KANNUR/PUTTAPARTHI ~ On a muggy March afternoon, six years after he was convicted of rape in Rajasthan and jumped parole, Bitti Mohanty stands in a Kerala courtroom, adamant that he is Raghav Rajan, a bank probation officer who knows nothing about Bitti Mohanty. Dressed in a blue shirt and beige cargos, he chooses to respond only to the name Rajan, and constantly tells the policemen escorting him: “Please don’t call me Bitti Mohanty.”
In Judicial First Class Magistrate M Smitha’s courtroom in Payyanur town in Kerala’s Kannur district, this case of impersonation and forgery is attracting extraordinary attention. The prosecution wants the 29-year-old accused, Bitti Mohanty, returned to police custody for further investigations. The defence lawyer pushes for judicial custody for his client, Raghav Rajan.
As a 20-member special investigation team of the Kerala Police tries to establish the identity of the 6-ft-4-inch tall man with A+ blood group, it encounters people who identify him as the ‘soft spoken Raghav Rajan’ and then those who say he is ‘parole jumper Bitti Mohanty’. “Down south, in all the institutions he studied or taught, he has been identified as Rajan,” says SK Sudarshan, deputy superintendant of Thaliparamba and the officer heading the investigations. “But in Rajasthan, not one person hesitated in identifying him as Mohanty.”
Surendra Kumar Sharma, deputy superintendant of the anti-corruption bureau in Dausa, Rajasthan, was seeing him after six years. “How are you, Mohanty?” was his first question. The lanky man, escorted by a team of police officers, promptly replied: “I am not Mohanty.” But Sharma remembered every detail of the rape case he had investigated in 2006 that went on to become one of the fastest cases tried in an Indian court of law.
“It was amazing how the officer opened Mohanty’s left eye and pointed out a small mole inside,” says Sudarshan, praising Sharma’s eye for detail. “Where is the doubt then?”
“Ninety-nine point nine per cent, it is him, and he has run out of options,” says Sharma, who spent hours interrogating Mohanty after he was arrested at Alwar railway station on the complaint of a German woman he was travelling with that he had raped her.
“Denial is his only defence now. He had denied it then too. After his arrest in Alwar, he kept saying that he had only had a couple of drinks with ‘his friend’ and did not know what happened after that. He also did not run away after the event but was travelling with the woman on the train, apparently hoping to clear up the misunderstanding between them. What happened back then was not necessarily pre-planned and he wasn’t a habitual offender. But what has happened after he jumped parole seems to have been meticulously planned.”
As news of the arrest and ‘planned cover-up’ flashed across TV screens in the country, a retired government school headmaster and his wife watched the story of Bitti Mohanty’s transformation to Raghav Rajan in their small flat in the bylanes of Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh. As the story unravelled, they felt shattered. “I haven’t slept well since that day,” says 71-year-old SV Rama Rao, who has unknowingly been a chronicler of Mohanty’s life after he jumped parole.
Bitti Mohanty arrived in Puttaparthy after he ran away, and introduced himself to everyone as Raghav Rajan. It wasn’t a random choice of place. Puttaparthi was familiar ground, a place to which the Mohanty family had been frequent visitors and where they knew enough people who could help them forge and sustain the lie of Raghav Rajan.
It began with a “VIP devotee from Odisha” putting in a good word for Mohanty to a neighbour on the first floor of South Block 3 at the Sai ashram at Puttaparthi. The neighbour, a retired bureaucrat, happened to be a director of a school for orphans run by the Ashram Trust. “I was introduced to him by the director,” recalls Rao, who ran the Deena Janodharna Pathakam Project. “He asked me to give the boy a teaching job at the school, and I did.”
Mohanty, now Rajan, was good at his job. He taught well, was “mild mannered” and there was “no reason to doubt him at all”. A regular at the temple, he attended bhajan sessions, was always attentive and passed off as a “genuine person”. “He was so nice all the time, and after a few days, I offered him some help in finding a place to stay,” says Rao. “He and a man he introduced as his father were staying at hotels then. I happened to know that a flat on the same floor of the building that I live in was falling vacant and helped him get it on rent.”
With that one gesture began a six-year long association that also tells the story of Mohanty’s transformation to Rajan. It was during his stay in Puttaparthy that he applied for and got a driver’s licence, voter card and passport.
“In the initial days he was always a bit depressed,” says Rao, who Mohanty addressed as ‘guruji’. “He told me it was health related. In fact, he also had a bad bout of jaundice in the initial months and my wife and I practically nursed him back to good health. I remember his telling me that his father was unwell during the same period and that is why he couldn’t visit him.”
Slowly, the retired headmaster and Mohanty bonded. “My wife and I were fond of him. Had we known his history, we would not have got involved in his life. But there is absolutely nothing negative I can say about him for the duration of time that I have known him,” Rao says, staring at the blank TV set that first gave him news of the impersonation.
But it was not just Mohanty’s demeanour that convinced people that there was nothing amiss. It was also the fact that his family constantly visited him in the temple town. “He introduced me to everyone in his family,” says Rao. “In fact, I have had long chats with his father, including a discussion on finding a suitable girl for marriage. I last saw them in February, when they all spent a week here (the flat is still rented by the family). For me, he was a regular boy from a regular family.”
During police investigations, Rao identified retired DGP of Police BB Mohanty as a man he knew as “Rajan’s primary school teacher who was also a family friend”. In his statement to the police, Rao also said that the retired DGP and his wife lived with Rajan off and on and were “friendly people”. On his part, BB Mohanty acknowledges the man whose identity is in question as his son Bitti, and has identified him as such from a photograph he was shown by the Kerala Police—who say that he had no role in his son’s machinations.
