Some 400 years ago, a Muslim cleric and scholar named Maulana Shafiqulla is said to have come and settled in the fertile agricultural zone of present day western Uttar Pradesh. He set up a mosque around which grew a small colony of devout Muslims. This colony is now known as Maulviyan Mohalla. As the colony grew and more families migrated and settled around it, it took the shape of a huge village that now goes by the name Sahaspur, in Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh. One of the earliest families to settle in the colony of Maulviyan was that of Yamin Pehlwan’s ancestors, who left him a huge land bank. The prosperous zamindar had many peasants working on his land. One among them was the impoverished family of Masood Ali, a descendant of Maulana Shafiqullah.
On April 3, at around 12.30 am, near a culvert at the entrance of the village with blooming mango orchards on either side, Ali’s grandson Munir allegedly chased and stopped the car of Pehlwan’s son Tanzeel Ahmed. He then pumped 24 bullets in his chest, killing him instantly. He also fatally wounded his wife even as Tanzeel’s teenage children watched in horror from the back seat.
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The farmer’s son was a celebrated police officer with the country’s premier counter terror agency, the National Investigation Agency (NIA); the descendent of the holy man had grown up into a gangster with seven cases of murder and armed robbery registered against him across Uttar Pradesh. This local tale and its tragic culmination encapsulate the complex web of relations and their souring that hang over the killing of Tanzeel.
The brutal murder of the investigator of many cases of terrorism, including those involving the Indian Mujahideen, had sent shock waves through the police top brass in Delhi and UP. It was suggested that Tanzeel could have been killed by a terror group. After all, Tanzeel, a BSF assistant commandant on deputation to NIA, had been with the agency since its inception in 2009. He was also known to be an officer of impeccable integrity and commendable skills.
On April 12, with two arrests, the UP Police claimed to have cracked the case. At a press conference, Bareilly Zone IG Vijay Singh Meena and Bijnor SP Subhash Singh Baghel said that the motive behind Tanzeel’s murder was “personal enmity” and that his brother-in-law’s nephew had abetted the murder.
They also hinted that Tanzeel himself was involved in a land deal with Munir, having bought two properties in Delhi-NCR with him. Police believe that a dispute related to this deal, and Munir’s subsequent suspicion that Tanzeel could report him to police for a recent bank robbery, prompted him to kill the officer.
According to police, the conspiracy was hatched by Munir along with Mohammed Rizwan and Mohammed Tanzeem and the murder was executed with the help of Reyan Hussain and Mohammed Zaini. All except Munir are under arrest.
The accused, including Munir, are all in their early 20s, live in the same colony of Maulviyan and have been thick friends since childhood. Reyan is the only son of Shahadat Hussain, the elder brother of Zaqawat Hussain, who is married to Tanzeel’s sister Tanzeela.
As Tanzeel’s relatives grapple with the tragedy of both the victim and one of the accused coming from the same family, Sahaspur has begun to rue the NIA officer’s death and Munir’s involvement in it in almost equal measure.
For the villagers, both Tanzeel and Munir were men they turned to when in distress and doubt. If Tanzeel was the pride of the village who could always be called on to help in matters of “police trouble”, Munir, with his dreaded crime record, held considerable clout and helped villagers on various issues, most importantly, school and college admissions. As one villager put it, “In one incident, we have lost two good sons.”
With over 20,000 voters, Sahaspur is a large and comparatively prosperous village. Its streets are clean and houses pucca. Most of them have fresh paint on the outside and carry signs of new construction. If there are many among the old who speak chaste Urdu laced with Persian thanks to madarsa education, there are those among the young who can speak good English. Much of this seems to have come about with Gulf money. There is not a single family in the village that does not have someone working either in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Dubai. All the accused in the case too have at least one member from each of their families in the Gulf. It was this backdrop that shaped both Tanzeel, 47, and Munir, 24, albeit with divergent results.
Tanzeel’s father, who owned over 60 bighas, apart from mango orchards, ensured his two sons were well-educated. After school in Sahaspur, both Tanzeel and his brother Raghib went on to take admission in Jamia Millia Islamia and graduated with “good marks”. While Tanzeel joined the BSF, Raghib became a teacher. Both settled in Delhi’s Batla House area, with their wives in teaching jobs. The families have been there for the past 30 years.
