On the morning of 20 September 2018, journalists in Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh were invited to witness something unusual. Upon reaching the secluded spot, they discovered a group of armed policemen shooting in the distance, and quickly took positions behind them.
After a couple of minutes, two speeding police vans were seen leaving the site. The vans were guarded by police officers, which made it impossible to see what they were carrying.
It is only then that the Uttar Pradesh Police declared that they had successfully killed Mustaqeem and Naushad in an encounter, but did not offer the media a chance to look at their dead bodies.
Two among the many journalists who were ‘invited’ to witness the encounter, told The Quint that they did not see Mustaqeem or Naushad, either dead or alive, while the encounter was underway.
According to a press note issued by the Aligarh Police, the two Atrauli residents were killed as they were involved in the murder of six people in the district over a span of one month. Among those murdered were two members of Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh’s family and a sadhu from Harduaganj – curiously, all three killed on the same night.
Prior to the encounter, the police had, on 18 September, arrested five other people – Sabir, Nadeem, Mustaqeem ’s brother Salman and two residents of Atrauli, Dr Yasin and Irfan – who are now in police custody. At that press conference, the police claimed that three others – Naushad, Mustaqeem and Afsar – were absconding.
Fishy Encounter Led Us to Aligarh
Ever since Yogi Adityanath became Chief Minister in 2017, the UP police has conducted over 1,500 encounters, killing 60 people and injuring over 400. There have been allegations, some substantiated by media reports, that many of these encounters were fake.
Following the incident on 20 September, several news reports questioned the authenticity of the encounter. Further, controversy around the police engagement grew thicker, after family members of Mustaqeem and Nushad claimed that the encounter was fake.
With several unanswered questions in mind, The Quint visited several locations in Aligarh district to understand what exactly happened and why.
Is the Slain Sadhu’s Family Satisfied?
Roop Singh was one of the two sadhus who were murdered in the district, in a span of one month. He would stay at a small ashram in Safedpura village, where he was killed in the intervening night of 14-15 September. Police say Mustaqeem, Naushad and five others had killed Roop Singh by hitting him on the head.
Police also said that Mustaqeem and Naushad had fired at them during the encounter and recovered country pistols from the site. But If Naushad and Mustaqeem had a gun during the police encounter, why didn’t they use it to kill the sadhu Roop Singh?
The Sadhu’s family has refused to buy the police’s story. According to the sadhu’s brother Giriraj Singh, the police went about arresting innocent people as it was under “huge pressure to solve the case.” Why? Because along with the sadhu, a married couple from Kalyan Singh’s family too were killed on the same night.
"“Rajveer Singh (Kalyan Singh’s son & BJP MP) had asked the police to solve this case in five days. The police couldn’t have nabbed the true perpetrators and have arrested random people in order to solve the case.”" - Giriraj Singh, Brother of Roop Singh
While Rajveer Singh is a sitting BJP Member of Parliament from Etah, his son Sandeep Singh is a minister in Yogi Adityanath’s government. Together, the family commands both fear and respect in Aligarh district and a death in their extended family would naturally have put investigators under a lot of pressure.
But why is the sadhu’s family not convinced?
- Giriraj claims the police haven’t been able to recover Sadhu Roop Singh’s mobile from those arrested.
- The police had shown Giriraj a video of one of those arrested, who confessed that he had killed the Sadhu and left by the last bus from Atrauli to Aligarh.
- But, the last bus leaves Atrauli at about 8 pm, and on the night of the murder, Giriraj’s elder brother was with Sadhu Roop Singh beyond 8:15 pm.
- Relatives of Kalyan Singh, who were killed while spraying pesticides in their on the same night, had left their home after 10:30 pm.
"“If my elder brother left the Sadhu’s temple after 8:15 pm and if Kalyan Singh’s relatives were out after 10:30 pm, how could the accused have killed all three and gone back by 8 pm?”" - Giriraj Singh
So, did the police botch up the entire investigation and come up with its own story, just to satisfy Kalyan Singh’s powerful family? Did the police first arrest Mustaqeem and Naushad, and then claim they were absconding? Did the police kill them in a fake encounter?
