police station might have taken favours from the storeowner’s family in exchange for conducting the investigation in this particular manner. How else can one explain such a biased investigation?
We ask for the following two things:
1) In the interest of fairness, the case must immediately be transferred to an investigating authority independent of the Jawahar Nagar police.
2) An enquiry must be held into why the investigation up to now has been so flawed and, if the flaws are established, disciplinary action must be taken against both the aforementioned police officers.
The fact-finding team:
1) N. Amar (Executive Committee Member, Human Rights Forum)
2) S. Sujana (Member, Human Rights Forum, Hyderabad unit)
3) B. Surya Kiran (Member, Human Rights Forum, Hyderabad unit)
4) P. Gowthamvyas (Member, Human Rights Forum, Hyderabad unit)
5) Leila Gautam