HAPUR, Uttar Pradesh -- A bail order in favour of the prime accused in the Hapur lynching case has prompted concerns, among the families of the victims and their legal representatives, that the Uttar Pradesh police is sabotaging their own investigation at the behest of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
"This is because of the BJP," said Mohammed Saleem, the younger brother of the victim Mohammed Qasim. "This is because of Yogi Adityanath."
Last week, Yudhishtir Singh, accused of lynching Qasim on June 18, arrested under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code, was granted bail by the Hapur Sessions Court. The bail hearing for another accused — Rakesh Sisodia — was scheduled for July 12, but has been deferred to July 19.
Videos of the brutal attack on Qasim, and another Muslim man named Samiuddin who survived, went viral. The attack, the videos suggest, were prompted by rumours that Qasim was killing a cow.
In the first video, Qasim was seen lying bruised and bloodied in a field, surrounded by a mob that refused water to the dying man. In the second video, young men were seen hitting, hurling abuses and tugging at Samiuddin's beard, even as the elderly man was bleeding and finding it hard to stand. A photograph showed Qasim being dragged face-down through a field by a mob, as three policemen looked on.
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Singh's bail hearing, Qasim's family said, was conducted in haste without informing them.
"It has come as a shock. We did not even know about the bail hearing," said Mohammed. "No one from our side was present."
Prominent human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover, who is representing Samiuddin, said the UP police had deliberately undermined the investigation.
"We are going to unmask the complicity of the state," Grover said.
Legal representatives for the accused maintain that the police have arrested the wrong men. "The bail happened because there is no evidence," said Bhopal Shishodia, who is representing the four men accused in this case. "The police could present no clear picture of what happened."
The First Information Report (FIR) has been registered against 20 to 25 unknown persons.
"It is unbelievable that the police has failed to track the men in the mob in over three weeks," said Mohammad Noorullah, a Delhi-based lawyer engaged by Qasim's family.
We are going to unmask the complicity of the state.
"A person accused under section 302 (murder) of the IPC normally doesn't get bail easily. I can't afford to comment on the court order but we had put together the statement of the victim's family, video footage of the incident and other corroborative evidence in the case diary," Superintendent of Police (SP) for Hapur, Sankalp Sharma, told the media after bail was granted.
However, a close reading of Judge Renu Agarwal's bail order, and interviews with lawyers for the prosecution and defence, suggest the police have presented differing versions of events before the court — and has offered little evidence to support these claims.
The FIR prepared by the police immediately after the incident says that Samiuddin, Qasim and Samiuddin's brother were involved in an accident with a motorcycle, as they were going from Madurpur village to Dhaulana Tehsil via Bhaghera Khurd village. A fight ensued and the bike rider summoned 25 to 30 people who beat up Samiuddin and Qasim. The FIR states the attack was by unknown persons.
The police's case diary, which is an account of the investigation, says that Qasim and Samiuddin were attacked by 15 to 20 people when they were slaughtering a cow.
Since the incident occurred, media reports and lawyers for both sides have pointed to apparent shortcomings in the investigation. The police, for instance, have not recovered any evidence to support either the road-accident or the cow-slaughter theories.
"If there was a motor-accident, where is the motorcycle?" asked Noorullah, the lawyer who has been engaged by Qasim's family. "If it was a case of cow slaughter, where are the weapons, cows, where is the flesh?"
If it was a case of cow slaughter, where are the weapons, cows, where is the flesh?
Noorullah said that he was stunned that bail was granted in such a gruesome murder case.
"First the police diverted the issue from the mob lynching on the rumor of cow slaughter to a motorcycle accident," he said. "Now, the police failed to protest the bail. They did not even try."
Neither Singh nor Rakesh Sisodia, the two main accused in the case, are in the videos clips of the incident, their defence has claimed.
But Samiuddin, in his police statement cited in the bail order, has identified Singh as one of the accused.
In her order granting bail to Singh, Judge Agarwal said — without going into the merits of the case — the material put before her by the police indicates the murder did not seem to be pre-meditated, that Qasim's death occurred after a motorcycle accident, that the FIR was registered against unknown persons, and that an investigation was still underway.
"This is adequate reason for bail," she wrote.
Saleem, Qaseem's brother, said that Singh's release posed a danger to his family's physical safety. "We are afraid for our lives. We set up our fruit and vegetable stalls on the road, anything could happen," he said.
"The state is going to ensure these people don't get justice," said Grover, the human rights lawyer, drawing attention to the sloppy investigation. "This is going to be an uphill task."
"If the FIR is wrong, how can anything that follows from it be right?" asked Nadeem Khan, a social activist with the United Against Hate campaign, which carried out a fact-finding mission a day after the lynching.
This FIR, Saimuddin's family has maintained since the incident, was prepared under duress. "We said that we wanted justice, and the police reassured us that this would happen, and so my brother signed," Samiuddin's brother Mehruddin had told the media.
In a subsequent interview, on July 12, Mehruddin told HuffPost India that, soon after the accident, his brother Samiuddin was in no position to offer a coherent statement to the police.
"He cannot recall when the statement was taken. He does not remember naming the accused (Sisodia and Singh)," he said. "The accused men were arrested soon after lynching but Samiuddin was not in a position to speak for days after the attack."
If the FIR is wrong, how can anything that follows from it be right?
Mehruddin has previously told the media that he had found ink on Samiuddin's thumb when he saw him in hospital on June 18 – as if someone had taken his thumb impression on a piece of paper – but the family does not when, why or by whom. Samiuddin, Mehruddin said, did not remember giving his thumb impression.
Mehruddin, who was not present at the bail hearings for the accused men, said that his family – at this point – were prioritizing Samiuddin's recovery over the criminal investigation.
"There is only so much we can do. We have limited resources and we are using it to help my brother get better," he said. "We have no experience in how to deal with a criminal investigation. We were depending on the government but the police have let us down at every step, from the FIR to the bail."
We were depending on the government but the police have let us down at every step, from the FIR to the bail.
One of the more surreal aspects of the case pertains to a cow and a calf.
While Superintendent Sharma had previously told HuffPost India that neither cows nor weapons of slaughter were found on the crime scene, residents of Baghera Khurd have told media outlets, including HuffPost India, that the police did recover a cow and calf from the scene of the crime, but spirited them away.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, last month, two residents told HuffPost India that they had kept the animals with them on the night of June 18.
The father said, "Three policemen came at about five in the evening and asked us to keep the cows. They came with a vehicle at about five the next morning and took them away."
Pointing to the defunct Muslim graveyard in the village, he said, "I tied the cows with my own hands right over there. They told us to never talk about this with anyone or else."
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