The only eyewitnesses to the shootout between two alleged criminals and the UP Police on Muzaffarnagar-Thana Bhawan Road late on Thursday are the police themselves. Two individuals who might have been present along the stretch lined with mango orchards and sugarcane and wheat fields, weren’t there — 35-year-old tubewell operator Waseem, and 60-year-old Mukesh, who was tilling land next to the dirt lane in which the encounter happened, had both gone home early. Eighteen-year-old Rehaan was shot dead by a police SWAT team comprising a sub-inspector and five constables. According to police, Rehaan was a member of the Mukeem Kala gang, who was wanted for crimes including murder, and carried a reward of Rs 50,000 on his head.
This was the 50th encounter killing of an alleged criminal in UP since the Yogi Adityanath government took over in March 2017. A constable of the SWAT team, Harvinder, sustained a bullet injury in his left arm, police said.
Rehaan’s family lives in Shoron village in Muzaffarnagar district’s Shahpur area. On Saturday, a lock hung on the door, and neighbours said the family had moved out of the village to Shahpur town less than a month ago.
In the Islamabad neighbourhood of Shahpur town, Rehaan’s brother Afsal said the family had lost touched with Rehaan a few months ago. “We had not spoken to him for about four-five months, and did not know where he was. He had been accused in a couple of cases, and on April 11, the police had come to our Shoron house and taken away a lot of our belongings, including all documents.”
Rehaan’s family claimed he was “around 17-18 years of age”. While the official statement on the encounter incident from the Muzaffarnagar SSP’s office said the family had been informed about Rehaan’s death, Afsal claimed: “We saw it last night on the news. We haven’t received any call from the police. My brother wasn’t killed in a chase, he had been picked up by the police a couple of days ago. We will prove it. We haven’t been given any documents, FIR or post mortem report.”
According to police records, the SWAT team was in a white Tata Sumo SUV, investigating a case of missing girls, when they received a call from a senior sub-inspector of Charthawal police station at 7.45 pm on Thursday. He said Rehaan had been spotted about 15 minutes earlier by a 38-year-old woman called Sanjida at Haibatpur crossing.
“I had just got out of a bus that I had taken from Meerut, when I noticed two men following me on a motorcycle,” Sanjida told The Indian Express. She said she had recognised the man riding pillion as Rehaan.
“The man who in front was wearing a helmet, and I couldn’t see his face,” Sanjida said. “Rehaan started abusing me, and opened fired. I lay flat and managed to save myself. I then called the police,” she said. According to Sanjida, Rehaan believed her to be a police informer.
As per records at Charthawal police station, an FIR on the basis of Sanjida’s complaint was registered at 8.43 pm on Thursday. The FIR on the encounter was filed at 4.12 am on Friday, several hours after the incident.