New Delhi: The friendly young woman was a fixture at the college canteen for nearly two months. Dressed in a white coat, like all the other medical students grabbing quick cups of tea, she seemed to have a real knack for striking up conversations with different groups of people.
But 25-year-old Shalini Chauhan was no medical student, but a police constable working undercover to crack a ragging case at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Medical College (MGMMC) in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. The hours she spent at the canteen, drawing people out and getting them to talk, eventually resulted in 11 students being arrested and their alleged victims coming forward.
“I chose the canteen because the students didn’t really care who was there eating or chatting and also because no ID cards were checked,” Chauhan told ThePrint. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though, she added — there were moments when she worried her cover had slipped.
“Initially, some students would get very suspicious and that would scare me. If they realised who I was, the entire case would be jeopardised. So, I would tell different groups of students different things about the year I was in, where I was from etc,” Chauhan said.
The policewoman was walking a tightrope — she had to ascertain the facts behind a complaint of serious ragging, including the identities of the victims and perpetrators, after more traditional investigations had reached a dead end.
Also read: Rajender Singh, Delhi supercop who caught ‘superthief’ Bunty, on his greatest hits & a few misses
How the undercover operation started
In July this year, an anti-ragging helpline in New Delhi received a call from Indore. The complainants alleged that a group of senior students at MGMMC would call them to their rooms and then abuse and slap them. The bullies would also allegedly force them to harass women classmates and simulate sex acts on pillows.
However, due to fear of reprisal, the complainants did not divulge any further information about themselves or their alleged tormenters.
Nevertheless, a case was registered at the Sanyogita Ganj police station in Indore and the police visited the medical college’s campus.
“Initially, we approached the students ourselves but no one wanted to come forward,” said station house officer (SHO) Tehzeeb Qazi.
For a couple of months, there was no movement in the case, but the Sanyogita Ganj police team came up with a fresh plan — to go undercover. It was around this time, in September, that Chauhan was assigned to the case.
“A team was formed,” Qazi explained. “Shalini could easily pass off as a student, while some male cops were tasked with spending time in cafes in and around the campus.”
Some cops posed as canteen workers, while others took on the role of customers in nearby cafes.
Chauhan’s role was the most crucial, since she not only had to infiltrate the alleged ragging squad but also get the purported victims to speak up.
Asked if the college authorities knew about the undercover operation, Qazi said: “They didn’t exactly know who was in which role. Only that police personnel were and keeping tabs in civil uniform and questioning students”.
ThePrint contacted the college via the landline number on the official website but no response was received. An email has been sent to the dean’s official ID. The copy will be updated when response is received.
‘I had to be very careful’
Shalini Chauhan, who joined the police in 2014-2015, was briefed to connect with possible victims as well as perpetrators. She was acutely aware of the delicate nature of this task.
“I had to be very careful. Asking too many questions would have made them cautious,” she said. “Also, if the suspects came to know of me, there was a chance that would further threaten and harass the victims.”
To build a rapport with students, Chauhan tried to ensure that she did not come on to strong initially.
“For the first couple of days, I would just chat with the students about food, classes, medical sciences in general. Then slowly I started asking them about how the seniors are and what happens inside,” she explained.
There were some close calls, though. “The canteen would remain crowded most of the time so if people would get suspicious over me asking questions I would just shift through and disappear,” she added.
The sustained efforts of the team over the next two months eventually paid off and 11 students were arrested under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) — 294 (obscene act in any public place), 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), 506 (criminal intimidation), and 323 (voluntarily causing hurt).
Qazi said that eight alleged victims have also come forward and given their statements.
“It was a great learning experience for me,” Chauhan said. “I never thought I could pass myself off as someone else and help crack such a sensitive case. I felt nothing less than a spy.”
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
Also read: Delhi Police sub-inspector alleges abuse by advocate husband, FIR lodged after 3rd complaint