After facing a physical, casteist assault, immigration officer dismissed from service

After raising allegations of caste discrimination for over two years, Viplab Babu, an immigration officer with the Bureau of Immigration, was dismissed from service for "manhandling and assaulting" a senior officer whom he had accused of verbal, physical and casteist attacks. Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg/Getty Images
28 November, 2019

On 25 September, J Viplab Babu, an immigration officer with the Bureau of Immigration, or BOI, at Mumbai, received an order dismissing him from service on charges of “manhandling and assaulting” a senior officer. For over two years, Babu had been raising charges that he faced caste-based discrimination at the hands of two senior officers from privileged castes, including the one he was accused of assaulting. No action was taken on Babu’s complaints. “The dismissal order is the culmination of my struggle against caste discrimination and corruption in the department,” Babu told me.

In early October, in a complaint he registered with the Prime Minister’s Office, Babu wrote that all he did was request for hygienic toilet facilities for the BOI staff at the Mumbai airport. For that, Babu said, he was humiliated repeatedly and a series of departmental enquiries were initiated against him, including the allegation of assaulting HK Pathak, the joint deputy director and the controlling authority at the SIB in Mumbai. But according to Babu, he was the one who was actually subjected to the assault. He said that Pathak had insulted him with casteist slurs during a departmental enquiry against Babu. He wrote that Pathak had told him, “Kya re achhut, kya samaj, teri aukad kya hai, tujhe idhar hi maar dunga toh kya karega?”—What power do you have, you untouchable, what will you do if I hit you right here? Babu added that Pathak then proceeded to slap him repeatedly.

Over the two years that he locked horns with the immigration bureau, Babu wrote several complaints to several authorities about the caste discrimination and the continued harassment he faced. Apart from the PMO, these included the Intelligence Bureau headquarters, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes Commission, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, and the commissioner of Mumbai Police, among others. In early November, he filed an appeal against his dismissal before the joint director of the SIB.

These representations chart out the repeated instances of egregious caste discrimination that Babu has had to endure at the hands of two senior officers, and his persistent, yet futile, struggle for action against them. Beyond the casteist attacks by his superiors, Babu’s account of his experiences reveal how even the redressal mechanisms available to an employee failed to protect him. Instead, they appeared to have been manipulated by those in power to further oppress, alienate, and ultimately dismiss Babu.

Babu joined the Intelligence Bureau in 2013 as an assistant central intelligence officer. He was transferred to the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau, Mumbai, in September 2016, and deputed to the BOI as an immigration counter officer at the Mumbai airport. Babu hails from the Medak district of Andhra Pradesh, and is a member of the Mala community, which is a Scheduled Caste.

The trouble began in March 2017, when Babu reported to the airport authority that there was only a single toilet for the use of over sixty staff members of the BOI. In his appeal against the dismissal order, Babu noted that he had written to the Foreign Regional Registration Office at Mumbai that month, seeking proper washroom facilities. Babu made the representation to the FRRO through Pathak, who was also the administrative head of the BOI at the Mumbai airport. But for over two months, no action was taken pursuant to his request.

On the morning of 30 May, Babu submitted another representation regarding the unhygienic toilets to Pathak, in which he wrote that the foul smell from the bathroom had become a constant problem for the staff. Later that day, Pathak summoned Babu to his office to discuss the issue. When Babu made his request, he said Pathak ridiculed him. In his appeal, he wrote that Pathak first told Babu that he “was the problem and not the cleanliness or lack of amenities as no other employee had any complaint.” Babu noted that Pathak then proceeded to make casteist comments: “Tum logo ka dimaag toilets mein he rehta kya?”—You people only think about toilets, or what?

“Pathak’s castiest mindset and anti-Dalit views are evident through his inappropriate casteist remarks insulting the whole community by addressing in plural,” Babu told me. “While I was still describing the problem, harsh language was used at me and was asked to ‘get lost’ from his room. With deep insult I left the room.”

The day after this incident, Pathak sent a confidential note to the FRRO Mumbai, noting that Babu met Pathak to discuss the toilets issue and “got agitated and misbehaved.” Pathak recommended “strong disciplinary action” against Babu for not wearing a proper uniform and because his behaviour amounted to “indiscipline.” In the first week of July, Babu wrote in the appeal, he received a warning memorandum accusing him of misbehaving with Pathak. Babu responded on 13 July, explaining that his “sincere efforts to get clean toilets for Immigration staff was misunderstood by Sh. Pathak.” At the time, the matter appeared to have ended with that.

