Updated: October 9, 2021 8:58:18 am
The police in Karnataka Friday arrested 10 people over last month’s murder of a 24-year-old Muslim man who was in a relationship with a Hindu woman.
Among those arrested are the woman’s parents—Eerappa Basavanni Kumbara, 54, and Susheela Eerappa, 42—and members of a right-wing outfit, Sri Rama Sene Hindustan, allegedly hired by them to kill Arbaz Aftab Mullah, a civil engineering graduate who worked as a car dealer in Belagavi city.
The mutilated body of Mullah, 24, was found on a railway track in Belagavi district’s Khanapur taluk on September 28. His mother, Najeema Shaikh, 46, has alleged that he was killed over the inter-faith relationship.
The police said the woman’s parents had given the murder “contract”—Rs 5 lakh with an “advance payment” of Rs 60,000—to Pundalika Maharaj, 39, the Khanapur taluk chief of Sri Rama Sene Hindustan.
The other arrested people are Kuthubuddin Allahbaksh (36), Maruthi Prahlad (30), Manjunath Thukaram (25), Ganapathi Jnaneshwara (27), Prashanth Kallappa (28), Praveen Shankar (28) and Shridhar Mahadeva Doni (31), the police said.
According to the police, Pundalika, besides taking money from the woman’s parents, had also been extorting money from Mullah for more than a year for “protecting” him.
On September 28, Pundalika allegedly called up Mullah and asked him to come to Khanapur to “settle” the issue of the relationship. The police said it was Allahbaksh who convinced and took Mullah near the railway tracks, where five of the accused were present. They killed him and mutilated his body to make it seem like a train had run him over, the police said.
Belagavi district Superintendent of Police Laxman Nimbargi told The Indian Express that besides those five, the other arrested people were part of the murder conspiracy. “The investigation is continuing, including into the communal angle, but we cannot come to any conclusion,” he said.
According to a police official who was part of the investigation, Eerappa and Susheela Eerappa had turned up before the Belagavi police claiming they had killed Mullah over the relationship. Suspicious, the police took Pundalika into custody and discovered his involvement, said this official, who requested anonymity.
The police said Eerappa had given the “contract” to Pundalika and they chalked out two plans. One was to kill Mullah and throw the body on the railway tracks to make it look like a suicide. The other was for Eerappa and his wife to surrender to protect Pundalika and his gang if the police treated the case as a murder.
Call detail records, money transferred from digital wallets and communication between Pundalika and Eerappa established the former’s role in the murder, the police said.
The police have booked the accused under the Indial Penal Code’s Sections 302 (murder), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence), 341 (wrongful restraint), 120 (b) (criminal conspiracy), 384 (extortion), 388 (extortion by threat) and the Indian Arms Act’s Section 27 (use of prohibited arms).
Two days before the killing, Allahbaksh was present at a “compromise” meeting held by Pundalika. According to Najeema, who had attended the meeting, she and her son were threatened with dire consequences if he continued his relationship with the woman. “They snatched his mobile phone, broke his SIM card, deleted all photos of the woman and sent us back,” she said.
“We are yet to know if Eerappa and Pundalika actually wanted to kill Arbaz on September 26 and did not do it because Najeema joined him,” a police officer said.
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