Reported By: Manish Sahu, Lucknow, Sitapur, Lakhimpur Kheri; Hamza Khan, Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Meerut; Aditi Vatsa, Shamli, Bulandshahr, Muzaffarnagar, Noida, Baghpat, Ghaziabad; Abhishek Angad, Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat; Sarah Hafeez, Azamgarh; Apurva, Aligarh, Mathura
While FIR after FIR has one story when it comes to UP encounters, as The Indian Express investigation found, the families of those killed have very different versions. Relatives of the alleged criminals killed in encounters complain of harassment from police, including being named in “false cases”, at least one of which was later stayed by the court. Many say they shifted homes as a result. Several families say police didn’t hand over even the bodies to them, others claim to have not been given either the FIR or the post-mortem report. One post-mortem report indicates the man had been dead “three-four” days.
The Indian Express reporters visited homes of 27 families across the state to record their stories. Of the 63 killed, families of more than 20 have moved the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), state rights panel (SHRC), National Commission for Minorities (NCM), or other forums. In 39 cases, police probe is on, the NHRC has ordered an investigation into 17 while four are being probed by the SHRC.
The family of Chhannu Sonkar, who was killed on January 8 in an encounter in Azamgarh, doesn’t have a copy of the FIR or the post-mortem. Chhannu, 24, carried a reward of Rs 25,000 and brother Jhabbu says this was because police kept targeting their youngest sibling.
“He served six years in jail for a murder. Since then, police kept implicating him and demanding bribes.” About the encounter, Jhabbu says, “We were told he was involved in five thefts that day. Is it possible? He allegedly stole some jewellery and looted someone’s bike. But it was his bike, we have the papers.”
He adds, “When we asked for the body, police scolded us. His post-mortem was done at 8 pm and there were over 30 vehicles full of policemen on standby. The post-mortem and cremation were done stealthily. We were sent away before the body was completely burnt.”
Station House Officer, Jahanganj Police Station, Nadeem Ahmed denies the family’s claims, pointing to Chhannu’s “criminal background”. On the day of the encounter, he adds, Chhannu stole a bike. “The family is making a false allegation that he was booked in five cases.”
Adding that he had been posted to the police station after the encounter, Ahmed said: “The body was handed over to the family and they completed the formalities.”
The family of Mukesh Rajbhar, killed on January 26 at Azamgarh, says they were not allowed to see his body and that it was cremated amid huge police presence. Naming SP, Azamgarh, they say it was on the police officer’s Facebook page that they came to know about the reward in Rajbhar’s name.
“I am challenging anyone, including media, to present their proof… They are threatening (witnesses) against giving a statement,” says father Nandlal Rajbhar. Current SP, Azamgarh, Ravi Shankar Chhabi says, “What is there to say in encounters? Anyone can allege anything. We will say what we have to in court.”
Shivpujan, the father of Jai Hind Yadav, killed on August 3, 2017, in Azamgarh, says he wasn’t given his son’s body and was told to “sign some papers I could not read”. “The cremation happened in police custody… They call it an encounter. But then the other side should have also suffered injuries.” Jai Hind’s body more than 20 wounds, as per the post-mortem.
SHO, Mehnagar, Prem Kumar Yadav, who was posted to the police station after the encounter, says as per records, the body had been given to the family. Sub-Inspector, Mehnagar Police Station, Mithlesh Tiwari, who was at the police station at the time of the encounter, says, “The final rites were conducted by Jai Hind’s family. It is not true we took his father’s sign on papers without telling him the content.”
Empty family homes
The SHRC is probing a complaint by Suhaga Devi, the mother of Adesh alias Sunder, who was killed on September 28, 2017, in Bharthana. Suhaga also left their village Chaubia in Etawah, and The Indian Express couldn’t reach her. Pradhan Ramveer Singh says, “No one in the village has any information about her.” Confirming the family had moved, SHO, Bharthana Police Station, Jai Prakash Pal says Adesh’s elder brother Babloo is in jail.
The parents of Bagga Singh, a resident of Jhala, Lakhimpur Kheri, left the village after he got killed on January 17. Police confirm this while neighbour Swaran Kaur says they had moved back to Punjab.
Residents of Chinahat, Lucknow, say that soon after the killing of Sunil Sharma, on September 1, 2017, his family shifted to Thakurganj area of Lucknow and was not in touch with any of them. SHO, Chinahat Police Station, Raj Kumar Singh says they knew the family had moved.
After the February 8 encounter in which Manoj Kumar, a resident of Talgaon, Sitapur, was killed, his wife Ruby Singh sold her in-laws’ house at Morahiya Kala village and shifted to her parents’ residence at Adhwari village. “A police officer regularly visits to find out what steps we are planning,” she says. “Police joined hands with my husband’s opponents, who were not happy after he got elected as pradhan, and got him killed.”
SHO, Talgaon Police Station, Yogesh Shah denies Ruby’s claims, adding, “Manoj Kumar had sold his house days before the encounter.”
The family of Sharda Kol too left their house in Manikpur area of Chitrakoot after the September 3, 2017, encounter. SHO, Manikpur Police Station, Keshav Prasad Dubey, who was posted here after the encounter, says they have no information where Sharda’s family had gone.