In September and October that year, Babu wrote at least five times to Pathak requesting a shift in his duty hours to the day time because of a serious medical condition. On 11 October, Pathak allotted Babu the day shift from 3 pm to 11 pm. As his health problems persisted, Babu wrote that on 19 January, he sought a change in the nature of his work, noting that his medication made him drowsy, which was not ideal for dealing with immigration documents. He asked to be shifted to the training branch because he had previous teaching experience. His requests were of no avail.

However, in the last week of the following January, Babu wrote that he was compelled to request a change in duty hours again, to the 8 am to 4 pm shift, after an attempted theft at his house, in Mumbai’s Antop Hill locality. That night, he filed a complaint with the local police station. The next day, on 27 January, Babu wrote to Tapa Bhattacharya, a deputy central intelligence officer at the Intelligence Bureau and his immediate supervisor, informing her of the attempted theft, and seeking the shift in duty hours out of concern for his wife. Babu said the change in duty time would allow him to be at home by evening, as the dimly lit residential complex was unsafe after dark. Three days later, Babu wrote to Pathak as well, but received no response. According to the appeal, when Babu sought to speak to Bhattacharya about his requests in person, she repeatedly asked him to resign and “find a suitable profession.”

On 14 and 20 February, Babu wrote that there was continuous stone pelting at his house. His window panes broke and several stones flew into the house. All three attacks happened at times when Babu’s wife was alone at home. Babu then filed a complaint at the local police station and wrote another request to Pathak seeking a shift in duty hours. But on 27 February, Pathak rejected Babu’s request due to “administrative constraints.” The same day, Babu wrote another letter to Pathak seeking to advance his duty timings by one hour.

In early March, Babu approached Pathak at his office to inquire about the request, but he was refused once again. He wrote in the appeal that Pathak, like Bhattacharya, told Babu that he could resign from the job if he was “not comfortable with the timings.” Babu wrote that he tried to impress the seriousness of the situation upon Pathak. “I requested Sh. Pathak again to reconsider my request and told him that my wife stays alone at home and the area is unsafe and some miscreant may make a force entry and harm my wife.” To this, Babu wrote, Pathak replied, “Let your wife get raped, so what?”

Two weeks later, Babu received a memorandum from the SIB’s disciplinary authority, initiating a departmental inquiry against him for alleged misconduct. A memorandum is the document containing the imputations against a civil servant, which contains distinct articles of charge against the individual along with all the relevant facts and evidences concerning each of them. The departmental inquiry proceedings are governed by the procedure laid down in the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control & Appeal) Rules, 1965.

According to the CCS Rules, a disciplinary authority initiates the proceedings by issuing the memorandum and seeking a written response from the accused civil servant. The disciplinary authority may then inquire into the charges itself, or appoint an inquiring authority to do so instead. The disciplinary authority also appoints a government servant or lawyer to serve as the presenting officer, who acts as a prosecutor and makes the case in support of the charges. The concerned civil servant is permitted to engage a lawyer only when the presenting officer is also a legal practitioner, or if the disciplinary authority permits—alternatively, the individual can engage any other government servant to represent him during the proceedings.

The inquiry authority then conducts the proceedings, during which the witnesses and evidences are examined. Following this, the inquiring authority submits a report to the disciplinary authority, which contains its findings on each article of charge, based on the proceedings. The disciplinary authority must then send the report to the concerned civil servant, who may submit a reply to the report, following which the disciplinary authority finally prepares the final order and determines the penalty, if any, to be imposed on the civil servant.

The first memorandum, issued in March, accused Babu of “shouting and abusing” Pathak. It referred to Babu’s submission dated 19 January requesting a change in duty hours. However, while that particular submission requested a transfer to the training department due to his health conditions, the memorandum noted that Babu had sought a change in duty hours out of concern for his family’s safety. The memorandum was evidently false, given that the first attack at Babu’s house took place on 26 January, one week after the referred submission. In his response to the memorandum, Babu raised the issue of caste discrimination and harassment by the senior officials for the first time, and sought action against Pathak.

But no further proceedings were conducted in the first memorandum. Instead, on 13 June, Selvaraj, an assistant director in the SIB and the disciplinary authority, issued two orders—one, withdrawing the March memorandum, and the second, instituting a fresh inquiry against Babu on eight separate charges. The nature of the charges and the manner in which the inquiry authority treated Babu’s requests during the proceedings seemed to suggest that the proceedings were conducted with a bias and an agenda to persecute him.

