Arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, this Kerala man went on to prove his innocence

VK Thajudheen, who had come to his hometown Kannur from Qatar to conduct his daughter’s wedding, suddenly found himself behind bars for a crime he had nothing to do with.
Kannur native VK Thajudheen, who was wrongfully arrested for chain-snatching, in a blue shirt and glasses
Kannur native VK Thajudheen, who was wrongfully arrested for chain-snatching, in a blue shirt and glasses
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Troubles caused by a doppelganger makes for a good movie plot line. However, the story of Kannur native VK Thajudheen, who spent 54 days in jail and lost his business in Qatar because the police mistook him for a chain-snatcher, is strange beyond imagination.

Arriving in Kerala from Qatar on June 25, 2018 on a short leave of 15 days to conduct the wedding of his elder daughter, Thajudheen never imagined that his life was going to change forever in a few days. Two days after the nikkah, as Thajudheen’s car was entering a lane about 100 m from his house at Kadidur at 1 am, he saw two police jeeps parked, one almost blocking the way. The policemen sought assistance to free their jeep as it was stuck in mud. Thajudheen’s son and a friend left while the rest of the family stayed inside the car.

“Soon the friendly tone of the policemen changed and they tried to force me out of the car. I protested when they demanded to see my IDs. They showed a blurred photo from some CCTV footage to my wife. She said that the person looked like me. Then Sub Inspector P Biju and a few other policemen pulled me away and said they knew that I was behind a robbery. Hurling abuses at me, they asked me to admit to the crime. Later, they took me to the police station,” said Thajudheen.

After keeping Thajudheen waiting at the station the whole night, the team led by SI Biju began questioning him from around 8 am the next day. “They took away my shirt and trousers. They made me sit in a corner of the room in just my underwear and started threatening me. Failing to make me confess, they tried to tie my legs together to beat my feet with lathis. I told them that I was diabetic and if they hit my feet, they could rather kill me. At one point, the SI slapped me. The policemen kept pushing and pulling till someone told them that the media people had arrived. So they gave me back my clothes and presented me to the media as the chain-snatcher. While I was brought downstairs, my family was waiting for me. My 7-year-old son was so shocked to see me in that state that we had to take him for counselling later,” said the 45-year-old.

After the initial confusion, things began unravelling. There was a robbery at a nearby place, Chorakkalam, where a bespectacled man on a scooter had snatched a woman’s gold chain. Tracking the route of ‘a bald man’ from CCTV visuals, the police found that he took a turn at a road, which incidentally was enroute Thajudheen’s house. An innocuous comment by someone that the man looked like Thajudheen was enough for the police to come to a quick conclusion that he was the accused.

CCTV visual of the accused after the chain-snatching incident
To make things worse, the victim ‘identified’ Thajudheen as the accused while some witnesses said that the man was a bit heavier than him. Evidence in favour of Thajudheen such as a beautician’s statement that he had come to drop his daughter around the same time and location per his mobile tower were ignored by the police.

“They said that I was making Drishyam-model alibis. I said if I were that intelligent, why would I commit such a crime without wearing a helmet, that too just two days after my daughter’s wedding. They made up stories that I was in dire need of money to meet my daughter’s wedding expenses and for my son’s higher studies,” he said.

The hope that his innocence would soon be proved made Thajudheen brave the physical and mental torture. But to his shock, the Thalassery CJM court remanded him to judicial custody and he was incarcerated in the sub-jail for 54 days.

In a bizarre twist, the destiny of finding the real robber too fell on Thajudheen. Had he not received a call from his friend in Qatar, the tag of ‘robber’ would have haunted him for his lifetime.

“I hardly went out after getting bail. On the request of friends and family, I posted my ordeal on Facebook. Among various calls to express solidarity, one was from my friend in Qatar who said that his cousin in Kannur knew a person nearby who looked similar and was a disreputable character. When I contacted his cousin, he provided me with more details like his photos, Facebook profile, etc,” he said.

In the parallel investigation conducted by Thajudheen and his relatives, they matched a watch and a steel kada (bracelet) worn by the man in the CCTV footage to the Facebook photos of Mahe-native Sarath Valsaraj. Even the dark marks on his forehead matched.

Sarath Valsaraj, the actual chain-snatcher
With the help of Kondotty MLA TV Ibrahim, Thajudheen’s family filed complaints with the Chief Minister and the DGP for reinvestigation. A DySP-led investigation by the Crime Branch proved that Sarath was the real accused. It was also found that he was involved in a similar chain-snatching incident at another location. Evidence such as the gold chain and his scooter were recovered. Finally, Thajudheen was exonerated.

SI Biju, who once hogged the media limelight for his popular initiatives at Kannur’s Chakkarakkal police station, faced disciplinary action for the wrongful arrest of Thajudheen. As per the order, Biju’s salary increment has been withheld for a year with cumulative effect. Though the order was issued last year, details came out only two weeks ago based on an RTI complaint filed by Muzhappilangadu-based social activist Mayin Ali.

Though this should have been a happy ending for Thajudheen, there was more in store. When he went back to Qatar, his investor, who was unable to contact him when the case was ongoing, filed an absconding case against him. Thajudheen’s rent-a-car business had suffered losses during his absence. He was incarcerated at the deportation centre for 25 days before finally returning to Kerala.

With the support of MLA TV Ibrahim, Thajudheen filed complaints with various forums, including the Kerala State Human Rights Commission and the Kerala State Commission for Backward Classes, demanding action against Biju. As pressure mounted, an internal inquiry by the police found lapses on Biju’s part. The Deputy Inspector General of Police (Kannur range) ordered withholding Biju’s salary increment for a period of three years without cumulative effect. Surprisingly, the quantum of punishment was increased when Biju filed an appeal challenging the order. In an unprecedented decision, North Zone IG Asok Kumar Yadav ordered withholding salary increment for Biju for a period of one year with cumulative effect. When contacted, Kannur Police Commissioner R Ilango confirmed to TNM the action against Biju.

Thajudheen, however, told TNM that he was not satisfied with the action taken against the SI and would file a case in the High Court seeking criminal proceedings.

Jisha Surya is an independent journalist living in Kerala.

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