Munir’s father Mehtab Ali, who runs a tile shop in a nearby town, was just as concerned about his only son’s future. With his limited means, he sent his son to the best school in the neighbourhood: the Sarang Convent. An English-medium school affiliated to CBSE, it charged Rs 500 a month as tuition fees. He later went to Aligarh Muslim University for his graduation.
Locals describe Munir as a “very good student” who also “respected elders in the village”. Sub-inspector K S Raghav of Seohara police station, under whose jurisdiction the village falls, says, “I know his father and family. Decent middle class people. Munir was a good student and a smart chap. How else would he get admission in AMU? It was only recently that his name began cropping up in various crimes.”
Mohammed Samad, 40, who claims to have seen Munir grow up, calls him “adabdar bachcha (well-mannered child)”. “Some years ago, after he came back from AMU, he was smoking a cigarette. He saw me and quickly threw it away. He was once racing on the bike with Reyan. I stopped him and scolded the two. Munir lowered his eyes and never uttered a word,” says Samad.
It was during his AMU days that Munir, it seems, lost his way. In the past two years, he has been wanted for four murders in Aligarh (before Tanzeel’s), apart from three cases of robbery, and has been on the run. “He fought a university election in AMU and lost. Around the same time, he came in contact with an Aligarh gangster and began working with him. He now carries out contract killings for him,” says a police officer.
But even as a “criminal”, Munir remained an acceptable figure in Sahaspur. “Police may say anything. But that boy has done a lot for the village. Be it with money or with connections, Munir has helped all, from a businessman to a rickshaw puller. There are so many in the village whose children are studying in Aligarh because Munir got them admission. So many AMU admissions here are thanks to him,” says Shagir Ali, a transporter in the village.
It was, perhaps, for this reason that though Munir kept coming back to the village intermittently in the past two years, no one ever informed police. “He was here during last Eid. Stayed for five days, offered namaz too with all of us. But for the past two years, his visits have been few and largely secretive,” says a villager.
Tanzeel, on the other hand, always kept in touch with the village, coming back every few months to meet his extended family, attend village weddings and engage with his friends and acquaintances. “He was a vatanparast (one in love with his native place),” says Shahadat Hussain, Reyan’s father and Tanzeel’s relative.
A newly built three-storey building at the entrance to Maulviyan Mohalla stands in testimony to that statement. Tanzeel and Raghib got it built two years ago after putting their ancestral home on rent. “He wanted to retire here,” says Mohammed Allauddin, his neighbour.
Tanzeel’s heart was always in Sahaspur, villagers insist. “He always met people with great warmth and never missed a ceremony in the village. I invited him for my wedding in 2013. He said he was busy with an investigation in Bihar. When I insisted, he took time out,” says Mohammed Samad, who lives nearby.
Hakim Nauman Adil, who stays opposite Tanzeel’s new house, recounts how he always conducted himself with simplicity. “He would come to the village wearing ordinary clothes and slippers. Sometimes he carried his clothes in a plastic bag. I would ask him: ‘Why don’t you come in uniform with your gun hanging from the waist? It will create some influence for us with local authorities.’ But he would say, ‘How can I come home in uniform?’,” says Adil.
Mohammed Allauddin is still dazed with the attention that Tanzeel’s murder got. “We knew he was in the forces and working with some intelligence department, but we never knew he was so big a man. The whole of UP Police, including the DGP (Javeed Ahmed), was here as were officers from Delhi.”
Almost everyone remembers how Tanzeel stood with villagers in difficult times. “If ever you got into trouble anywhere in the country, he was just a call away,” is the common refrain in the village.
With his stature as a police officer and his people skills, Tanzeel had also acquired a sort of quasi-judicial authority. People went to him to sort out their disputes – property and family matters or even the outlet of a drain. “He was blessed with salahiyat (the ability to offer advice). He always sorted out local issues peacefully and to the satisfaction of all,” says Reyan’s father Shahadat.