The first charge was about the incident on 30 May, when Babu had gone to Pathak’s office to request hygienic toilet facilities. The disciplinary authority appeared to ignore the Pathak’s casteist comments, which Babu had raised in his reply to the March memorandum, and instead focused on his “rude behaviour” when he was questioned about not wearing a tie. In his response, Babu pointed out that wearing a coat and tie was not mandatory under the guidelines on uniforms, and that he was the only one in the room at that time wearing the BOI uniform of blue shirt and trousers. He added that Pathak himself never wore the official uniforms. In a submission to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes that he filed later, Babu wrote, “The CCTV footage will clearly show that wearing the neck-tie was optional and not mandatory as more than 90% of the Immigration officials do not wear the coat and neck-tie.”

Despite Babu’s response to the first memorandum pointing out that the theft at his house took place on 26 January, the disciplinary authority repeated the same mistake. One charge accused Babu of acting in a “discourteous manner” with Bhattacharya on 10 January, when he asked for a change in duty hours out of concern for his wife. It is worth noting that their conversation on the subject actually took place on 10 February.

The memorandum further noted that Babu got into a “useless argument” with Bhattacharya after she told him that he could resign from the job, asking her to give him the same in writing. Babu, in response, pointed to the Central Civil Service (Conduct) Rules of 1964, which includes a direction that “a government servant who has received oral direction from his official superior shall seek confirmation of the same in writing as early as possible, whereupon it shall be the duty of the official superior to confirm the direction in writing.”

Two of the charges accused Babu of clearing the entry of two Yemeni children without putting them through the usual arrival immigration system. Babu denied the charges. In his reply to the memorandum, he stated that he had approached the wing in-charge and cleared the Yemeni children according to the instructions he received. He also wrote that Yemen does not issue passports for children below the age of 14, so they are cleared through immigration solely on the strength of their parents’ passports. He noted that it is a general practice at the Mumbai airport to make an entry in the immigration station diary for Yemeni children because they are not cleared through the usual procedure.

Babu was also accused of having a “very poor average passenger clearing performance.” In his reply, Babu wrote that he had performed his duties to the best of his abilities, and noted that the BOI had ignored his multiple representations about his severe medical conditions. Moreover, it is pertinent to note that Babu’s annual performance-appraisal reports for 2014–15 and 2016–17 described him as a sincere and dedicated officer who maintains good relations with his colleagues. The 2016–17 APAR stated that “the officer is reliable, industrious and disciplined.” But after Bhattacharya took charge as his supervisor, in 2017–18, she wrote in his APAR that Babu was “professionally incompetent, indisciplined” and that he showed “insubordination and negative attitude towards work.”

Another charge stated that Babu “involved himself in speaking loudly and angrily” with Pathak on 6 February 2018 at 10.45 am. However, according to Babu, he would not have been at the office at that hour, because his duty started at 3 pm. The memorandum stated that Babu had met Pathak seeking the change in duty hours, and shouted at him, “If my wife gets raped then you will be responsible.” Pertinently, Babu had accused Pathak of making a flippant remark about the possibility of sexual assault on 6 March—a month after the charges claimed he had done so.

The inquiry proceedings began on 30 July 2018. In addition to the questionable merit of the charges, the proceedings were conducted in a manner that seemed designed to make it more difficult for Babu. For instance, during the proceedings, he requested the relevant documents based on which the inquiry had been initiated, and those to make his defence, such as the duty chart of all officers present and certain CCTV footage. But the inquiry authority did not approve the requests claiming that they were either irrelevant or “secret in nature.”

The 1965 CCS rules expressly state that the power to refuse access to official documents to the accused officer should only be used sparingly. It notes: “The question of relevancy should be looked at from the point of view of the defence and if there is any possible line of defence to which the document may, in some way be relevant though the relevance is not clear to the disciplinary authority at the time that the request is made, the request for access should not be rejected.”

In his representation to the NCSC, Babu wrote that he requested the BOI for 15 documents to defend his case, but the department only provided one. Among the eight charges levelled against Babu, five incidents took place directly under CCTV cameras, and he had requested for the footage of five cameras in particular. Once again, Babu was given the footage of only one CCTV, and the rest were denied for “being against public interest or non-availability.”

