As Kameshwar Prasad Yadav, 58, the best known face connected to the 1989 Bhagalpur communal riots cases, stepped out of Bhagalpur Camp jail Monday, he shook hands with constables at the gates while his supporters chanted zindabad. Wearing a light grey sherwani, garlands around his neck, Yadav waved to his supporters and talked of going back to “social service” and possibly joining politics, with the BJP as first preference.
Patna High Court acquitted Yadav last week of the murder of a Muslim teen, questioning the police’s commitment in their investigation. Yadav had been acquitted by a Bhagalpur trial court earlier, too, the cases against him closed in 1991, before the Bihar government reopened 27 riots cases in 2006. Yadav was lodged in jail since 2007, and convicted in 2009 in the case in which the high court acquitted him last week. About 30 people have been convicted and over 40 acquitted in Bhagalpur riots cases so far.
“My acquittal is a boon from God. I always had faith in the judiciary,” a smiling Yadav told journalists, adding he had missed his family and society. “Now that I am back, I will devote my time to the service of people and will join politics if I feel I should.”
Yadav had contested the 1990 assembly election from Nathnagar as an independent, losing to the RJD. Asked which party he would prefer now, he said, “Maybe BJP.” Yadav, incidentally, had been felicitated at a government function in Hajipur for “working for communal harmony” during the RJD-Congress government. The BJP had then targeted the RJD for “trying to woo” Yadav into politics. Later, however, Yadav fell out of favour with the RJD.
Yadav faced three riots cases, and was first sentenced to life in 2007 for the murder of a Muslim shopkeeper, Munna. With the latest ruling on the murder of Mohammed Qayumuddin, 15, Yadav has now been acquitted in all three cases.
Once he reached Parbatti, from where the riots had started on October 24, 1989, he offered prayers at Kali Sthan. Yadav, who had been a VHP member then, was also a member of the Kali Puja committee. He bowed to the goddess, and later sought blessings from his 85-year-old sister, Rama Devi.
Half a kilometre from Yadav’s home, Qayumuddin’s mother Bibi Firozi Khatoon, 85, said: “Our hopes now are on the Nitish Kumar government, which should appeal in the Supreme Court. Hame kanoon kya pata, hame to bas nyay chahiye.”
The government is yet to decide on an appeal. “We are still studying the judgment before taking a decision on challenging or not challenging it,” said state principal additional advocate general Lalit Kishore.
Bibi Firozi has four sons apart from Qayumuddin. One of them is Mohammed Nizam, a tea seller. “My father died six years ago and our faith in the law was restored when Yadav was sentenced to life in 2009. Now there is disappointment again,” said Nizam, who lives in 30 ft × 10 ft brick-and-cement house, part of it unplastered.
Open, shut, reopen
Yadav was booked by Tatarpur (Kotwali) police of Bhagalpur on February 7, 1990 (77/1990), on a complaint by Qayumuddin’s father, Mohd Nasiruddin, under IPC sections 147, 148, 149, 379 and 302/201/153B, and Arms Act section 27. In the FIR, lodged 3 months 13 days after the murder, Nasiruddin told the police that a mob of about 200 had come near his house, “abusing Muslims and exploding bombs”. He said when he came out, he saw the mob had caught hold of Qayumuddin and Yadav opened fire at him. The mob started firing and dragged his son away, he alleged. He told the police he “could identify 10 persons by face… and he knew only the appellant Kameshwar Yadav by name…” Sub-inspector S D Singh filed his first report on March 31, 1990.
In November 2005, Nitish Kumar’s government decided to reopen all 27 closed cases on the riots in which over 1,500 people were killed in dozens of villages in three months starting October 24, 1989. Once the cabinet cleared the decision, the cases were reopened in 2006 and taken up in lower courts and the high court.
In September 2015, a two-judge division bench of the high court was divided in its verdict on Yadav. The matter was referred to the chief justice who, in turn, referred the case to a single-judge bench.
In his verdict in Kameshwar Prasad Yadav vs State of Bihar [Criminal appeal (DB) No. 1048 of 2009], the single-judge bench of Justice Ashwani Kumar Singh acquitted Yadav because the prosecution had shown “no genuine effort to unravel the truth and bring the real culprit to book, rather an empty formality was done in name of further investigation”. Calling the investigation perfunctory, Justice Singh ruled, “There was absolutely no commitment and and sensitivity on part of the investigating officer.”
One question raised in the 49-page judgment is about the police’s inability to lodge the case immediately when the incident took place a few yards from the police station. “There was no evidence on record that the condition was so bad over 3 months in the locality so that no one would have visited the police station in order to institute the FIR…”
The court found inconsistencies in the statement of the boy’s father, who changed his role from an eyewitness to his son’s murder by Yadav to having reached the spot 20 minutes after the murder.
The court also questioned how the investigating officer, who claimed to have recorded statements of all nine witnesses in one day, could not remember the place where he recorded the statement.
The court mentioned “glaring reasons for doubting the prosecution”, and said the FIR was lodged after 3 months 13 days and further investigation was conducted 16 years after acceptance of the initial police report. The court added the prosecution “withheld material evidence” without citing reasons and almost all witnesses had been inconsistent.
“I am constrained to say that there was no genuine effort to unravel the truth and bring the real culprit to book, rather an empty formality was done in the name of further investigation. There was absolutely no commitment and sensitivity on the part of the IO,” said the order, going on to acquit Yadav: “The appellant is directed to be released herewith.”