The Copper’s Challenge By Jayanta Kumar Mohanty
Five years have passed since taxi driver, Diwakar’s mysterious death. Justice Sumonto Sarkar of Purba Medinipur district court, hearing the matter, was not happy with the progress of the investigation. The court had given eight more weeks to submit final investigation reports with evidences for the court to examine the case and issue verdict. The police had given its theory of exploring new forensic psychology, a relatively new mode of investigation, to conduct further probe in the murder case and establish its linkage with the underworld ivory smuggling.
“Should the Police drag the probe for so long?”The court wondered, hoping that there wouldn’t be any further delay in the submission of the final report.
Mr. Saket Sinha, the Superintendent of Police, Purba Medinipur was under pressure. The media was waiting to see how his last minute decision of appointing Mr. Arnab Majumdar as the investigating officer for the case, could bring truth to light. Will the elephant poaching gang, dishonest forest officials, excise check gate officers, ivory traders, and the big influential people involved in the international ivory smuggling racket be booked? Will the poor Diwakar’s wife and his four children get justice?
Now, Arnab Majumdar was left with just eight weeks to crack the case.
On the Spot
“Show me your check-in, check-out register,” the cop ordered the hotel Manager.
The fearful manager handed over the register to Mr. Arnab Majumdar, the newly appointed investigating officer for Diwakar’s murder case. Majumdar is a strict and stubborn police officer with an enviable track record in crime control. As a key shooter, he has gunned down 56 criminals in retaliation, and imprisoned several hundred during his 14 years of career in Police.
Majumdar looked at the register and asked, “Who checked out on Nov. 24? If Diwakar did so himself, then how was his dead body found in the cupboard of room #101 on Nov. 27?
The manager said, “Babu, I entered his check-out in the register myself. And, he left the hotel with his bag in my presence at 10a.m. I do not know how he entered the hotel again.”
Majumdar knew that the manager was lying. He just pushed him aside, and interrogated other staff in the hotel — sweeper, canteen staff, and the watchman — but could get no further clue to give direction to the investigation. He walked out of the hotel and looked at a small paan shop on the other side of the road. It was closed. He asked the manager, “Why is that shop closed? Where is the shopkeeper?”
The hotel manager replied, “Sir, Ravi and his father used to run this paan shop. Ravi’s father died last week. He has gone to Sagarpur, his home town in Odisha to perform the funeral and other rituals.”
“When will he come back?”
“Don’t know sir”, replied the Manager.
Ravi – Diwakar’s Closest Friend in Digha!
The police officer drove away and after a one hour drive, reached Sagarpur, Ravi’s village in Balasore district of Odisha. Ravi and his family panicked when they saw a cop in their house. Ravi silently sent his 9-year old son to call Kailash, the educated village headman. Kailash wasted no time, and arrived in just 5 minutes.
The interrogation started. “You knew Diwakar?” the voice of the police officer was stern.
“Babu, the taxi wala? Yes, we were friends for two years when he first came there, and I found that he was from my district,” replied Ravi.
“And he was always seen sitting and chatting with you for hours when he frequented the hotel every two weeks in last two years?” the police officer noted while trying to find a clue, and establish some connection to what clearly seemed to be a pre-meditated murder.
Ravi said, “Yes sir, taxi drivers just sit and relax at my shop for hours. But that day, I was not there. In fact, I came to my village for a month for the harvesting of paddy crop. I had just returned to Digha on Nov. 25, and to my horror saw the police taking out the decomposed body of my friend from the hotel on Nov. 27.”
“So, you’re certain he was murdered? Do you know how he was murdered?”
“Babu, when l returned to Digha after a month, my father told me about what happened that evening. Diwakar came to our shop that day and was enquiring about me. He bought paan from our shop at around 9p.m. and rushed back to the hotel. My father said that he was looking very happy and relaxed.”
“Babu, when his brothers and nephews came to claim his body, hey told me that he had vowed to stop working for the smugglers. You know when a person wants to quit the smuggling gang, the gangsters suspect that he would spill the beans to police. That’s the reason he was killed. But, I have no clue how he was murdered,” concluded Ravi.
The police officer left Sagarpur for Panapana, Diwakar’s village, which was 35 kilometers away from Sagarpur.
Digha attracted Diwakar more than it did any other taxi driver from his home town. Sumptuous sea food. Angrezi drinks. And a reasonably good drivers’ rest room in the hotel to sleep at night.
Did you say, “Beach”? No, he was a typical village man— not an appreciator of art, beauty, and nature. The beach never attracted him, nor did the romancing honeymoon couples at Digha beach.
Money was good. His client who belonged to a nearby village seemed to be good. But he was part of a big international network —a vast smuggling gang which was running the illegal ivory trade industry. Diwakar with instructions from his client used to carry ivory from Odisha, and handover the consignment to the right party in Digha every month, sometimes twice a month. He understood that the ivory smuggled from Odisha to Bengal, finally gets exported to foreign countries like Thailand, China, and Japan. He also understood that there was an enormous demand of ivory in the international market, and his client was a small part of the vast international ivory smuggling market.
As a taxi driver, Diwakar was happy to get his fair share which he could not dream of earning by driving tourists or local people in his taxi. He did not care to understand in depth the magnitude of the risks involved for being a part of this illegal trade. He was always assured by his client that there were big and influential people involved in this business, who could buy police, excise inspectors, and even build political pressure if someone in the network got caught by any obstinate, law-abiding, honest, scrupulous police or excise officer.
There was not enough awareness or understanding of the ban of ivory use and trade among these innocent taxi drivers. They only feared the excise check gate in Odisha-Bengal border where the inspector is transferred every three months. If a new strict check gate officer came along, he could create a ruckus. Their taxis along with ivory would be seized, and their driving licenses would be suspended or revoked. They might even have to serve jail terms.
