Dec 16 gang-rape: How core team cracked case

New Delhi, Sep 10 (IANS) A hundred policemen were involved in cracking the sensational gang-rape of a 23-year-old trainee paramedic last year, but it was a core eight-member police team that went without sleep, worked 24x7 and painstakingly jotted down every minute detail to make a watertight case against the six accused, including a minor.

Despite the intense political and public scrutiny and the widespread anti-police sentiments, the core team nabbed the culprits within five days, collected crucial evidence, some based on DNA tests, and prepared in two weeks a 1,000-page charge-sheet that finally led a Delhi court Tuesday to pronounce "guilty" the four men behind the heinous crime. This is because one of the six is a minor and another died in jail during the trial.

The minor, who was described by the police as the "most brutal of all", was remanded to a special home for three years by a juvenile justice court on Aug 3, the maximum under the law for juveniles, even though the minor has now turned 18.

IANS spoke to key members of the team to piece together how the men and women in khaki solved the Dec 16 case that jolted the collective conscience of the nation, led to massive street protests and also gave Delhi the sobriquet of "rape capital".

The special investigating team (SIT), headed by Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police P.S. Kushwaha, was formed within days of the brutal attack on the young woman who was gangraped on a moving bus. The victim's male friend was also beaten up when he protested. Both of them were thrown out in the cold December night.

Kushwaha told IANS he was confident that the cases against the accused "would stand the test".

* P.S. Kushwaha: The work didn't end after the arrest of all the accused. The major challenge was to take the case to its logical end. The SIT was tasked to collect the evidence so that the case against the accused was watertight.

The interrogation of the accused and collaborating their statements were important to piece the sequence of events. We divided the SIT in two groups. One was tasked to prepare the charge sheet and the other was to just concentrate on collecting scientific evidences.

All our evidence has been backed by DNA tests - from the teeth to the clothes of the accused - this was done for the first time. The accused had burned the clothes of the victim and her male colleague to destroy evidence. We found partially burned clothes. DNA tests confirmed that they belonged to the victims.

The accused had also cleaned the bus to remove all evidences. Despite this, we were able to lift blood samples and through DNA matched it to the victim.

Our charge-sheet was so strong against the accused that even if all the 88 witnesses had turned hostile, our case against them would have stood the test.

* Assistant Commissioner of Police Ramesh Chander: As we were camped in Vasant Vihar, my main job was to ensure that the team worked without any hiccups. As the public was very agitated and many protestors, as well as members from the media, used to camp outside the police station I had to ensure that nothing disturbs the peace of the group.

The challenge was to keep the angry crowd calm. I kept patrolling the area to maintain peace.

I was also responsible for coordination between the team members.

* Inspector Rajender Singh: The Vasant Vihar police station was the nerve center of all the investigation. After the last arrest on Dec 21, we started collecting evidences like matching the bite marks on the victim's body with the accused teeth through DNA, matching the blood spots in the bus with the victim's and other little, little things. My job was also to push the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) for giving the test results fast.

From Dec 29 to Jan 3, we worked continuously. No member of the SIT slept in these crucial six days.

We closed the gate of the police station as media was camping outside. I remember the time when most of us started using the back gate. But despite pressures, we continued to work without break.

* Inspector Anil Sharma (station house officer, Vasant Vihar): As the investigating officer (IO) of the case my work was a little tough. From day one, I knew the case was going to be tough. We all accepted the challenge.

The collection of scientific and medical examination of the accused and their TIP (test identification parade), the recording of the statements of the accused and victim before the magistrate, briefing the seniors of day-to-day developments sometimes through video conferencing was my job.

* Inspector Atul Kumar (the then SHO Malviya Nagar): We all chiefly assisted the investigation. I contributed to the 1,000-page charge sheet. My objective was to piece together the sequence of the crime so that the prosecution finds its job easy.

* Chhaya Sharma (now deputy inspector general of police in Mizoram who was the deputy commissioner of police of the area where the crime occurred): It was the team effort of our men that made it possible for us to make such a strong case against the accused. There was lot of pressure from all sides but the teams worked hard. It was a blind case when we started, but we soon nabbed the culprit. Out of the six, two were arrested from Rajasthan within 24 hours of Dec 16. In the next two days, we were able to arrest two others. The last two, including the minor, were apprehended from Delhi and Bihar Dec 21.

The SIT was directly reporting to her and she was then briefing her seniors and on occasions the media.

Besides these officers, there were around hundred police officers who were involved in the arrests and subsequent investigation.

(Alok Singh can be contacted at alok.s@ians.in)

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