The Conductor Must Have Done It

Social Commentary

The Conductor Must Have Done It

Illustration: Palak Bansal

The story of the Pradyuman Thakur murder case had a sudden change in trajectory today. It went from being a case about school safety to one that will weigh on the nation’s conscience, just like the Aarushi-Hemraj double murder once did.

The CBI today arrested an 11th-grade student for the murder of Pradyuman Thakur, the unfortunate seven-year-old who was found in Ryan International school’s toilet on August 8 with his throat slit. If the murder of one child at the hands of another is a tragic situation, then the reasons for the act are even more so. According to reports, the 11th-grader confessed to the crime, saying he did it because he wanted the parent-teacher meeting and exams postponed.

As the country hunkers down to meditatively chew upon this new development and what it says about the world we are creating for our children, we’ve conveniently bypassed an important figure in the story. The bus conductor, Ashok Kumar, who was held by the police after “confessing” to murdering Pradyuman. This so-called confession, launched a furore against everything from the school’s standards of safety, to the use of toilets, and minds of bus conductors and the support staff responsible for our children. In the end, the case had boiled down to class. Us vs them. Rich vs poor. Aarushi and Hemraj, all over again.

Hemraj was an easy answer for Aarushi. Just like Ashok was for Pradyuman.

Right from the get go, when news of Aarushi’s murder surfaced, the Talwar’s domestic help Hemraj was the first, immediate, and obvious suspect. It had to be the help, who else? How many times do we casually hear, “Chori naukar ne hi ki hogi”? The butler did it. Had his body not been found the next day, Hemraj would have been made to “confess” to the crime too. Hemraj was an easy answer for Aarushi. Just like Ashok was for Pradyuman.

When the pressure is tight and our reactionary politicians under the scanner, the police seem to gravitate toward the easy pickings, unsuspecting folks from classes lower than ours, who can fit into our model of justice. The idea of a crime being committed by educated, English-speaking, and Gucci-wearing people is unthinkable. See those spotless white linen shirts – those couldn’t possibly absorb the red of blood! So we go catch the worn-out khakhi-wearing conductor. The narrative fits neatly into our social understanding, which relates income with goodness, because rich people are assumed incapable of cruelty. It is the reason that the Sheena Bora murder case excites and upsets the hell out of us, because it involves two of the biggest, richest media magnates of the country.

Ashok will probably be stuck in limbo, leading a life of infamy, forever “that Ryan school suspect”

Here’s a fun fact: Even as the CBI has caught the “murderer”, Ashok Kumar is still in Jail, pending a bail application being filed tomorrow. His lawyer has come out strongly against the Gurgaon police, saying he is liable to sue the force and charge them with defamation when Ashok’s innocence is established. Ashok may want to sue the state too and he probably should, but we are not the United States of America. Basketball player Thabo Sefolosha might have received four million in damages from the New York Police Department, but Ashok Kumar will likely not get anything. That’s just not how it works in this country, where a poor person’s reputation is worth nothing, where they’re guilty until proven innocent.

The poverty-stricken Muslim men released nine years after being wrongly convicted in the Malegaon blast case, are still waiting to be recognised as innocent, let alone get any damages. Even as they limp back to normalcy, the stain of Malegaon follows them. Ashok too, will probably be stuck in limbo, leading a life of infamy, forever “that Ryan school suspect”, an agony only he will be privy to. Meanwhile, India and its police will move on. To another case with another easy suspect, another faceless, powerless person whose only misfortune was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.