On September 8, 2017, in Gurugram, India, the parents of little seven-year-old Pradyuman Thakur were ready to take their children to school first thing in the morning.
The boy lived with his parents and older sister and attended Ryan International School, India’s largest private sector school network. Family and friends described Pradyuman as an affectionate, intelligent and active child.
In a documentary for Netflix, the boy’s parents still show cards and gifts made by the little one, which were delivered with lots of love to the family on commemorative dates.
Classes would start at 8 am, Pradyuman and his sister woke up around 6:30 am. In an interview, Sushma Thakur, the boy’s mother, even said that she did not like to wake up early, but that that day she was excited about the birthday of one of her colleagues.
Pradyuman and his sister arrive at school
On the day of the crime, Barun Thakur, the boy’s father, left his children at the school gate between 7:47 am and 7:55 am. He waited until he was sure he could see them in, and then he went back to the house.
The trip back took about 10 minutes, and as soon as he got home the landline phone started ringing. Upon answering, one of the school secretaries, in an agitated manner, asked Pradyuman Thakur’s parents to go there immediately.
During the call, the father asked to speak to the director, who answered and said that his son had an accident: he was found with heavy bleeding and was soon taken for medical attention. The parents immediately went to the designated hospital emergency room to find their son.
Sushma Thakur, the mother, says that at this moment the couple still had no idea of the gravity and that she even thought that Pradyuman was running and ended up accidentally falling in one of the corridors, since he was a very active child.
While heading to the emergency room, the parents received another call from the school, informing them that Pradyuman would go to another hospital with greater infrastructure. At this point, the family begins to despair.
Arriving at the hospital
At 8:15 am, Sushma and Barun Thakur arrived at the hospital, where they were greeted by the teachers who gave Pradyuman first aid and then taken to the emergency room.
At the bedroom door, the doctor in charge only authorized Barun’s entry, informing him that the mother should wait outside. Upon entering, the father was faced with a scene he would never forget: Pradyuman was lying motionless on a stretcher, his body was covered in blood and the right side of his neck was bandaged.
At this point, the doctor removed the bandages from the boy’s neck and showed the father an extremely deep cut that ran from the middle of his neck to the base of his ear.
If it was someone else’s child I wouldn’t have the courage to look at the body… It was a lot of blood.Barun Thakur, in an interview.
The type of injury was not something that could be done by accident, not even by another child during play. The doctor informed that the hospital could not do anything as Pradyuman arrived lifeless.
“Who did this to Pradyuman?”
Parents were in shock, other families started to wonder how this could happen inside the school, since it was such a safe place. Some parents of students even managed to film the scene, one of these excerpts appears in the series A Big Little Murder made by Netflix, detailing the case.
In the video it is possible to see that the man walks next to a trail of blood in a zigzag format that leads to the younger students’ bathroom, blood marks made with his hands appear on the walls.
The trail leads to one of the last stalls in the bathroom, where the flashlight is lit and a pool of blood can be seen around a vase on the floor. You can see a sharp piece of wood, possibly the murder weapon.
The crime scene was completely altered because the police had not cordoned off the area properly and evidence could not be collected as per protocol. People who were at the scene, reported that even before the arrival of the authorities, the employees had already cleaned the entrance door of the bathroom.
The entrance to the school was only completely blocked off after the threat of people saying they were going to burn the place down. The victim’s family revealed that the police did not act with the rigor they should have.
Knife found at crime scene
Police officers told the media that a bloodstained knife was recovered from the area where Pradyuman was found, and a forensic team examined the object and collected evidence, including fingerprints.
The crime would have to have happened in a window of at most ten minutes, because as soon as he got home the father already received the first call from the school.
The first theory was that as soon as he entered the school, Pradyuman went to the bathroom and there he found a school employee committing some illicit activity, and that this person, with the intention of not being discovered, ended the boy’s life.
The only clues so far were the security cameras, but none of them were exactly in the bathroom hallway, but in adjacent hallways. Footage recovered from the hallway near the crime scene showed Pradyuman trying to crawl out of the bathroom and bleeding profusely before passing out.
Ashok Kumar, the perfect suspect
Police detained and interrogated ten people and observed bloodstains on the shirt of Ashok Kumar, the school bus driver who helped carry Pradyuman to the car that took him to the hospital.
Cellphone video recorded by a witness at the crime scene showed school officials asking Ashok to help carry Pradyuman and transport him to the hospital. He was arrested in connection with the murder at noon, a few hours after the crime.
Security cameras showed Ashok in the vicinity of the bathroom at the same time that Pradyuman was allegedly attacked. He was also one of the first people to show up at the crime scene, after discovering the body.
A student’s father told police he remembers telling Ashok not to wash his bloodstained shirt after carrying the boy on his lap, as it could contain evidence.
Then the driver was seen washing his clothes under a faucet. The reason, he said, was that he couldn’t stand the smell of blood.
The deputy police commissioner stated that Ashok Kumar arrived with a school bus at 7:50 am and went to the school building’s ground floor bathroom, which was commonly used by staff and students.
According to police, he was carrying a knife he had found in the bus’s tool kit and went to the bathroom to wash it before taking it home for his own use.
