THE STING OPERATION
In his first book, The Anatomy of a Sting, author Bhupen Patel takes readers through the nuances of operating a sting, uncovering dirt on powerful men manipulating young girls for sex and services – a story that gathers enough evidence to grab the attention of concerned public authorities; Excerpts:
I had never seen anyone look as distraught as the woman sitting across me. Her eyes were red and swollen, and she had been crying continuously for the last half an hour. 'I am a victim of sexual assault,' she had said as soon as we sat down in the visitor's lobby of the Times of India building.
She had arrived unannounced, demanding to meet me, in the middle of one of the busiest days – I was racing to file a story before the day's deadline. But before I could ask her to come back later, she launched into her story amidst sobs.
'He is a senior bureaucrat in Mantralaya – the administrative headquarters of the Maharashtra government. I have been going there for some work. He has been demanding sexual favours from me every time I go to him,' she said, adjusting her dupatta. 'I am a lawyer. I read your newspaper every day and I know of the stings you do. Only you can expose this man,' she insisted.
I was shaken by the story. Rarely had I seen someone cry so much and with such anguish. As she continued to tell me more details, I knew that this would be a big story and probably even make it to the front page, if it was true. Also, the woman was in such a state that I couldn't leave her there. I wanted to help her and I knew I had to dig more. So, I began asking questions.
She immediately put forward one condition: that she would not reveal the name of the bureaucrat right away as he was extremely powerful and well known. She said that she would need a few more meetings with me before she could reveal her assaulter's name. She wanted to be convinced that this was the right way to expose the man.
She promised to call soon as she left. My mind raced, attempting to guess who the bureaucrat could be. I rushed back to my fourth-floor office, wondering when she would get in touch. I thought back to how she had praised the newspaper and the work I had done, feeling a certain sense of satisfaction.
A few days later, she came to my office again. This time, she appeared to be more composed. She stuck to her refusal to reveal the bureaucrat's name in the second meeting too. I tried to stay calm but was eager to know. She began narrating the story from four months ago, when she had visited the Mantralaya to get clearance for a file. She said that at her very first meeting with the bureaucrat he asked for her personal contact number. Given that he was almost her father's age, the lawyer gave it unsuspectingly. A couple of days later, she started receiving messages wishing her good morning and good night, which she again ignored as harmless. But soon, the messages became more personal.
The file she had handed over to the bureaucrat had her address in the documents. One day, she was shocked to see him at her doorstep with a broad smile on his face. 'I was passing by. So I thought I would pop in,' he said.
Not knowing how to turn him away, she offered him a glass of water. She seated him in the living room and went to the kitchen to fetch water. When she turned around, the bureaucrat had walked up behind her and tried to touch her inappropriately.
'I screamed at the top of my voice,' she recalled. The bureaucrat ran out of the house, sensing trouble. We needed evidence if we had to nail him. She said that despite her raising an alarm, the bureaucrat had not got the point. He continued to message her at odd hours. She had contemplated going to the police but then decided against it as the cops won't bother to touch a man who held such an important portfolio. The more I thought about this man, the more I was irked at the kind of liberty such men take. Who gives them power to harass women? What makes them think they can get away with anything and everything?
I decided to discuss the story with my crime editor, S. Hussain Zaidi. After I had told him the whole story, Hussain agreed to meet the lawyer with me the next day. On the third meeting, the three of us sat in the lobby, brainstorming on ways to nail the bureaucrat. The woman told us that he had called her last night, declaring that he would come to visit her two days later. This was it. It was too short a notice to arrange for the special cameras and recorders and conduct a thorough background check, but we decided to go ahead and lay a trap.
I then called up the woman and informed her that we would require a different room for the camera set-up, from where we would keep both of them in the frame. She agreed to arrange for another room, and we hired an entire team to execute the operation.
Over the next two days, the bureaucrat was in touch with the woman. He kept sending her messages that were meant to woo her. The night before his visit, the woman received a message saying that he would reach her place sometime the next afternoon. She informed us and we reached her place early that morning to ensure that the equipment was set up.
She offered us the flat next to her residence, which was empty; the owner had given her the keys. The technicians examined her flat and fixed the camera in an earthen pot that had money plant. Once the technicians had tested the equipment, we were ready.
The wait was nerve-racking. The bureaucrat had not been in touch for a few hours. Finally, her phone rang. It was him, informing her that he would reach in another ten minutes. Our crew hurried into the flat next door. The woman and I decided that if the man crossed his limits, I would call on her landline or in the worst scenario, ring the doorbell posing as a courier boy.
(Excerpted with permission from The Anatomy of a Sting, by Bhupen Patel, published by Penguin under their imprint Penguin Random House, in 2018)