How a Young Man from the North-East Has been Branded a Criminal by the Delhi Police Even Before a Trial

Rahul Moirangthem, a 19-year-old student, has been accused of breaking into Mount Carmel School and Holy Child Auxilium School in Delhi. Moirangthem (seen in striped t-shirt) and his family have refuted the charges. {{name}}
27 August, 2015

On 18 July 2015, 1 am, I stood outside the main gate of Mount Carmel School (MCS), Anand Niketan. Leaning in through a gap between the bars, I asked the school guard about the night of 28 May 2015. “Haan, hum they yahaan, lekin koi jaankaari nahin de sakte aapko—Yes, I was here, but I cannot tell you anything,” he repeated, while shaking his head from side to side, and smiling. I directed my question to the police constable sitting on a plastic chair about ten feet away. He claimed to not have been on duty that night. As I left, I saw the guard unlock the gate and walk out into the night, talking to the constable.

On the night of 28 May 2015, Rahul Moirangthem’s sole concern was that he had to repeat his accountancy exam for grade twelve. By the next day, he would find himself in custody, suspected of breaking into his own school with the intent to rob it. As the weeks wore on, he would become the subject of an investigation conducted by a Special Task Force (STF)—set up in 2012 to investigate heinous crimes in South Delhi. Moirangthem would eventually be held responsible for robbery in two other schools in the area. One of these was the Holy Child Auxilium School (HCAS), the alma mater of Smriti Irani, the Human Resource Development (HRD) minister, from which he has beenaccused of stealing Rs 12,000.

Despite following Moirangthem’s story for over a month, I am still unsure about what exactly happened on the night of 28-29 May, when his on-going struggle with the law began. What is known is that he and two of his friends—all in their late teens, from Manipur, and students of MCS—were arrested either inside the school grounds or outside at around 12 am or 3 am, after having had a few beers and arriving at the school with the intent of either taking pictures or robbery. Depending on whom you ask, the details tend to vary.

The police arrested the three boys that night and detained them at the South Campus police station. A First Investigation Report (FIR) was filed against the three boys, citing  sections 457, 380, 511 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that pertain to theft, trespassing, attempting to commit criminal offences and a conspiracy to commit offences respectively.

Sub-inspector Ashok Kumar, the investigating officer (IO) mentioned in the FIR, told me that the boys had climbed into the school and were apprehended by the police, inside, “near the playground.” The boys refuted this, saying they never entered the premises. Kumar also added that, “The four policemen on duty found a screwdriver and a torch on them, and since they were all drunk, they were brought to South Campus police station. They made their confessions the same night, and in the morning, we sent constables to their houses to inform their families.”

One of the boys who was with Moirangthem that night, and is currently out on bail, denied this. He explained the sequence of events to me as, “We had one or two beers each at a friend’s house in Moti Bagh—a little over a kilometre from MCS. Rahul was leaving the next morning so we decided to go for a walk around 12. Once we reached the school, we started taking pictures.” On being asked about the screwdriver and torch that the police claimed to have found, he said, “Nothing like that, we just had two phones between the three of us.” He tried to explain their decision to visit the school so late at night, “You know, we were a bit drunk, school was finally over. We were just having fun.”

When I spoke to Moirangthem, he mentioned that he had cut his foot on a shard of glass while walking to the school and it had bled profusely. His friend used his own shirt to wrap it. It was in this condition, bleeding, bare-chested and drunk, that the police found the boys.

Moirangthem’s friend continued, “As we were leaving, the police found us walking on the road in front of the school. They kept asking us what we were doing there. The problem is all three of us are not very fluent in Hindi, and their English wasn’t very good. So there was a big communication gap. They took our phones and then put us in the PCR (Police Control Room) van.” The boys were taken to the South Campus police station and held there. Moirangthem’s friend  recalled their treatment at the station, “They beat all three of us, but they picked on Rahul [Moirangthem] the most. This went on till about 8 in the morning, I think. Till then, we were allowed no phone calls or anything. And they gave us a lot of papers to sign—some of them were blank sheets. Then, they took us to Safdarjung hospital for blood tests, and finally around 9 or 10 am, they made the FIR and informed the school and our guardians.” A senior representative from MCS, Jonathan Williams, arrived at the station and assured the boys of his support.