When Pradyuman entered the bathroom, the police suggested that Ashok tried to sexually assault the boy and, meeting resistance, murdered him with the knife, which was left at the scene of the crime.
That same day, late in the afternoon, officers claimed that Kumar had confessed to the murder while in custody.
Beaten by the police
Ashok’s arrest was not well received by the local population, even Pradyuman Thakur’s family were unhappy about it as they did not believe he was to blame.
Saurabh Raghav, a bus driver who worked for the same school as Ashok Kumar, later claimed he was pressured by Gurugram police to claim that the knife found at the scene of the murder was part of the bus’s tool kit.
A medical examination of Pradyuman Thakur’s body ruled out any possibility of sexual assault. Another witness, the school’s gardener named Harpal Singh, who was one of the first at the scene to find Pradyuman, claimed that he had not seen any bloodstains on Ashok Kumar’s clothes before carrying the boy.
Harpal Singh also claimed he was physically assaulted by the police in an attempt to force him to hand over Ashok.
Ashok Kumar publicly repeated that he was innocent and had not committed the murder. He later claimed that he had been tortured by the police for two hours and that he had confessed for fear of being killed due to the violence he had suffered.
He was not given food for two days while in custody and was repeatedly beaten by police.
Journalists said officers appeared to be in a rush to find a culprit in record time in order to silence rumors that they had not preserved the crime scene or collected evidence as per protocol.
On February 28, 2018, Kumar was acquitted of all charges related to the murder of Pradyuman Thakur by a special court.
Transfer of the Investigation to the CBI
In 2017, after a huge negative popular reaction over the way the police were handling the case and intense attempts to blame Ashok Kumar, the CBI took over the case.
Ashok was forced by the police to appear in several television interviews where he made a repeated and forced speech in which he confessed his guilt.Something quite contradictory, since the authorities do everything not to expose the person of interest so as not to jeopardize the investigation.
Pradyuman Thakur’s family said they had also requested the involvement of the CBI to investigate the possibility that other students at the school were linked to their son’s death.
They received information that some older students were drinking alcohol in the presence of younger students and threatening younger students to stop them from telling their teachers.
The CBI sent a forensic team to the school on September 22, 2017, to review the evidence and the crime scene independently of the Gurugram Police investigation.
Upon investigation, the CBI identified a different knife as the murder weapon, stating that they had recovered it at the crime scene and that it was hidden inside one of the restrooms. The CBI also reviewed the footage from the day of the crime and found that there were more students visible in the footage than Pradyuman Thakur.
Student arrest for murder
A student was arrested for murder, but he has not been identified.A student was arrested for murder, but he has not been identified. In the documentary about the case shown by Netflix, this student is called Bolu. This is not his real name as he was only 16 at the time and had his identity protected. From now on we will call you by this pseudonym for better understanding of the case.
Bolu was known to his peers both for his talent in playing the keyboard and the bullying he suffered as a child due to being overweight.He was the butt of jokes, malicious pranks and had no friends.
Colleagues report that he always sought the approval of the class, but did not maintain firm friendships. Bolu also had a history of strange behavior, never got good grades, and used to pay other students to do his homework.
Not being a popular kid, he always wanted to prove to everyone how brave and worthy of attention he was. A colleague recalls that he once showed him several cuts on his arm, bragging that he felt no pain, as a show of strength.
And as if that wasn’t enough, Bolu kept saying in the hallways that he was capable of poisoning a student just to postpone the semester’s tests, lines that made him gain the attention of his colleagues. Bolu was one of the first to arrive at the scene of the crime and it was he who informed the teachers that another student was injured.
Based on footage from the school’s cameras, the CBI questioned the unidentified student, who could be seen in the footage exiting the bathroom at the time the crime was committed.
The knife recovered from the bathroom had been purchased by Bolu at a local market a few days earlier. The CBI further stated that, under cross-examination, Bolu confessed to the murder in the presence of his father, independent witnesses and a juvenile welfare officer.
The motivation for the crime would have been the boy’s low school performance, as he was already recovering in three subjects and on the day of the crime he would have another exam scheduled, for which he did not study. Bolu would have killed little Pradyuman just to postpone the school’s evaluation that day.
School staff arrest
Following the murder of Pradyuman Thakur, the parents of several students filed a police complaint alleging that the school had been negligent in maintaining security measures.
They particularly pointed to a collapsed wall that allowed access to the school grounds, as well as several security cameras that were not working due to lack of maintenance. Several employees were arrested.
Pradyuman Thakur remains without justice
To determine what the trial would be like, the Juvenile Justice Council created a commission that included a psychologist for an expert report on the accused.
On November 11, 2017, the student was placed in a juvenile home for observation following a court order.
After conducting assessments on the unidentified student’s mental and physical status, the Juvenile Justice Board stated on December 20, 2017 that he would be treated as an adult and would undergo a regular trial in court.
After several appeals were filed, all proceedings in the case were suspended until it was decided whether the student should be tried as a juvenile or an adult. To date, the trial process has not started because the Supreme Court has not made a decision in this regard.