A lock hangs on the gate leading to the paternal home in Shoron village, Muzaffarnagar, of Rehaan, who was killed on May 3. Neighbours say the family moved out less than a month before the encounter. They currently live in a rented accommodation in Islamabad area of Shahpur town. According to Rehaan’s family, they left due to regular visits from police and subsequent warrants. They also say that the mounting cases against Rehaan had made them disown him more than two years ago. “We didn’t even know where he was living,” adds brother Afsal. “We were told that if Rehaan did not surrender, his ‘job will be done’, that he would be killed in an encounter. We explained that we had disowned him, for which we had legal documents, but police did not consider these valid.” Denying threats by police, Jitendra Kumar, the Acting Sub-Inspector at Charthawal Police Station, says, “Rehaan was absconding in several crimes and as is routine, raids were conducted.”
The family of Sumit Gurjar, killed in an encounter on October 3, 2017, in Greater Noida, says police named his cousin in a false rape case. Later, the complainant reportedly told Sumit’s family the case was being pursued by police without her knowledge. A court has now put a stay on the matter. The family denies the police claim that Sumit had a history of robbery, theft and murder. Says cousin Vikas Choudhury: “Why didn’t police come to the house to make enquiries then? All of sudden, he became a criminal carrying a reward on his head.”
The family of Gurmeet, the resident of Saharanpur who was shot on March 31, 2017, and died 22 days later — the first to die in an encounter under the new UP government — says the man named by police as an “accomplice” in the shootout was the one who tipped off police about him.
The family of Saharanpur resident Shamshad, who was killed on the intervening night of September 10-11, 2017, says that when they received his body, it had six-seven bullet marks as well as rope marks around the neck, waist, and legs, indicating “he had been hanged and tortured”. They also say that Shamshad’s body had “maggots and ants”. In fact, the post-mortem, conducted on September 11, notes that “time since death” was “about 3/4 day old”. Akhil Tandon, who conducted the post-mortem, told The Indian Express it means the person was dead three to four days prior to the post-mortem. Yagdatt Sharma was the SHO of the Sadar Bazar Police Station under which the encounter happened, and has since been transferred. Asked about the post-mortem report, he says, “Talk to the doctor once again. Ho sakta hai unke dimag mein kuchch chal raha ho, confirm kar lijye (maybe he was distracted, confirm it again).” On being told the doctor had confirmed the report, Sharma says, “It’s not like that.”
Nusrat, the sister of Nadeem, a resident of Muzaffarnagar killed on September 8, 2017, says that she and others of the village had met Nadeem at a police station on September 6. Pointing out that Nadeem was said to have escaped from a crowded place, she asks how police could not find an “independent witness” for this.
Questioning the police version that Nur Mohammad alias Haseen Mota was killed on December 30, 2017, while on his way to Meerut from Delhi, his family says he had, hours earlier, left his Meerut home. Says mother Shakeela, “Four men arrived and Haseen went with them. I didn’t know any of them.” Shakeela also denies police claim that Haseen and an accomplice were riding a stolen motorcycle, claiming that it was his vehicle, though he couldn’t drive it anymore following a bike accident, producing an X-ray as proof.
Father Mir Hasan says Furqan, killed on September 22, 2017, in Muzaffarnagar, had been in custody several months. “We did not even know he was out on bail,” he says. However, Furqan’s lawyer Saleem Ahmad contradicts this, saying the bail application was submitted in the name of Hasan, and that after he came out, Furqan had not gone home but to his wife.
Saleem also says that the family had withdrawn a plea in the high court for an investigation into the case.
The FIR says Mansur was killed on the intervening night of September 26 and 27, 2017, in Meerut, after allegedly looting a vehicle. Mansur’s parents say he was picked up around 12.30 pm on September 26 from home by four men, with mother Zubaida suspecting they were policemen. The next day, she adds, police came and took some signatures, and it was only later they realised Mansur had been killed.
Zubaida and husband Akbar add that while Mansur had been involved in petty crime earlier and spent time in jail, he had been mentally disturbed for three-four years. The SHO, Sadar Bazaar, Meerut did not respond to calls. One of the former officers of Behat Police Station, which has jurisdiction over Mansur’s village, says, “It did not come to our knowledge that Mansur was mentally ill.”
Advocate Akram Akhtar Chaudhary, who is representing families of at least eight persons killed in encounters, says Mansur’s family has approached the National Commission for Minorities, along with families of Shamshad, Ikram and Aslam.
But Zubaida is not sure how far they can go, saying she is “too afraid to pursue any legal action”. Others also say they are scared. Rehaan’s family has not hired a lawyer. “Allah will give us justice. One of my sons is with Him but my other children should not suffer,” says his mother, refusing to be named. Says Chhanu’s brother Jhabbu, “People suggested we give dharna, but we cannot afford it. They will make life hell for us. If they lock us up, our children will die hungry.” The wife of one of the victims in Shamli says she received an offer of Rs 3.5 lakh through “indirect channels” to drop the case. “We did not have any money, we took the amount,” says the 35-year-old mother of five.