According to the CCS rules, departmental enquiries should be completed within six months, but the hearings in Babu’s case were held after gaps of up to three months and continued for over a year. During these hearings, Babu was not allowed to cross examine key witnesses. Babu told me one instance when he was cross-examining Bhattacharya and the inquiring authority asked him to leave the room in between. Babu added that when he objected and said he had more questions to ask, the inquiring authority threatened to issue another memorandum against him. He said the daily order noted that the hearing was conducted ex parte, in Babu’s absence.

An important concern Babu raised was that the disciplinary authority, Selvaraj, was of the rank of an assistant director, which is below that of the joint deputy director—Pathak’s position. Babu suggested that Pathak could have exercised his influence over his junior officer to ensure that the proceedings were conducted in his favour. It is not difficult to find examples that could support Babu’s claim.

For instance, Babu had written to Selvaraj with concern about Azad Singh, the inquiry authority. Babu wrote that Singh had “intimidatingly suggested” to him that he should plead guilty. He also wrote that Singh would answer questions that Babu had posed to Pathak during the cross examination. Yet, Selvaraj refused to change the inquiry authority.

On 24 August, Babu wrote to Selvaraj seeking for the proceedings to be video recorded. The request was rejected, but not before Babu said he was forced to suffer another casteist indignity. In his complaint to the NCSC, Babu wrote that the proper channel for any applications to Selvaraj was through Bhattacharya. That day, when he went to her office to submit the application, Bhattacharya refused to respond to him. Instead, she wrote on a piece of paper to “Give it to Dispatch.” Recounting the incident, Babu wrote in his complaint, “I was completely taken aback by her behaviour of ‘verbal untouchability’ imposed on me during the whole time,” Babu wrote.

“As a subordinate, I do deserve some dignity, but Ms. Tapa Bhattacharya, DCIO once again humiliated me by treating in an undignified manner by her verbal boycott and through her gestures,” he added. In fact, though Babu had filed his complaint to the NCSC in July 2018, he wrote to the commission once again after this incident, and multiple times since then. “The offence committed was a sequel to the existing bias on my caste identity of Scheduled Caste,” he wrote. In his complaints to NCSC, Babu also pointed out that he had also repeatedly made submissions to Supriya Patil Yadav, who heads the FRRO Mumbai, about caste discrimination and harassment by Pathak and Bhattacharya. He wrote that the officer did not take his complaints into consideration.

As the disciplinary proceedings were under way, things took an eventful turn in March 2019 when Babu accused the department of corruption after BOI officials accepted gifts from the industrialist Mukesh Ambani. On 7 and 8 March, gift packets were being distributed to the immigration officials with a label that read: “On the joyous occasion of the wedding of Akash with Shloka, we seek your blessings and good wishes - Neeta and Mukesh Ambani, Isha, Anant and Anant.” Babu noted that the gifts were distributed to the staff with Pathak’s authorisation and that there was a daily attendance sheet circulating with the signatures of the officers who had accepted them. Objecting to the staff accepting the gift packets, Babu stated in his appeal that he wrote in the sheet: “The gift packets from Ambani family is highly demoralizing and is direct corruption.”

The gifts were a direct violation of the CCS (Conduct) Rules, 1964, which expressly prohibit government employees from accepting from any person “other than a near relative or personal friend having no dealings with the government servant.” The 1964 rules also specifically state that even for occasions such as weddings, where gifts are given “in conformity with the prevailing religious and social practice,” a civil servant may only receive gifts from the same category of people—near relatives and personal friends.Babu said he reported this to the joint director of immigration at the Intelligence Bureau and the assistant director of SIB, pointing out that gift packets were given to 450 immigration officials, but he did not receive any response. “I believe this incident did not go down well with Pathak and this resulted in the escalation of things that led to stringent departmental proceedings and my dismissal,” he told me.

In response to a right-to-information application seeking a copy of the entry register for all couriers or delivery packages received by the SIB in that time period, the BoI noted that it was exempt from providing any information on that subject under Section 24 of the RTI Act. The provision excludes intelligence and security organisations from the ambit of the RTI Act, except for cases of corruption and human-rights violations.

The incident that ultimately led to Babu’s dismissal took place shortly after his complaint of corruption—on 14 March, the enquiry proceedings were listed for Pathak’s examination. The hearing took place in the office of the inquiry authority, Singh, and began at around 10 am, with KS Patil, an assistant section officer who had been appointed the presenting officer, conducting Pathak’s examination-in-chief. Singh and the typist, Itin Pal, were also present in the room during the proceedings.