An MCS student who had accompanied Moirangthem’s family to the police station that morning said that Williams had told them, “It’s not a big deal, they will be out soon. I have spoken to the police.” Williams corroborated this when I met him at MCS on 23 July, “I really didn’t think it’ll become such a huge deal.”

After Williams left, according to Moirangthem’s friend, the boys were taken to the Vasant Vihar police station so that they could submit their fingerprints, “At around 3-4 pm, they took Rahul and me to Patiala House (District Court) and our friend to the juvenile court. But the judge denied our bail. We didn’t even have a lawyer. We were finally allowed to talk to our people for maybe ten minutes.”

Later, Moirangthem’s sister told me, “We were made to wait outside after Jonathan left. We weren’t allowed to talk to the boys or give them food or anything. And till around 2:30 pm, the police lied to us, saying there will be no FIR and they’ll release the boys soon. Only once they were back at the police station after the medical tests and fingerprints, we were told that the FIR had already been registered. We panicked; we couldn’t even find a lawyer.” At around 4 pm, one of the three was released for being a minor, while the others were shifted to Tihar jail under judicial custody.

Moirangthem’s friend told me, “We were put in this big hall with around 100 other people. Most of them were grown-ups. Later, we learnt that some of them were on murder charges. But yes, now there was no more torture or questioning. After 3 nights in Tihar, we were finally released on bail [on 1 June].”

Moirangthem, his friends and their families had all imagined that this was the end of the matter since the school was not pressing charges. However, on 11 July around noon, the police picked up the three boys once again, this time from their homes, for interrogation at the Vasant Vihar police station regarding a burglary at HCAS—situated about 3 km from MCS—on the night of 12 February.

The friend who had been arrested with Moirangthem narrated the events. “On 11 July, I got a call from my aunt around 11 am, saying that cops had come to her house looking for me. Arvind Kumar [the investigating officer on this case] and a constable were there, and they said they needed us regarding the MCS case. They didn’t allow my aunt to come along, saying, ‘It’s not necessary, it’s just for one or two hours.’” He continued, “We went to Rahul’s house where they said that his fingerprints were unclear so they needed him again.” All three boys were then taken to the Vasant Vihar police station.

At the station, they were asked several indirect questions; if they knew PVR Priya, a cinema theatre in Basant Lok, and whether they ever watched movies there, before the police finally asked them if they knew HCAS. “They didn’t hit me or our other friend this time, but they did beat Rahul. We were told that Rahul’s fingerprints and CCTV images matched in the HCAS case. They kept repeating the same questions for hours. [The police] kept asking us if we wanted to see the fingerprints and CCTV footage. We were scared, but when we finally asked for the evidence, they showed us the fingerprints but not the video footage” Moirangthem’s friend said.

Around midnight, the boys were taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to have their thumbprints and pictures taken. Finally, everyone except Moirangthem was released. His friend speculated that this might be because Moirangthem was older than the other two, “Maybe because we were minors at the time of the robbery—I turned eighteen in March this year.”

After this, Moirangthem’s friends and family allege that he was taken to HCAS on 12 and 13 July, and made to walk around the school while the police videotaped him.

* * *

Moirangthem and his two sisters had been living in Moti Bagh since 2012, when he joined MCS for grade eleven. Their parents, meanwhile, handled the family business in Imphal. The family described their rented house as a “two-bedroom flat with a small living room.” According to them, on 12 February, the night the HCAS burglary took place, Moirangthem was at home and studying for an exam that he had the next day.

 Rahul’s father Ramdhon Moirangthem was in Delhi at the time and was sleeping in the same room as Moirangthem. He insisted that his son had been in his room studying till 1 am, until the family retired for the night. “How could I let my son go out that night when he had an exam?” Moirangthem’s father asked.

On 13 July, Moirangthem was transferred to Tihar jail under judicial custody for the second time since his arrest on 29 May. He was subsequently denied bail thrice by the lower and sessions courts due to the alleged fingerprint match. Additionally, his request for custodial bail to take an exam on 16 July was also cancelled due to non-attendance by the investigating officers. Moirangthem was finally released from Tihar on bail on 6 August.

