A frame-up most foul

Almost three years after Komal Lodha, a younger farm labourer, was sentenced to loss of life by a trial court docket for the rape and homicide of a tribal youngster in his village, the Rajasthan Excessive Court docket has discovered that he was wrongfully prosecuted within the case. Abhinay Lakshman stories on the police investigation that led to the conviction

Almost three years after Komal Lodha, a younger farm labourer, was sentenced to loss of life by a trial court docket for the rape and homicide of a tribal youngster in his village, the Rajasthan Excessive Court docket has discovered that he was wrongfully prosecuted within the case. Abhinay Lakshman stories on the police investigation that led to the conviction

On the night of July 27, 2018, Naina (7) informed her mother and father that she was going to a retailer near their dwelling in Rajasthan’s Mogyabeh village in Jhalawar district. She disappeared into the nightfall. It was across the similar time that Komal Lodha (then 17) was being served dinner at his dwelling, his mom says. The subsequent day, Naina was discovered 500 metres from her dwelling — raped and murdered — and Lodha was arrested for her killing. He was convicted and sentenced to loss of life by a trial court docket inside a 12 months of the incident.

4 years later, the State Police have been pressured to reopen the investigation into Naina’s loss of life and begin from scratch after the Rajasthan Excessive Court docket discovered that the DNA proof within the case absolved Lodha and that he had been wrongfully prosecuted by the police.

As 21-year-old Lodha waits in a Kota jail for his conviction to be overturned, the residents of Mogyabeh, numbering lower than 1,000, are clueless, similar to the police, about who might have killed the tribal woman. However not like the police, they refuse to consider that somebody from their village might have murdered her. The villagers say they believed Lodha was concerned solely as a result of the police had insisted that they’d “take a look at outcomes” that pointed to his involvement. Immediately, regardless of the Excessive Court docket’s discovering, some nonetheless maintain Lodha accountable, whereas others are confused.

Komal Lodha’s arrest

The lads within the village recall how the police had arrived at their conclusion inside hours of discovering Naina’s physique. “They stormed the village after the woman was discovered. The police referred to as for each man aged 18 to 50, gathered us all on the authorities college right here and began stripping us down. They checked our personal components for indicators of accidents. Lodha was additionally there,” remembers 35-year-old Vimal as he lights a bidi within the village sq..

Lodha’s older brother, Biramchand Lodha, was additionally picked up. “They saved saying they wanted to establish anybody who was performing ‘nervous’. We had been bare and the police saved touching our personal components. So far as I might see, everybody there was nervous,” Biramchand Lodha says.

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Vimal, Biramchand Lodha and a minimum of two different males within the village who describe having been subjected to the identical unnerving course of say that the police ultimately pulled out three or 4 males from the road of suspects. They allegedly seen a mark on one in all them, Komal Lodha. As per court docket information, Lodha was arrested on July 28.

The fields the place the younger woman’s physique was discovered.
| Picture Credit score: Abhinay Lakshman

Nevertheless, within the cost sheet, the police’s narrative of how they zeroed in on Lodha because the prime suspect is basically completely different from the occasions that villagers in Mogyabeh recall. The police claimed that a number of villagers, together with Naina’s mother and father and her cousins, had “seen her go away with Lodha”. The police insisted that they went in search of Lodha primarily based on the statements of those witnesses and {that a} canine squad additionally led them to his dwelling.

“We by no means informed the police that we suspected anybody or that we had seen Lodha with our daughter. We didn’t even discover the physique; the police discovered it. The police got here and informed us the day after she was discovered that they’d arrested Lodha and that he had killed our youngster. So, we believed them and held him accountable,” says Naina’s mom, after discovering out in July this 12 months in regards to the Rajasthan Excessive Court docket’s ruling. The FIR within the case, lodged on the grievance of Naina’s father, a day after she went lacking, additionally doesn’t point out the kid being taken away by somebody.

Finally, after they deposed earlier than the trial court docket, each mother and father insisted that they noticed Lodha taking away their daughter. Furthermore, the police had recorded statements of different villagers, together with Naina’s minor cousin, who purportedly stated they final noticed Lodha with Naina. In court docket, nevertheless, all of the witnesses admitted that they’d not seen Lodha get violent with Naina or rape her or kill her.