After a brief tea break, Babu wrote in his appeal, all the members gathered for Pathak’s cross-examination at around 11.15 am. Babu was conducting the cross-examination himself, but it was abruptly and mysteriously interrupted soon after he began. “I asked three questions to Sh. Pathak and was proceeding to next question, suddenly IO [Singh] walks out of the DE room without assigning any reason followed by PO [Patil] and the typist [Pal] leaving only Sh. Pathak and me alone in the room,” Babu wrote. It was then that Pathak abused and assaulted Babu. “At around 11:30 hours Sh. Pathak got up from his chair and walked towards me and said, ‘Kya re achhut, kya samaj, teri aukad kya hai, tujhe idhar hi maar dunga toh kya karega?’”—What power do you have, you untouchable, what will you do if I hit you right here?

Pathak then began slapping Babu. In a subsequent complaint to the NCSC, Babu wrote that as he resisted the attack and called out for help, “Pathak, in a low voice, said, ‘I will kill you,’ and simultaneously shouted for help.” He added that the incident was “meticulously planned so to further victimize and abuse on my caste identity by leaving only two of us in room during the departmental inquiry.”

Two government servants who were outside the room at the time entered upon hearing the pleas for help, following which Pal and Singh returned to the room as well. As Babu reported the incident to Singh, Pathak walked out. Singh took Babu to the additional director of the SIB Mumbai. Yet, as he wrote in his NCSC complaint, Babu had completely given up hope of getting justice from the departmental proceedings given Pathak’s “clout” after having served at the SIB, Mumbai, for over twenty years and then as the head of operations. He immediately left for the Bandra Kurla Complex police station to register a complaint.

Babu wrote that he reached the station at 12.15 pm and requested the registration of a first information report under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and under the Indian Penal Code for assaulting a government servant. However, the police officer refused to register the FIR after making a phone call to the SIB office. Babu wrote in his appeal that as he was leaving the police station, Pathak walked in, at around 12.50 pm, and went directly to the office of the assistant commissioner of police. Babu was only given a receipt stamp on his complaint, but the police promptly registered an FIR on Pathak’s complaint.

Babu was booked for the offences of voluntarily causing hurt, assault, and deterring a public servant from discharging his duty, among others. He accused Pathak of using “his position and power to convert it into FIR” because of which “no action was taken on my complaint.”

On 28 March, a Mumbai sessions court granted anticipatory bail to Babu. The order reveals the discrepancies in Pathak’s account. MV Kurtadikar, the judge, wrote in his order: “In FIR, it is said that inquiry was going on in presence of Azad Singh, Assistant Director, Prosecutor Kalpak Patil and Computer Operator Itinpal Singh. However, in next sentence it is mentioned that at the time of actual abuse no one out of them were in said room. There is no explanation as to how they were absent in said room when inquiry was going on in their presence.” The court also said that as Babu had complained about caste-discrimination, “without going into the merit of their complaint, it can be seen that informant and applicant/accused are on cross terms.”

But on the same day, the SIB issued Babu a suspension order noting that disciplinary proceedings against him were being “contemplated.” On 16 April, the SIB issued Babu another memorandum, which stated that he had “manhandled and assaulted” Pathak during the inquiry proceedings. It noted that Pathak was “one of the prime state witnesses in the departmental proceedings which was ongoing against Shri Viplav Babu at the time.” It also stated that Babu had “falsely alleged that it was Shri H.K. Pathak who assaulted him and threatened to kill him.” The disciplinary authority did not explain in the memorandum how it had come to the apparent conclusion that it was Babu, and not Pathak, who had made a false complaint.

The inquiry on the alleged assault by Babu was as flawed, if not worse, than the previous departmental proceedings into the June memorandum. The disciplinary authority appointed SL Meghwal, an assistant director, as the inquiry authority presiding over the proceedings. On the date of the first hearing, in early May, Babu wrote to the disciplinary authority to point out that Pathak and Meghwal were close associates who had lived in the same apartment for over five years. Babu requested for the appointment of a different inquiry authority, keeping their relationship in mind, but the proceedings continued without any formal decision on his application.

