“When I press rewind on this story and think back now, even I can’t imagine how I got here,” says Sobha Sajju in a suddenly shaky voice. “I think god gave me the strength to clear my name, for the sake of my children.”
Thodupuzha-native and Kochi resident Sobha, who hasn't seen her children in over two years after being falsely accused by her husband of posting her own nude videos online, is happy that her name was recently completely cleared by the country’s top cyber forensics research body, C-DAC.
Sobha’s harrowing two-and-a-half-year long ordeal began when an employee in her husband’s office, Litto, began circulating a pornographic video on an office WhatsApp group, which soon came to her husband’s notice. The video, which Litto alleged was of Sobha, showed a young woman deliberately turning on the camera and changing her clothes before it, at times completely nude.
After conferring with her own family members, Sobha approached the Ernakulam South police station, who told her that since it was a cyber crime, it must go to the Cyber Cell. Sobha then gave a complaint to the Police Commissioner, who referred it to the Cyber Cell. The police took Litto, the employee who had by then shared the video on various groups, claiming that it was Sobha, into custody.
Here’s where this story takes an even darker turn. After she told the cyber cell she wasn’t the woman in the video, the cyber cell in turn told her that they were also sure it was not her in the video, and that she had not been technologically morphed into it either, and therefore, that she did not need to come to the station herself during the initial investigation. But unbeknownst to her, when her husband Sajju was called in for questioning, he told the cyber cell unequivocally that it was indeed Sobha in the video.
Four days after her complaint was filed, she received a divorce petition from her husband, which said that she had uploaded nude videos of herself onto the internet.
“When I got the divorce petition, I was very confused,” says Sobha, “I thought, is everyone in the world like this? Even the police officers were saying to me, it is not you, so why is your husband saying it is? I asked myself if he was saying it purposely, had someone tricked him? I had no idea.”
The first forensic reports
After initial investigation by the cyber cell, her case was finally registered under Ernakulam South Station, and investigated by Circle Inspector Siby Tom. Litto remained under arrest, although it was yet to be proven where he got the video from, and why he had spread it. When the video was sent to the forensics lab, the results did not conclusively state in so many words that the woman in the video was not Sobha.
Meanwhile, Litto was charged under sec 354 of the IPC (outraging a woman’s modesty) and the relevant sections of the IT Act. But as Sobha says, regardless of Litto’s arrest, a forensics report that did not state with utter clarity that she was not the woman in the video was of no real use to her. “From the beginning, I said clearly that I am not the woman in the video, and I wanted an official, valuable certificate to clearly state the same.”
As these events were unfolding, Sobha’s still-ongoing divorce case was being heard in family court. In the course of this case, she was granted visitation rights over her three children, every second Saturday. “Four Saturdays passed like this, and then after that, in order to ensure that my children don’t see me anymore, my husband filed a false report that I had behaved badly with my children. Based on this, and compounded with the allegations in the case of the nude videos, I was barred from seeing my children as well.”
Sobha says if her husband had supported her, perhaps she would never have pursued the case so strongly. She explains, "Someone spread such a video, then they arrested him, that’s all I would have made of it. But when it became a personal and family issue, I had no choice but to pursue it. My husband also misled my three children, saying their mother is such a woman. He told the principal of their school not to let my children see me. Now when they grow up, society’s impression about what kind of a mother they have will also affect them. This is what made me pursue it like this.”
More hurdles along the way
With the first forensic lab result not giving a conclusive answer, Sobha then began to pursue legally admissible proof in the form of a clear statement that cleared her name unequivocally.
She approached the court a second time, asking for an investigation into her husband’s role in the spreading of the nude video and the allegations against her. The court agreed for the case to be re-investigated.
She said that by this point, she was beginning to face some roadblocks when dealing with some of the police officers involved in her case. “You know, I feel like there isn’t a police station I haven’t gone to. It came to a stage that when they saw me, the police officers would get frustrated, probably thinking, ‘oh see she has come again, why does she need this, does she have no better work.’”
She continues, “While the police did help me a lot through the process, at times, perhaps to console me, or because of their lack of familiarity with technology, the officers would say that it was clear to everyone that I was not the woman in the video, so why don’t I just let it rest?”
But Sobha remained steadfast. She reiterates, “For my children’s sake, I couldn’t just let it be.”
She requested the police to send the evidence to a different forensics lab, instead of the same one that had delivered the initial result. However, the evidence was sent to the same lab, which once again delivered an inconclusive report.
She gets thoughtful and pensive at this point. “I remember, when I first went to give this case two and a half years ago, my younger daughter was hardly a toddler. She was supposed to represent her school in a clay modelling competition and had been practising how to make the figure of a turtle. This issue first came up exactly on that day, and she wasn’t able to go for the competition. Thinking of all this, I still feel so sad.”
C-DAC enters the picture
When the second forensics report came out which still did not clearly state anything, she told the police about the possibility of approaching C-DAC, a cyber forensics research and investigation body that has the final say on all cases and matters of cyber forensics in India, and is even used by the CBI. At that time, the police seemed reluctant to go forward, and encouraged her once again to just it be.
It seemed that Sobha had hit a dead end.
She says that a Manorama news reporter, Anil Emmanuel, had been providing her support and help throughout this long process. It was Anil who first reported on her plight and later he called DySp and cyber expert ES Bijumon, who said that C-DAC could be called into this investigation. Upon ES Bijumon’s recommendation, which came after Anil intervened, Sobha met DGP Loknath Behera.
If there is an uphill turn to this story, it begins with Sobha meeting Loknath Behera. She says, “He took one look at the video and said ‘yes, of course it is not you, you should have come to me much earlier’. But I hadn’t known that. On the spot, he changed the investigating officer, and transferred it to Laljy K, an Ernakulam ACP. Laljy approached the court to begin a fresh investigation in the case, and within 7 days, had sent all the requisite matter to C-DAC, Thiruvananthapuram. Six months later, about ten days ago, C-DAC came out with the conclusive report that says that I am not the woman in the video.”
For now, Sobha is pleased with C-DAC’s definitive conclusion that she is not the woman in the video, and content to let this case take its due course in the court of law. She says that she has not informed her husband personally about the results of C-DAC’s investigation, and remarks that he will hear of it whenever he does. “Now it is up to the police to take this forward, so let them do that.”
When we ask her how she had the strength to make it through such a long, lonely ordeal, Sobha repeats that she chose to fight the case so doggedly for the sake of her children’s future. “I come from a family of three women, and my sisters live abroad. My family supported me and believed me throughout this case. But even if everyone believes me and supports me emotionally in the family, when I was in court and in the police station, I was still alone. I could have left everything and gone away from this place entirely, but whenever I would return after many years, my children would still have to carry the mark of my having been involved in such a case. Now it’s been proved it’s not me, so even if their father doesn’t tell them the truth, society can tell them their father was wrong. I wanted them to grow up with respect.”
However, Sobha’s legal struggles are far from over. When asked about her plans for the future, Sobha says, with no discernible hint of bitterness, “All this time I was fighting to clear my name in this case. I couldn't fight all the cases at the same time. So now I can turn my attention to fighting the case to get custody of my kids. Now that I have cleared my name, maybe that case can go smoothly.”