Whereas each Biramchand and his mom say they weren’t very near Komal Lodha, they insisted that on the day Naina went lacking, he was at dwelling consuming dinner, after which he went into his room.

The police filed their cost sheet towards Lodha on August 7, inside 10 days of his arrest and almost two months earlier than the DNA end result from collected samples got here again on September 9. The crime had occurred close to the Meeting constituency of the then Chief Minister, Vasundhara Raje, who was on the point of face an Meeting election months later.

The trial court docket in Jhalawar started listening to the case in 2018. In October that 12 months, it concluded that Lodha was an grownup regardless that his mark sheet and his college principal testified to his date of start — each figuring out him as a juvenile as per the Juvenile Justice Act. As an alternative, the court docket relied on the assertion of a physician, who estimated that Lodha was between the ages of 19 and 21, primarily based on his X-ray stories. This physician was not a radiologist.

The cost sheet towards Lodha was filed below Sections 363 (punishment for kidnapping), 376 (rape), 377 (unnatural offences), 302 (homicide), and 201 (inflicting disappearance of proof of offence, or giving false data to display screen offender) of the Indian Penal Code; Part 5(m) and Part 6 of the The Safety of Youngsters from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO); and Sections 3(1)(w)(i) and a pair of(5) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, often known as the SC/ST Act, provided that Naina was from a Scheduled Tribe. Save for the fees below the SC/ST Act, the trial court docket convicted Lodha of all different expenses on September 23, 2019.

Along with the witness statements, the police had used a purported confession by Lodha, recorded in police custody, to prosecute him within the case. After his arrest, the police workforce led by the Superintendent of Police, Jhalawar, introduced Lodha again to the village now and again to get well what they referred to as “proof”. This included the pair of slippers Naina was sporting when she went lacking, which was recovered inside 200 ft of the place her physique was discovered. Of their cost sheet, the police stated that Lodha’s confession allegedly led them to the slippers. They argued that the restoration made on the idea of the confession would strengthen the credibility of the confession regardless that Lodha denied the fees towards him in court docket.

The DNA proof

After counting on this evidentiary materials, which the Rajasthan Excessive Court docket has now dominated as “circumstantial”, the trial court docket relied on the DNA proof introduced earlier than it by the prosecution to convict Lodha. The prosecution had submitted that the male DNA profile recovered from the sufferer’s vaginal swab and her leggings matched with the profile discovered on Lodha’s underwear. It had additionally stated that the DNA profile from his underwear matched with the profile obtained from his blood pattern. Putting this on file, the trial court docket had dominated that “there isn’t any room for doubt” that Lodha had raped and killed Naina.

However what the prosecution disregarded and what the trial court docket failed to say in its order was that two separate male DNA profiles had been recovered from the vaginal swab and the leggings of the sufferer and two male DNA profiles had been additionally recovered from Lodha’s underwear. The findings of the DNA evaluation, recorded by the Forensic Science Laboratory in Jaipur, confirmed that one of many DNA profiles on Lodha’s underwear matched along with his blood pattern. Nevertheless, the opposite male DNA profile on his underwear matched the male profile discovered on the leggings and vaginal swab of the sufferer and didn’t match with Lodha’s blood pattern. Because of this the DNA profile of the accused that was discovered on the sufferer had by some means appeared on Lodha’s purported underwear by the point it was despatched for forensic evaluation.

Primarily based on these findings of the DNA evaluation, the Rajasthan Excessive Court docket concluded that the police had failed to have a look at the proof at hand of their rush to prosecute the case, and proof appeared to have been planted on Lodha to safe a conviction. What strengthened the Excessive Court docket’s suspicion of proof being planted was that the police confirmed restoration of the underwear almost seven hours after Lodha’s arrest.

“They had been clearly in a rush due to some type of stress. In any other case, why file a cost sheet with out even ready for the DNA report to substantiate their investigation,” requested advocate Nitin Jain, who was the primary to seek out that the DNA evaluation absolved Lodha, and made his case earlier than the Excessive Court docket.

