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  Dr Saji Mohan, IPS  
  Trial of an innocent  
   
  LESS than five years ago, life was at its best for tall and handsome, septuagenarian Yohannan Varghese and his wife Podiamma. Both their children were happily married and well-settled in life. As Trustee of the local St. George Orthodox Valiapalli, he was highly respected and visitors to his house included present Union Labour minister Kodikunnil Suresh and state revenue minister Adoor Prakash. Suddenly, one afternoon, they received a telephone call from an unknown person that wrecked their life.

As I heard them narrate their agonizing story at their house at Kalanjoor in Pathanamthitta district, I remembered two lines from Poonthanam's 'Njanappana' (Chalice of Knowledge): "Randu naalu dinam kondorutthane thandiletti nadathunnathum bhavaan, Maalika mukaleriya mannante tholil maaraappu kettunnathum bhavaan" in which the poet discusses the transient nature of life; how in two-four days, God can send a healthy person on his funeral pyre and make a King a beggar.

The call that turned their life upside down was about the arrest of their son Saji Mohan, IPS, in Mumbai, allegedly with 12 kg of narcotics worth crores of rupees. Suddenly, they seemed to have lost their moorings in life. People began to view them with suspicion and they stopped visiting the old couple. Newspapers began carrying stories of how his son had allegedly amassed a fortune selling confiscated narcotics. They heard about cases after cases being registered against him.

One day some officials visited their house and told them that they needed his car, a Honda Civic (CH04F0948), for a day in connection with the case and it would be returned the next day. It is now five years since the car was taken to Chandigarh where it lies exposed to the elements. "The car was meant for my use. Saji bought it in Chandigarh because the registration fee was low there". He showed me documents to prove that it was bought on a bank loan. "Saji has no property other than a flat he bought in Kochi where his wife and children live. It cost Rs 30 lakh and I still pay Rs 18,000+ as equated monthly installment".

Varghese showed me the sale deeds of two landed properties he and his daughter-in-law owned before Saji was arrested. It was from the proceeds of this sale that he made the initial payment for the flat. "Where is the unaccounted money? There is not a single paisa which is unaccounted".

I met some of their neighbours while trying to locate his house and they all have respect for their integrity. "Saji's father was very strict with the church's accounts. Nobody would dare to bluff him. He was known for his foolproof accounting procedures, honesty and dedication," said Fr Thomas Mathew, the church's vicar and diocesan secretary.

"Nobody who knew the family would have believed that Saji Mohan could have pilfered confiscated narcotics worth crores and tried to sell it, as the police claim," said the priest. Theirs was not a poor parish as the church was being rebuilt at a cost of Rs 3 crore. Varghese was the Trustee of this church. "After his son's arrest, he resigned from the church post. Suddenly, the whole family seems to have aged. Even Saji Mohan's sister Sajitha has begun prematurely greying," said the priest who took me round the church under construction.

Varghese and Podiamma seem to have several tongues when they talk about their son. "We started calling him Saji Mon which eventually became Saji Mohan. His full name was Saji Mohan Varghese but at some stage "Varghese" got dropped from the name. Though I met Saji Mohan several times at Chandigarh, I had taken him for a Hindu. He did not wear his religion on his sleeve, though he would attend a Pentecostal church run by a pastor in whose school his two sons studied.

"Saji was always the first in his class. He was good in sports and games too. He studied in the military school at Bangalore. He qualified for both BDS and BV.Sc. It was a family friend who was a senior official in the Veterinary Department who persuaded him to choose veterinary science, as it offered better job opportunities. As soon as he graduated, he got a job with his posting at Attapady in north Kerala where he was also a guest lecturer at a government-run institute for health officials.

"While doing this job, he prepared for the civil services exam and got selected for IPS. He did not attend any coaching class. He was studious and I found him always with a book. He had no bad habits at all," said Podiamma. Varghese took over from where she left, "He excelled in shooting events while undergoing the IPS training". He took me to the first floor of his house to show me the medals he won.

I could make out that the house was built in installments. There were no signs of the crores Saji Mohan had allegedly amassed in the house. Everything about the house -- the furniture, the upholstery and the curtains -- was ordinary. What was extraordinary was the Bravery Award that President APJ Abdul Kalam conferred on him on April 29, 2004. He helped me take it out for a photograph. "He was given the Jammu and Kashmir cadre. After a few years of his service there, I wanted him to serve in Kerala for some time, just to have his company. So I wrote a letter to Chief Minister A.K. Antony with a copy to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Had Antony helped me at that time, Saji would not have been in jail today," he lamented.

I remember touring J&K during the elections in 2002 as an "observer". The district of Doda where Saji Mohan was the police chief recorded one of the highest rates of polling. How was the father able to tell me a lot about his son? Theirs was unlike most father-son relations in these days of nuclear families. "He would tell me everything about his life. There was nothing which he kept away from me. Even his marriage was arranged by us. He was a spiritually-inclined person." Even today he keeps in touch with his father and mother through telephone calls, allowed by the jail authorities, and letters, censored by the jail staff.

