On Tuesday, Ghulam Mohammad was in the mango orchard he had looked after for most of his life when “seven or eight men” carrying lathis arrived, forced him on to a motorcycle and took him to a field nearby. They left him there, bleeding from the head and with deep wounds on his chest and several broken ribs.
The 65-year-old had enough life left in him to make one phone call — he dialled the orchard owner, Anil Sharma, who found him about half-an-hour later and took him to a hospital. Mohammad, from Sohi village in Bulandshahr, was declared dead on arrival.
According to Mohammad’s family, his death is tied to an incident in the village over a week ago when a neighbour, 26-year-old Yusuf, went missing.
At first, they thought Yusuf had gone to meet his friends, as he had returned from Saudi Arabia recently. It emerged later that he had allegedly eloped with a Hindu woman from the adjoining Fazalpur village.
In his complaint to police, Mohammad’s son Vakil Ahmad alleged that his father was beaten to death by members of the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), founded by Yogi Adityanath, now the UP Chief Minister. He claimed that his uncle, Islam Khan, saw Mohammad being forced on to a bike by “seven or eight men wearing saffron gamchhas (towels) around their heads”.
So far, police have arrested three youths in connection with the murder — Pulkit Sharma (18), Lalit Sharma (20) and Hani Raghav (20) — and are looking for five more persons. They have made no mention of the HYV.
“We are looking into the motive behind the murder. We are not investigating any organisation angle,” said SSP Muniraj G.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Vakil said that he was at the police station assisting the probe into the elopement when he received a call from his uncle about his father.
“My uncle said father was seriously injured. I got in a car borrowed from the police station. But he had died by the time I reached the hospital… He was killed because he was Muslim,” he said.
Vakil said that his family was not related to Yusuf or linked to the alleged elopement. He said there are only four Muslim families in the village, and all of them had been helping police look for the couple.
Mohammad’s wife, meanwhile, alleged that the men first came to the village and manhandled the women, before going to the fields.
In the house next door, Yusuf’s mother Zareena cursed her son for having brought grief to the village. “He is not my son. If they find him, they should put him in jail. Even if they kill him, I will not blame anyone,” she said, sobbing.
She said that Yusuf’s family had taken a loan of Rs 5 lakh to send him to Saudi Arabia, where he did odd jobs, and for his elder brother’s wedding.
When Yusuf came home, on April 11, the family asked him whether he had money to repay the loan. “Suddenly he stopped talking to us. He had barely kept in touch even when he was abroad… Then he ran away with this girl,” said Zareena.
The two are still missing but the focus of the residents has now shifted from their elopement to the death of Mohammad.
The FIR filed by Vakil states that HYV members were “threatening villagers with dire consequences if the girl was not found”. On Tuesday morning, the FIR stated, they acted on it.
For the villagers, though, this was a new phenomenon. The manager of a dairy just outside the village, where the HYV frequently meets, said, “There was no sangathan here before this. The Vahini started recruiting only recently.”
Sunil Raghav, the HYV’s district head for Bulandshahr, denied the organisation’s involvement in the incident. He claimed that no HYV member was present in the area on Tuesday, and that the incident was the result of mob violence, as people are “not satisfied with police’s probe into the case of elopement”.
And amid all this, said Raghav, “ek buzurg ki jaan chali gayi” (an elderly person died)”.
Sitting on the courtyard of the family’s home, Mohammad’s wife recalled the moment he had left home on Tuesday. She had asked him to be careful, she said. “He turned around said, ‘what will anyone do to me? I am an old man’.”