Diwakar’s client had his contacts everywhere — right from the Odisha-Bengal border to the hotel where he had to hand over the ivory to the right parties. Yet, Diwakar’s wife and some of his friends tried to dissuade him from doing this. Diwakar’s wife made her husband vow on the head of their son to sever all relations with these smugglers, and stop carrying ivory in his taxi to Digha. Diwakar said, “This is the last time, as I have already committed to my client. After this, I won’t go to Digha with ivory anymore.”
It was a bright but sultry Sunday. Diwakar started from his village at 3p.m. His wife never thought that she was seeing off her husband for the last time. Diwakar reached his client’s place in half an hour. After loading the ivory, he informed his client that this would be his last trip to Digha. He had vowed not to be involved in this anymore.
Diwakar got into his taxi and went off without waiting to hear from his client. He reached Odisha-Bengal border in two and half hours. It was evening, and he got through the check post easily. The distance from the border to Digha was just 40 kilometers. It was already 7.45p.m. Relieved to have passed through the check post without mishap, Diwakar stopped at a roadside dhaba. He ordered hot tea, and lit his cigarette. He was just thinking of getting through the night and then out of this illegal trade. He thought that he would be happy earning less than by jeopardizing his life for money. He was sure that he could raise his three daughters and only son well with less money.
After finishing his tea, he lit another cigarette to spend some more time relaxing, and to be immersed in happy thoughts — of living his life without any fear for law. After a 15-minutes break, he got into his taxi, and took a right turn towards Digha, bidding goodbye to the highway which touches Kolkata.
Many other thoughts passed through Diwakar’s mind during the short drive.
Life in Kolkata
Diwakar had spent a quarter of his life in Kolkata (rather half of his life since he had a short life, and died at 43) working as a laborer. He never thought that he would become a driver, and have the pleasure of driving an Ambassador car. Ever since he dropped out from his school in Class IX, he had worked in Kolkata for almost 20 years.
Diwakar did well as a casual laborer in a factory in Kolkata. He earned well enough to be able to send rupees 200 every month to his wife, who was living with their three daughters in his native village in Balasore.
His younger brother Mahesh, who was also a laborer in Kolkata, persuaded him to learn driving. Both the brothers enrolled for evening driving classes, and learnt the hard way how to drive an ambassador car. Some of their friends dropped out of the driving training school because they thought it was risky. Getting a license was also not very easy. Diwakar requested his old boss, who was working in the Transport Department in Kolkata, to use his influence, and help him get a driving license.
After driving in Kolkata for a year, Diwakar decided to return to his home town Balasore which had growing opportunities for taxis and taxi drivers after Interim Test Range (ITR) in Chandipur — a centre for missile testing — was established; and after the Odisha government’s announcement for a university in the town as well. Plus, some industries such as Birla Tyres and Ispat Alloys started operations and contributed to the industrial growth of the town.
By the time he settled down in Balasore as a driver, his wife had conceived their fourth child. Their happiness knew no bounds. The couple was blessed with a son.
It was 8.45p.m., when he reached the assigned hotel in Digha. His client’s business partner was waiting for him there. He handed over the consignment in the hotel, and the client (actually his client’s client) invited him to join for dinner. Diwakar said, “I’ll join in 20 minutes.” He went down the stairs, and walked to the roadside paan shop— which used to be owned by Ravi, an Odiya from his district —to convey his decision that he won’t come here again for this purpose. But Ravi was not there, and Ravi’s father was there in the shop. He said, “Pranam kaka, where is Ravi?” The old man replied, “He has gone to village. He’ll be back by the time you visit here next— in 15 days.” Diwakar smiled and thought that he won’t come here anymore, neither after 15 days nor after a month; but did not disclose his plans to the old man.
He bought paan, and went back to the hotel. After a good bath, he joined his client’s partner for dinner. While enjoying his favorite “maccherr jhool” and rice, he felt dizzy. His head started spinning. He looked at his clients in suspicion. They held him and took him to his room. The waiter asked, “What happened?” The client replied, “He is drunk.” In the room, they tied his hands with rope. He did not know what happened next.
Three days later, some college students who checked-in to room #101 found that the room was stinking. When they reported it to the reception, a sweeper came to sweep and to mop the floor. He too reported the stink. Soon, more hotel staff rushed into the room. One of them opened the cupboard. The stench was unbearable. The dead body was wrapped in a jute bag. It had flies, ants, and rats all around. The hotel manager called the police, and the jute bag was unwrapped in front of the police. The staff recognized the body of Diwakar, the taxi driver from Odisha.
The Copper’s Challenge
In his 14 years in Police department, Arnab Majumdar had never been so clueless in any of the investigations he had done so far. He was expecting to get the evidence from the hotel and people in the surrounding of the hotel. But five years is a long time for the gang to destroy all the easy evidence a police officer would require to establish connections.
Police Jeep reached Balasore town. Panapana is just 20 kms away from the town on National Highway #5. Arnab’s heart says that he will be able to connect the dots between ivory smuggling world and Diwakar’s death, and drag the entire network of influential and powerful people to the court. But he was not sure if that would be possible in just 8 weeks. The investigation will certainly take a turn in the right direction once he meets Diwakar’s family and the other taxi drivers in Balasore.
About the Author
Jayanta Kumar Mohanty is a Delhi-based Business & Strategy Consultant who started his career in Indian Air Force. After a short stint in IAF, he moved to advertising as a copywriter and grew up in ranks to become the Creative Director of a Delhi based ad agency in just eight years. His last eight and half years was spent in an American company where he was leading a global eLearning and Skilling business, and a global team based out of US, UK, Philippines and India, as Director / President.