By 14 July, several national newspapers had already reported the police’s version of events. Most of these articles were accompanied by Moirangthem’s photograph. The reports contained statements by the deputy commissioner of police (South), Prem Nath who claimed that Moirangthem had confessed to the crimes, both at MCA and HCAS. He added that Moirangthem may also have tried to burgle the Delhi Tamil Education Association (DTEA) school at Nanakpura, in June. Moirangthem’s friends and family have contested the confessions released to the press.

Several reports stated that Moirangthem was “feared by everyone in MCS” and that he had assaulted his girlfriend with a beer bottle, resulting in her hospitalisation. The girl in question eventually recorded a public video statement decrying the accusations. “It was a plastic bottle, and it was an accident. Also, I was never his girlfriend. We were just good friends. Rahul is a nice person; everybody loved him, even the teachers. He was a good friend to everyone, and he’s not a scary person, like the papers said,” she added.

On 24 July, I spoke to a member from the STF who expounded the case against Moirangthem for me. Regarding the aspersions cast on Moirangthem in news reports, he said, “That is not our concern. Those details were provided by the previous investigating officer [IO Ashok Kumar].” On 15 May, a five-member gang was arrested in relation to the HCAS case. The STF member confirmed that the gang had robbed at least 30 private schools across the city, but, contradictory to earlier claims by the police, HCAS was apparently not one of them. “They were hardened criminals! We could have closed the case and no one would have complained, but the fact is there was no evidence linking them to HCAS,” he told me.

However, the STF member did say that Moirangthem had not confessed to either the crime at MCS or the one at HCAS. When I asked him about the CCTV footage, he replied, “The problem is that the faces are muffled, so the video has to be sent for analysis, where Rahul’s [Moirangthem] physical structure will be compared to the figures in the video.”

The FIR filed on 13 February by the then-HCAS principal Sister Lucy John detailed losses to the school and stated that “It seems someone who knows well about the school campus is involved.” Moirangthem’s former lawyer, Israr Ahmad had told me that the police had gone through Moirangthem’s phone to unearth any communication between him and the staff or students at HCAS; they did not find anything. The STF member said that he couldn’t discuss the matter since “the call details are on file for perusal by the court,” before adding, “The call details for the earlier incident [MCS] didn’t show anything.”

He went on to say,“Although there is a little confusion, Rahul’s right-hand thumb impression matched one chance print found on the cash drawer in the principal’s office at HCAS. At Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL)—a scientific department in Delhi that is under the administrative control of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)—team had taken 26 chance prints from there on 13 February.” He added that these prints, along with those found in similar cases such as the attacks against Christian institutions earlier this year, were sent to “all fingerprint bureaus across India,” and that “no one can rebut the CFSL test.”

On 25 August, I tried contacting the CFSL about the thumbprint match, but I did not get a response from anyone at the organisation. Thereafter, I got in touch with an independent forensics expert, Syed Faisal who has served as a court consultant in several cases for the CBI. He explained that the CFSL’s job is essentially limited to reporting and analysis. The fingerprints are lifted from the crime scene by the police. When I asked him what a “chance print” was—a term used by both the STF member I had spoken to and Moirangthem’s lawyer Ahmad—he told me that it was one of the three kinds of fingerprints classified under forensic sciences. “It is a latent print, that is, you can’t see it with the naked eye,” he explained. “So they are developed by powder techniques to find a matching pattern. Usually, with chance prints, the matching probability is very low. According to a Supreme Court ruling, a minimum of six matching points need to be found to call it a fingerprint match, while one dissimilar point is enough to dismiss it.”

As for the exact process, he explained, “The final observation is made with the naked eye. It depends on the observational skills of the expert, based on years of experience. The possibility for error and chances of manipulation, he explained, depended on “the handling and collection of fingerprints.” The more people involved in the process the greater the scope for error, he believed. Faisal also explained that the court is not bound to accept the report and could send the fingerprints for review to another lab. “Often, the reports from different labs provide different results,” he added.