This skill won Tanzeel both friends and enemies. Reyan was among the latter. Police say that one of the several grudges he bore against Tanzeem was an occasion when he refused to bail his aunt (his father’s sister) out of police trouble in Delhi’s Ranjeet Nagar. Reyan also felt his family was given short shrift in a deal where his uncle exchanged his house with a shop owned by Tanzeel at Batla House. He was also cross with Tanzeel for blaming his aunt for a mobile theft in the house, a charge, Reyan told the media, “that brought tears in the eyes of my grandfather”.
Tanzeel’s brother Raghib says, “His aunt had made it a habit of getting into trouble with neighbours by using Tanzeel’s influence. It had to be stopped.”
While families of both Reyan and Tanzeel confirm the incidents, they say such matters are common in every family and not reason enough to kill someone. “There was no problem with the deal. The price of the house and the shop was mutually agreed upon and the difference paid for after the exchange,” says Reyan’s grandfather Abdul Haq, who also vouches for his grandson’s innocence.
Reyan’s father Shahadat says there was no ill-will among the families. “In fact, before going to the wedding on that fateful night, Tanzeel’s children were sitting in my house.”
But these incidents seem to have deeply affected Reyan, who grew up under the care of his 93-year-old grandfather as his father was away in Saudi Arabia for several years. He allegedly collaborated with Munir to kill Tanzeel. With Munir sitting pillion, he allegedly rode the bike that was used to chase and stop the NIA officer’s car.
Reyan’s help to Munir was also an extension of their friendship. Reyan, Munir and Zaini had studied in the same school. “They were thick friends. They once beat up a teacher so badly that he was hospitalised. The teacher had scolded one of them,” said a villager.
Most people in the village believe that Munir used his two impressionable friends who perhaps idolised him. Zaini is accused of carrying the bag that Munir brought with him on the fateful night to Zaini’s home. In the bag were Munir’s clothes and allegedly a 9 mm pistol apart from ammunition.
Zaini’s father Khurshid Anwar, who had to rush back from Dubai where he works as a cook, says, “He is a fool. Look at my house. There isn’t even a bulb here. Do you think a gangster’s friend will have nothing in the house? He doesn’t even have a mobile phone.”
Anwar breaks into tears recounting how Zaini wanted to study hotel management but he could not arrange money for the same. “He went to Aligarh to complete his intermediate. But I couldn’t help him further,” he says.
Reyan’s father Shahadat says he can’t deny that Munir and Reyan were friends “but that doesn’t mean he helped him kill Tanzeel”. “Reyan was never good in studies. So I wanted to send him to Saudi. We were preparing for that when this happened,” says Shahadat.
Tanzeel’s brother Raghib, however, says that Reyan was a wayward child since the beginning and this was thanks to his poor upbringing. “He says he felt for his grandfather. Few know that he has beaten up the grandfather who brought him up. He was jealous of the way our family had progressed. But he was the only one who felt that way. The rest of the family has given us a lot of love,” says Raghib.
Police, however, believe that there are bigger players in the killing: Rizwan and Tanzeem, who were arrested on April 13. According to Investigating Officer Raj Kumar Sharma, the two are not only close friends of Munir but also his collaborators in various crimes, including a bank robbery of Rs 91 lakh in Dhampur town last December.
“It was Rizwan who bought a SIM card and a mobile phone that was used by Munir in the Dhampur robbery. Tanzeem got a place rented for Munir in Batla House, where he was hiding,” says Sharma.
He adds that when Munir’s name began cropping up in the Dhampur robbery case, the duo informed Munir about it. “Munir felt that Tanzeel was behind all this since he had a running feud with him,” says Sharma, adding that the real motive would be revealed when Munir is caught.
The family of Rizwan, who works as a small-time contractor, denies the charges as does the family of Tanzeem, who, his brother Nadeem says, was preparing to leave for Saudi Arabia.
As the police probe appears to cast aspersions on Tanzeel’s integrity, his family too has grown suspicious of the probe. “They have arrested the right people. But the kind of stories that are being spread have shocked us. Neither Tanzeel nor I know Munir too well. Still, they say they own property together. Show me the property,” says Raghib.
Police are yet to figure that out. Their findings are based on the statement of Munir’s father. Yet, Munir’s decision to kill Tanzeel based on the suspicion that he would report him raises questions.
Questions that perhaps only Munir can answer. “Wait for his capture,” says IO Sharma, and then unwittingly quotes Mark Twain: “Truth can be stranger than fiction.”