Although the police in Jhalawar have reopened the investigation into the case primarily based on the Rajasthan Excessive Court docket’s route, they’re but to start out enquiring how investigators bought it improper the primary time round. “Now that we’ve got reopened the case, we’ll examine it once more and if we discover something that exhibits police misconduct, we’ll register an FIR and proceed accordingly,” says Richa Tomar, Superintendent of Police, Jhalawar. She provides that there isn’t any breakthrough within the case on discovering Naina’s killers.

A confused village

The locals in Mogyabeh village, which is situated within the dense forests alongside the border of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, have no idea what to consider anymore. Whereas a few of them refuse to revisit that chapter of the village’s historical past and proceed to consider that Lodha killed Naina, others are not positive. Regardless, Naina’s rape and homicide and Lodha’s subsequent conviction for it have modified the lives of the villagers ceaselessly.

On the one hand, Naina’s mother and father are furious that their closure got here from the police’s obvious false claims. They insist on holding Lodha answerable for the loss of life of their daughter until the police right their mistake. “The police first got here to inform us that Lodha was the one who killed Naina. We believed them, went to court docket, and ultimately made our peace with the truth that the particular person accountable had been caught. Now the court docket is saying the police made a mistake. What are we to do? Whether it is their mistake, they need to right it and inform us who killed our daughter. Until then, we’ve got no choice however to consider that he (Lodha) killed her,” says Naina’s father.

However, Lodha’s household has been ostracised by the villagers. Buddies of many years have refused to affiliate with them. Relegated to the outskirts of the village, Lodha’s members of the family hold themselves busy on their farms, the place Komal Lodha used to assist them. “We used to run a puncture store within the village earlier. It was a really social place. Our pals used to speak with us there often. We needed to shut store and now barely anybody comes to go to us or discuss to us. Each time we go right into a retailer or cross by the village sq., we get soiled seems to be. Folks hold calling us a assassin’s household and hold abusing us. After a degree we thought-about leaving the village, however folks we knew from close by villages stated we must always keep put and that they’d assist us if wanted,” Biramchand Lodha says.

The household has additionally been unable to get Lodha’s sister married due to the allegations levelled by the police towards him. “Anybody who involves see her ultimately finds out in regards to the case after which refuses to get their son married to our sister,” Biramchand Lodha says.

As an alternative of bringing them aid, the Rajasthan Police’s re-investigation into the case has solely introduced extra bother for this household belonging to the Different Backward Lessons. “The police got here again to query me a month in the past. They saved asking me if the underwear recovered within the case was mine primarily based on its model, VIP. Then they requested me if I put on the identical model. However this can be a standard model. Half the boys within the nation in all probability put on this model,” Biramchand Lodha says. He remembers how he was taken to the police station in 2018 and allegedly overwhelmed up earlier than the police concluded that he was not concerned.

“Truthfully, I don’t consider that the police will get anyplace with the case until they first discuss to Lodha calmly, with out intimidating him and verify if he is aware of the rest in regards to the perpetrators. It’s doable that he was a witness to the incident and was subsequently framed,” Jain says. Now, a revision petition has been filed within the Supreme Court docket, difficult the highest court docket’s order earlier this 12 months upholding Lodha’s conviction, he says.

After the trial court docket convicted him and sentenced him to loss of life within the case, Lodha approached the Rajasthan Excessive Court docket with an attraction, the place the conviction was upheld however the loss of life sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Urgent for the loss of life penalty, the State of Rajasthan then moved a loss of life reference petition within the Supreme Court docket. The apex court docket once more upheld the conviction however despatched the matter again to the Rajasthan Excessive Court docket for deciding on the loss of life penalty. It was throughout this listening to that Jain determined to look for Lodha professional bono and sought the possibility to current arguments with regard to the DNA proof. Following this, a two-judge bench of the Rajasthan Excessive Court docket concluded that the DNA proof absolved Lodha. However for the reason that Excessive Court docket had been restricted by the Supreme Court docket to solely have a look at the sentencing, it commuted the loss of life sentence to life in jail and was unable to overturn the conviction. It directed the police to reopen the case. Because of this, Lodha stays in jail, “convicted” of rape and homicide, ready for both his attraction to be filed or for his revision petition to be determined by the Supreme Court docket.

The identify of the sufferer has been modified to guard her id

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