The STF member, however, was convinced that there was sufficient “circumstantial evidence” to assume that Moirangthem was guilty in both cases, since the “same modus operandi was followed.” When I asked him for more details, he merely said, “They had climbed over the wall at HCAS too.”

He assured me that the charge sheet would be filed soon, “There were two more people involved in the HCAS robbery—and no, not the ones from the MCS case.”

On 23 July, a senior administrative official from MCS spoke to me with the disclaimer that she wasn’t employed with the school when the incident took place. According to her, the police contacted the school on the morning of 29 May, a day after the alleged robbery, to verify whether the three boys were MCS students. “The school did not press any charges. We believe in forgiveness, and we are praying for Rahul [Moirangthem].” Ahmad also showed me an official statement signed by the MCS principal VK Williams, dated 2 June 2015, which said that the boys had done “no harm or damage, or any physical injury either to the school property or to any staff.”

I contacted HCAS on the same day to fix an appointment with the principal. I was informed that Sister Lucy John had been transferred and that the new principal was unavailable. I was asked to email my queries, but they went unanswered.


On 24 July, Moirangthem’s family and the Manipur Students Association, Delhi (MSAD), held a press conference for Moirangthem at the Press Club of India, Raisina Road. It was attended mostly by family, friends, and members of MSAD—barely anyone from the press. One of the panelists was Moirangthem’s lawyer at the time, L Roshmani Kumar, who had taken the case over from Ahmad. He brought attention to the fact that newspapers such as The Times of India and The Indian Express had assumed Moirangthem’s guilt and published his photo with a one-sided statement from the police, amounting to potential defamation. Kumar also made note of how Moirangthem had been “put in jail with hardened criminals, against basic criminal jurisprudence.” Dr.  Alana Gonmei, general secretary of North-East Support Centre and Helpline, listed similar cases against other citizens from the north-east. She stated, “Racial discrimination has gone too far. If Rahul [Moirangthem] was from another part of India, this would not have happened. He is a scapegoat now.”

Thothuingam Shinglai, the convenor of the Committee for Justice and Release of Rahul Moirangthem, claimed that a special reward of Rs 50,000 had been offered for nabbing the HCAS robbers. Shinglai alleged that this was done under pressure from Smriti Irani. This was a part of the queries I had sent in a mail to HCAS on 28 July. No response was forthcoming. Towards the end of the conference, David Boyes, the convenor of the North-East India forum against Racism, questioned the “extended detention for such a minor crime (MCS) for boys with no criminal background.” He appeared to believe that this was done because of the police’s inability to catch the real culprits, or else to protect them.

At around 12 pm on 27 July, I was waiting for Moirangthem’s hearing to begin at court room number 20 in Patiala House—headed by metropolitan magistrate Akash Jain. Since the investigating officer hadn’t arrived, Moirangthem could not be presented before the magistrate. As he waited his turn, standing in front of the bench, his left hand in the tight grip of a constable and jostled by the constantly shifting crowd, I sidled up to him and we managed an interview in subdued tones.

He confirmed that on the night of 12 February, he was studying at home, and that he was indeed taken to HCAS on either 12 or 13 July at around 1 pm (he wasn’t sure of the exact dates). Moirangthem told me, “They pointed out the CCTV cameras and asked me to look at them. Then they made me walk around the basketball courts.” As for MCS, he admitted that he and his two friends had reached the school around midnight. However, he maintained that they never entered the school.

Finally, a little before 4 pm, Moirangthem’s name was called.  The magistrate was informed of the investigating officer’s absence, and Moirangthem was dismissed. On our way out of the court, we ran into IO Arvind Kumar, who apologised for being very busy, assuring us that he would be present on time at the next hearing.

The not-so-extraordinary story of Rahul Moirangthem is far from over. As of 22 August, five days ago, the STF claimed to have found the two missing accomplices in the HCAS case. The alleged accomplices have denied the charges, but will soon undergo a polygraph test. Moirangthem—who is out on bail—and his family met Colin Gonsalves, the founder of the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN).  Gonsalves has assured the family that they do not have any cause for worry. They have decided to appeal to the high court to drop all charges and enrolled Moirangthem at a school in Imphal so that he can finish grade twelve. The family is hopeful. There’s not much else they can be.