According to the appeal, this was one of several applications Babu filed that were ultimately dismissed. On 28 February, he requested the disciplinary authority to appoint a “neutral officer” to remain present during the proceedings as an “observer.” The request was denied. On 14 May, he filed an application seeking certain documents and CCTV footage, which was rejected. The next day, he sought permission to engage a government employee as his defence assistant, but he was not allowed to do so. Two days later, he filed applications to appoint a new inquiry authority and for a defence assistant, which were again rejected. That day, Babu also filed an application for the proceedings to be video recorded, which was dismissed. On 21 May, he again sought certain documents and CCTV footage, but to no avail. Babu wrote in his appeal that when the case was listed for his examination, he was not even allowed to conduct his own examination-in-chief.

On 23 August, the inquiry authority submitted its final report. The report noted that the charges against Babu—that he had “manhandled and assaulted” Pathak and “grossly misconducted himself and deterred a public servant in discharging his duties”—was “proved on the preponderance of probability.” In doing so, the authority largely relied on the circumstantial evidence of witnesses who entered the room after the incident. This was primarily limited to three details—that Pathak’s hair appeared ruffled, that he appeared to be in a state of shock, and that Babu was not seated on his chair.

On 23 September, Babu submitted his response to the inquiry report, refuting the authority’s findings. He noted that no witness apart from Pathak stated that Babu had assaulted him, and pointed to discrepancies in the explanations given by Singh, Patil and Pal about why the two government servants were left alone in the room.

Two days later, the disciplinary authority issued the dismissal order, upholding the findings of the inquiry report. It noted that the “circumstantial evidence on record clearly establishes” the charges, and further concluded that Babu had “falsely alleged that it was Shri H.K. Pathak, JDD who assaulted and threatened to kill him.” The dismissal order also stated that the disciplinary authority “did not notice any procedural lapses and found that the inquiry has been held as per the provisions of the CCS (CCA) Rules, 1965.” In its determination of the penalty, the authority held, “Allowing such a person to continue in public service would affect the morale of other employees in the organisation … no penalty short of dismissal from service would meet the ends of justice.”

Following his dismissal, Babu’s troubles have not ended. On 5 November, the SIB issued an order informing Babu that his residential quarters stood cancelled due to his dismissal. The order directed him to vacate his house immediately. It noted that the SIB had sent him a letter two days after his dismissal, asking him to vacate his house by 24 October, but it was sent back unclaimed. That day, according to the order, the SIB had issued another notice giving Babu 12 days to leave the property. He told me that he did not receive either of the notices. On 13 November, he wrote to the SIB challenging the order, in which he stated that his dismissal from service should not be treated as final while his appeal is pending. Babu is currently still living in the same government quarters.

The seemingly endless string of obstacles has not deterred Babu. On 30 September, he filed a fresh complaint at the Bandra Kurla Complex police station seeking action against seven people, including Pathak and Bhattacharya, among other witnesses who deposed in the inquiry proceedings. He said the police only recorded his statement one month later, and have not yet registered an FIR against his complaint. On 11 November, he received a letter from the additional commissioner of police of the airport division, asking him to come to his office and submit his statement once again. Babu submitted a fresh statement on 21 November. He told me that he will also be filing an application before a criminal court seeking directions to the police to register the FIR.

On 2 November, Babu filed his appeal against the dismissal order before the BOI appellate authority. It was only heard once, on 26 November, and Babu was informed that the appellate authority would pass its verdict within a month.

Pravin Prabhu, an assistant police inspector at the Bandra Kurla Complex station, told me that a chargesheet had been filed in Pathak’s complaint , and the court would now determine the case. When I asked Prabhu why they had not registered an FIR against Babu’s original complaint, in March this year, he said, “Aisa kuch nahi hai”—There is nothing like that—and cut the call.

At the time this piece was published, Pathak and Bhattacharya had not responded to phone calls or emails seeking their comments. I also emailed Yadav, the head of the FRRO at Mumbai, but received no response. The story will be updated if and when they respond.

Among the series of letters Babu wrote to the NCSC during the course of the proceedings, one that he wrote to its chairperson on 13 May revealed his deeply troubled state of mind. “I belong to the same institution—University of Hyderabad as that of Rohit Vemula,” he wrote. “I always considered Rohit’s final step of suicide as unwanted act, but now I can completely understand as to what led him to take that step.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified SL Meghwal as an additional director at the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau, and stated that Viplab Babu had filed a criminal case seeking the registration of an FIR. Meghwal is an assistant director and Babu is yet to file the case. The Caravan regrets the errors.