Evidence comes later. Criminologist Snehil Dhall says the first step towards solving a case is to penetrate the criminal’s mind
Snehil Dhall doesn't come across as the sort of man who practices creating an air of mystery about him. His T-shirt carries the name of his company. "Due to a foot injury, I can't wear formal shoes and all that goes along with the shoes I am wearing is a pair of denims and a T-shirt. But, if I wear a regular T-shirt, I will appear even younger than I am. The Crimeophobia logo helps me look older," he says, digging to a puff he has ordered at the café we meet.
Through the hour-and-a-half that we talk, the criminologist is careful not to reveal anything that may give a clue about his age — not the year of graduation nor when he solved his first case when he was in his early teens.
It was a case where a housing society of High Networth Individuals (HNIs) were being extorted by officials from the Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority (MHADA) who wanted to be allotted houses there, and accused them of a scam of Rs 8 crore. "When the society was built in Rs 5 crore, where was the question of a Rs 8crore scam? Also, through various investigations, we found that the men who said they were from MHADA were not with the government agency. The addresses they gave were either fake or the person named was deceased," he adds. It seems incredulous that a teenager was brought in to 'solve' the case. But, Dhall — who says he had to step up because no adult representative from his family was available — says his job was as much to defuse the tension between the adults — many of whom faced jail time if the case progressed — as it was to get access to places where a teenager wouldn't be seen as a threat, i.e. the police station.
Snehil Dhall. Pic/Nimesh Dave
Constantly finding himself in situations where he'd be called upon to resolve conflicts — sometimes even between classmates at the Singapore college where he studied international relations — Dhall figured out soon that criminology was probably the best career for him. He doesn't want the name of his institutions revealed either, but he moved from London to Sunderland and back, eventually setting up his firm, which he brought to Mumbai five years ago.
He is not a private investigator, he emphasises. While PIs look for evidence, Dhall uses psychology and the knowledge of criminals work to help his clients. Among his earliest clients, was a Yogesh Talati, who wanted Dhall to do what every prospective spouse seeks — investigate the woman he was dating at the time and planned on marrying. "I met her a few times and the psychological analysis I did didn't bode well. Some things, for instance, didn't match up. Her house was spic and span, but the bathroom was shabby.
"On speaking to the local cops, we found that she was involved in criminal activities but they didn't have enough evidence to nail her," Dhall says. The woman, he says, was Simran Sood. Who, along with accomplice Vijay Palande was implicated in the sensational murders of Delhi residents Karan Kakkad and Arun Tikku in 2012.
Psychological tactics, Dhall says, are the best weapon — when Palande and Sood had to be persuaded to stop harassing Talati or when, in one case, kidnappers had to be coerced into revealing their identity.
Dhall says he takes on cases only when his clients have tried all other sources of help — police, law, politicians — and failed. The kidnapping case, for instance, concerned a media person's (he won't reveal the name) driver. "The driver's brother had been picked up in Bihar and they were demanding a ransom of a few lakhs, which the driver couldn't afford," says Dhall, his mocha lined with cream lying untouched. Dhall told the kidnappers that the money would be handed to their relatives based in Mumbai. When the relatives landed at the site, they were arrested. They had become accomplices to the crime. Cornered, the kidnappers let the victim free. All this, within two hours.
Dhall finds work across various industries — fashion and corporate.
What kind of cases come to him from the fashion industry, we ask, wondering about intrigue of stolen designs.
"Relationships mostly," he smiles, telling us of only the other day when he had to counsel an angry boyfriend to not take his life. Corporate cases revolve around economic fraud. It's here that he makes most of his money, he admits. "I charge one out of nine clients. My fees starts at Rs 25,000 and could go up to Rs 75,000. However, I charge a one-time fee that stands till the case is resolved."
He is quite literate about the law, but he doesn't claim to know it all. For an ongoing case of fraud involving a Juhu hospital, he has brought in a team of two researchers with expertise in medicine and medical law specifically. His team of researchers, he says, is project based. He usually hires someone from the pool of resumes that litter his inbox.
But, it's his latest intern that sounds most interesting.
Pratham Padoshi is an 11-year-old student of a Navi Mumbai school, whose biggest task currently is to finish his final exams and ask Dhall all the questions that pop in his head.
They mainly relate to terrorism. "Why does the ISIS exist only in Syria?" or "why can't one take swift action against them?" Dhall, who was introduced to Padoshi by the boy's mother, finds it important to be both honest and expansive in the knowledge provided to children.
"I have been to the Dongri children's remand home where there are kids who have been jailed for a range of crimes. And, many of them show no regret. When asked why they are in, they rattle off the IPC section. The point is that as a society, we underestimate a child's understanding and participation in crime. But, terrorist organisations do not."
Dhall's pursuit of the understanding of crime also led him to the court of the controversial sadhvi Radhe Ma. "I want to understand the Bhagvad Gita and Mahabharat to better understand crime," says Dhall, who was introduced to Radhe Ma by actor Dolly Bindra, once a follower. However, when the two had a fallout, Dhall says, Radhe Ma wanted him to frame Bindra in a case. "When I refused, she filed fake FIRs against me as well," he says shrugging off the charges. He knows it's now all in a day's work.