He showed me the last letter, a very long one, he received from Saji Mohan. With his father's permission, I read it in full. It begins with "Glory to God." I was stunned by his handwriting which was print-like. His English was simple and absolutely error-free. His love for his father and mother and his trust in the Almighty were as clear as his handwriting. As I read it, I wondered how anyone could accuse him of any wrong-doing, let alone peddling narcotics. "He was a socially conscious and committed person". I did not have to be told this by his father.

In fact, it was in the course of his campaign against narcotic use on school and college campuses that he met me for the first time. I remember him telling me that drug use was the greatest menace the youth in Punjab faced. It was not part of his duty to go to schools and colleges to speak against drug use but he considered it as his calling. He knew the region well.

"Chandigarh was not a new place for him. I lived in the city from 1967 to 1970. We were in Sector 20 and then Sector 29. Saji grew up in the city while Sajitha was born there. During 32 years of my military service, I lived in various cities and my family always accompanied me. I joined the military in 1956, the year Kerala was born, and I retired on April 1, 1988. I was Chief Superintendent, Signals Records, Jabalpur, when I retired. I was a Honorary Lieutenant. The day I retired I got a private job.

"I am not praising myself when I say that I am as good as a chartered accountant," said Varghese. I could see from the drawing room a photograph on the shelf taken soon after he retired from the army. It showed the couple in all their glory. In the photograph he was more handsome than his son. They are now just a shell of their former self. The whole house and everything inside it was proof of his abiding love for his son. He named his house "Saji Bhavan" and the nameplate said "Dr Saji Mohan, IPS". He was the first IPS officer from Kalanjoor.

As I went through the case records, affidavits and newspaper clippings, the distinct feeling I got was that Saji Mohan was not being defended properly in the courts. I had in this column written about the case in which he was convicted and punished. The case was so weak and the judgement so defective that a good lawyer can demolish it in a few minutes when he goes for appeal.

In fact, all the charges against him are laughable, though they are supposed to be as heinous as selling narcotics. There are several cases against him. Trial in one case is now going on in Chandigarh. There is another one in Mumbai while his appeal against the conviction is in the High Court. Given the fact that the cases in Chandigarh were registered after he was allegedly caught with 12 kg narcotics in Mumbai, there is a strong case to club all the cases together and hear them expeditiously.

The poor man has not been given a single day's bail for the last five years, while the Supreme Court has given bail to persons accused of murder only because they were able to have the services of lawyers like Fali S. Nariman. His cases are now handled by his only sister who lives abroad. She learnt engineering, not law. His own wife has to take care of his two sons, one of whom suffers from autism.

His parents are so traumatized and old that they cannot handle the cases. In fact, his father is a diabetic patient. Five years ago, doctors had advised him to go in for amputation of his left foot. When Saji heard about it, he came down to Kerala, gave his father the best possible medical care and moral support so much so that the amputation could be averted.

When I critiqued the judgement in which Saji Mohan was convicted, a friend, close to a senior politician in Kerala, wrote to me that he had paid Rs 2 crore to get a transfer to Kerala and he was trying to sell the narcotics to finance the bribe. My question to him was: why was the person who received Rs 2 crore not arrested? When I narrated this incident to his parents, his mother put her hands on her head and said, "Oh, my God, is this what people say? I know my son. We brought him up as a good citizen. He dedicated himself to fight injustice and evil. He will never do anything of that kind."

Varghese told me that stories about Rs 2 crore had also appeared in the Press. "I want my son back. I am no longer enamoured of his job. I get enough pension and I pay income tax. I can look after him well. Some mysterious persons have worked against him. God will ultimately be with us." Of course, Saji Mohan has not been sitting idle. He had been supervising the renovation work in the Arthur Jail Road, Mumbai.

Is that what the nation expects of a police officer, who is courageous and well-trained in anti-terrorism operations. The last time I met Saji Mohan, it was at a marriage function in Chandigarh. The whole evening we discussed nothing but the Mumbai attack, partly because my journalist son was reporting it from Ground Zero. I wondered why Saji Mohan was not sent there because he had very clear views on how to tackle the terrorists. Who are the persons responsible for sending him to jail when he should have been doing his job and attending to the needs of his doting parents, wife and children.

Before I conclude, let me mention that if I had even the slightest doubt about his integrity, it has been removed after visiting his house, listening to his parents, reading his personal letters and case files. Of course, these are empty words of sympathy. What Saji Mohan needs is legal advice and services that can save him and his family from the torture they have been suffering for the last five years. If there is any case which needs to be reinvestigated by an agency like the CBI, it is Dr Saji Mohan's case.

The writer can be reached at ajphilip@gmail.com

Courtesy: Indian Currents
 
  By  A.J. Philip  
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