HYDERABAD: In two months, Dr Chetan Das Hotwani, a renowned paediatrician from Mirpurkhas, has aged by many years. On April 13, his son Inder Vineet, 11, went for an afternoon swim to the Hyderabad Club — and returned to be cremated on April 23.
Deadened, to the point of seeming drowsy, Dr Hotwani is hardly audible as he relives his worst days.
“Inder went for tennis the day before and wanted to swim but the under-15 pool had closed. The coach asked him to come early, and sheer excitement for a playful dip took him to the gates by 3:50pm. Two lifeguards escorted him inside at 4pm.”
Accompanied by his brother and his lawyer, Sajjad Ahmed Chandio, he pours out photographs of a cherubic boy — in some, Inder is soaked in Holi fervour, and immersed in joy in others; dancing at a wedding, with friends or with his young mother and two sisters.
And then, three stinging images — he is on a ventilator amid a web of tubes; and two close-ups of his corpse taken from the CCTV footage, where blackish bruises stain the chin and the back of his neck and shoulders.
Dr Hotwani, also an assistant professor at the Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences in Jamshoro, says the coach brought Inder to the hospital. “We got a call and rushed to the hospital, a few yards away from the club. Being a doctor, I too tried every revival procedure and then went to Karachi. His blood circulation and heartbeat were there but the brain was damaged. Even Aga Khan Hospital refused to keep him, citing brain death,” he narrates.
“He did not drown. They had sinister intentions and he resisted so he was throttled and flung into the pool,” says advocate Chandio.
The report from the Clinical Neurophysiology Department of AKUH, supports his claim — “… suggestive of severe cerebral dysfunction”.
Another concludes, “Appearances are in keeping with severe hypoxic brain injury...”
As the club, a government institution, is a subsidiary of the Ministry of Sports, Sindh, its political clout prevented Dr Hotwani from filing an FIR.
“We were numb but went from pillar to post for 11 days before a report was registered on May 2,” he says.
Meanwhile, his lawyer says that a three-minute CCTV account is all that the club volunteered.
“Touching their ears with a hushed ‘tauba’, some employees confided that they watched the entire recording four times.”
A look at this snippet of ‘evidence’ throws up definite reasons for disquiet. Dr Hotwani points out each aspect with robotic ease and glazed eyes — a child floating face down in the corner of the shallow end of the pool — apparently he was there for eight long minutes — neither the coach nor lifeguards are visible, and, an old woman appears to make desperate gestures in a bid to draw attention to the still child. Eventually, the coach sprints towards the gate with Inder over his shoulder and the same woman chases him.
The camera at the gate captures a man covering Inder’s bruises with his hand and the woman flails with rage.
Dr Hotwani and his advocate are certain that Inder never entered the pool — reason enough for authorities to assert that the child arrived unequipped.
“They have not returned his life jacket, goggles and earplugs. Neither did the police name any official in our report.”
Over at the club, the minister’s presence is a reason for pageantry. As I knock at a door to ask for a guided tour, I am told that membership is closed and then asked whether I am a “landlord or in business”. When I state that I am both, the coach Sajjad Ali is summoned to assist me.
Sajjad Ali, overconfident and a poseur, takes me to the swimming arena where all three pools are dark and empty. He tries the under maintenance excuse then slips up: “This area is sealed and lifeguards are in police custody. I got out on bail today. Accidents happen; a child drowned a few weeks ago. There were protests and press conferences but as the minister is looking into it, much was silenced,” he says.
He goes on to say that Inder arrived alone without any gear and that is against club rules. “But the case will be closed in a few days and our lifeguards will be out because Sindh IG A.D. Khowaja has assigned investigation to Inspector Siraj Lashari. The parents are happy; Lashari is honest.”
Ali explains that the medium pool is deepest in the centre at five feet and that pool timings are 4:30 to 6pm. When asked about his own training, his response was perplexing.
“I have been swimming for 15 years in rivers and streams and got this job six years ago, learnt techniques on the job and some members fine-tuned the rest. It’s my first job and all I did was rest before this,” says a man far too relaxed for one in charge of a scene of crime.
The absence of a post-mortem weakens Dr Hotwani’s case. But there are glaring contradictions that strengthen it, only if conscience, not clout, holds sway.
The writer is a journalist and author
Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2016