What Is the Police’s Version?
According to the police, in 2016, Sabir (who is among the five arrested) had killed a mufti over a land dispute in Etah. Sabir wanted to frame two witnesses in the case and had orchestrated these murders to trap them in criminal cases.
In the press note, Police claim Mustaqeem and Naushad, along with six others, would first kill sadhus and other people and then call these witnesses to say that the deed has been done. Police also claim that Mustaqeem, Naushad and Salman had prior criminal record and had planned the entire incident.
The Quint tried to reach out to the respective police officers in Atrauli and Harduaganj, but none of them were willing to talk. Repeated calls to the Aligarh SSP’s office could not evoke an official reaction from the police. An e-mail was sent to the Aligarh SSP, but no response has been received at the time of publishing this article.
In Atrauli, Four Arrested, One Missing
On the evening of 16 September, the police picked up four men, Mustaqeem, Naushad, Salman and Nafeez, from their rented house in Atrauli. Mustaqeem and Salman’s mother Shabana recalls how they, along with cousin brothers Naushad and Nafeez were thrashed, as they were dragged out of their houses by the police.
Shabana says her sons and nephews are innocent. She claims that none of the four arrested from her family had any prior criminal record. Pointing at the family’s grim financial condition, she asks “If our sons were criminals, why would be have beg for food?” Mustaqeem and Naushad were working under Haji Imran, a Zari trader, who allegedly led them to the police.
She refuses to believe that Mustaqeem and Naushad had run away from police custody and questions how they escaped under the nose of security officials. Naushad’s mother Shabnam claims the police did not allow them to have a close look at the dead bodies.“Police showed us their bodies from a distance and then buried it at an unmarked grave,” she says. The family wasn’t even given a copy of the autopsy reports or allowed to perform rituals after two of its members were shot dead.
But it is not just the four brothers who are away. Shabana’s husband Irfarn has been missing since the day the police arrested the four brothers. The family doesn’t know where the 70-year-old man is and feels the police could be responsible for his sudden disappearance.
Now, the family lives under the constant watch of police officials dressed in civil clothes. “Whenever we try to step out, police officers posed outside stop and question. Sometimes, they even lock the door from outside,”Shabana claims.
Charra, Where The Family Used to Stay Before
Since the police claim that Mustaqeem and Naushad had prior criminal records, we traveled to Shivpuri in Charra, where the family had spent over three years before shifting to Atrauli, around 17 kilometres away.
In lane number five of Charra, most neighbours remember the family as a peaceful one. Seema (named changed) who lives in the same lane, says none of the family members had any criminal record and that she had never seen or heard about any policemen looking for them.
Another neighbor Vimla confirmed that the family was so poor that Mustaqeem ’s mother would often have to beg for food. Mustaqeem, Naushad and Salman, neighbours said, were employed at a local store and did not evoke any suspicion.
The Role of Haji Imran
We also met the family of Dr Yasin and Irfan, who were among the five arrested and are now in police custody. On 18 September, when Irfan’s wife met the Aligarh SSP to enquire about her missing husband, she was told that he’s not been arrested by any police team in the district.
Yet on the same day, the SSP’s office held a press conference, where they claimed to have arrested five men, including Dr Yasin and Irfan, in connection with the recent murders.
Family members of both Irfan and Dr Yasin claim that they were first picked up by Haji Imran on his bike, the Zari trader. Haji would supply material Both Irfan and Dr Yaseen. But police claim that the two were up in an encounter.
The Many Unanswered Questions
It cannot be denied that the six murders did take place. But, it is possible that the mysterious killing of two members of Kalyan Singh’s family put a lot a pressure on the police?
Sadhu Roop Singh’s family says the police didn’t offer them credible evidence. They also said the police was under pressure from Kalyan Singh’s son Rajveer Singh to solve the case in five days. Is is possible that the police buckled under pressure and staged an encounter?
To be honest, there are no easy answers to this murder mystery.
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