Raghav Rajan proved to be an excellent teacher. After a stint at the school for orphans, he landed a job as a computer science teacher at Sri Vidya Degree College in Kottacheruvu, 13 km from Puttaparthi. It was around this time that he first discussed his desire to study further with ‘guruji’. “I suggested that he do his MTech, since he had already done his BTech,” says Rao. “But he was keen on doing an MBA and took the MAT. His scores were very high. He had a couple of offers, but after talking to his parents decided to go to Chinmaya Institute of Technology in Kannur to do his MBA. He would keep in touch with me, telling me on the phone about his progress.”
Sometime in 2011, Rao noticed a small advertisement in the papers for a bank services exam. “I called him in Kannur, and suggested that he take it,” says Rao. “He had been doing teaching jobs and I felt this would help him settle down with a regular job.” Mohanty took that exam and did very well. “He called me after both the exam and the interview and told me it went off well,” Rao recalls. “I was happy for him.”
In June 2012, Raghav Rajan joined the Madai branch of the State Bank of Travancore in Payangadi; colleagues here describe him as ‘competent’ and ‘quiet’. At first, he stayed at a lodge in Kannur and would travel to the bank every day. Then he was introduced to Abdul Qadir, an elderly gentleman who ran a photostat shop right next to the bank’s ATM.
“He was looking for a room to rent in Payangadi and I happened to have a place,” says Qadir. So, for Rs 3,000 per month, Raghav Rajan took the first floor of Zareena Mahal, a crumbling old house with a grand mango tree in an otherwise overgrown courtyard. On the ground floor of the house lives the bank’s deputy manager.
“The duration of Rajan’s training period at the Madai branch was six months and it was just about to end when we received an anonymous letter,” says Ranjit Thomas, the public relations manager of State Bank of Travancore.
On 6 March, when Madai bank manager Geetha V walked into her office, she found an envelope on her desk. So did a general manager of the bank in his Trivandrum office. Written in Malayalam, the letters said that Raghav Rajan was in fact Bitti Mohanty, a man convicted of rape by a court in Rajasthan.
Rumours in town suggest that a batchmate of Mohanty at a different branch may have sent the letter. “There is talk that he had a girlfriend to whom he may have revealed his true identity, but that doesn’t really matter,” says Sub-inspector Anil Kumar Matonandy of the Palengady police station, “and Mohanty was vague and noncommittal in response to a question about it.” “The letter referred us to a website,” says Thomas. “We started cross checking the points made in the letter. We called the two references he had mentioned at the time of joining, one in Puttaparthi and another in Rajasthan. By the end of the day, we were convinced that this was a case of impersonation—and went to the police.”
But it was only on 7 March that bank officials got a chance to meet the DGP and hand over the anonymous letter. The DGP ordered a preliminary enquiry.
Sub-inspector Matonandy had never heard of the Bitti Mohanty case. “I first went to YouTube and Google to get a background,” he says as he stacks a sheaf of papers with numerous signatures of Raghav Rajan. None of them matches Bitti Mohanty’s signature style. “When we first approached him, he denied he was Mohanty. In the meanwhile, we were cross checking all the documents he had given the bank,” says the investigating officer, who has since handed the case over to a larger team constituted by the Kerala Police.
From the first floor of Zareena Mahal, the police recovered a laptop, a printer, dozens of educational certificates and clothes. Every document they found had the name Raghav Rajan. Calls were made to the schools and colleges in Cuttack that figured in the certificates the police had found. “It was strange. The roll number and marks on each certificate were absolutely correct, only the name wasn’t. On school and college records, Raghav Rajan did not exist. As per their records, those roll numbers and marks belonged to Bitti Mohanty. Looks like he changed only the name on all his original certificates,” says Sub-inspector Matonandy.
According to investigators, it appears that Mohanty had used his own computer and printer to forge the certificates. Prima facie, the Kerala Police felt they had a case and registered one of impersonation, forgery and cheating against Mohanty. Charges under the Passport Act may also be framed at some point.
Mohanty was arrested on 11 March 2013. After first confessing to being the man the Rajasthan Police was looking for, Mohanty changed his statement the next day and exercised his right to call a lawyer (suggested by the police).
Nicholas Joseph has been practising in the courtrooms of Payyanur, Thaliparamba and the Kerala High Court for nearly 25 years. When he got Mohanty’s call, he had no idea who or what the case was about. “I met him briefly when he was in police custody. He was very sharp and convinced me to take on the case,” Joseph says. “Besides academic interest in the case, I feel there is also some foul play. The circumstances of the Rajasthan case are not convincing, and if he is the son of such a senior police official, then why didn’t they explore other legal options? Bitti Mohanty need not have jumped parole.”
In his client’s defence, Joseph argues that anyone who claims that the man on trial is Bitti Mohanty needs to prove that this is so beyond doubt. The Kerala Police has demanded a DNA test, and the lawyer says he will advise his client to undergo one—though it is voluntary.
For many, it seems to be an open-and-shut case. But the Kerala Police say it will be tough. For starters, though he has been identified by the Jaipur jail authorities and policemen who looked into the rape case, there is no forensic evidence to nail his lie yet. Rajasthan prison officials started storing fingerprints of prisoners only a couple of years ago. Those of Mohanty, sentenced to seven years in prison, were not taken. There was no DNA test done at any point of the investigation in Alwar either.
The Kerala Police have filed a petition for such a test. An investigating officer expects Mohanty to submit himself to one because not doing so would seem as if he has something to hide. “But at present, we have nothing to match it with. His parents also have the option of not agreeing to a DNA test, in which case, we will have a problem.”