Seraikela Kharsawan: It was 17 June. Tabrez Ansari, a 24-year-old Jharkhand native working in Maharashtra, was home for Eid. On his way back from meeting an aunt, around 10 pm, a mob caught hold of him, allegedly on suspicion that he was a bike thief.
He was beaten up for the next eight hours and forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman”, as witnessed in viral footage of the assault. Someone called police soon after the assault began, but they came only around 7.30 am. Tabrez was then arrested for suspected theft, and taken to a doctor at a primary healthcare centre.
The doctor administered some first-aid and discharged Tabrez. On 22 June, Tabrez died.
Over the three months since, the case has undergone a series of twists and turns. The initial autopsy, which identified cardiac arrest as the cause of death, has been debunked by experts. The accused were earlier booked for murder, but the charge was later changed to ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’.
Following outrage over the watered-down charge and fresh medical opinion, the murder charge was restored. Even so, the lawyer for Tabrez’s widow Shahista Parveen, 19, has raised fresh questions about the supplementary chargesheet filed in court to restore the murder charge.
The investigation into Tabrez’s lynching — one of the latest instances of a vigilante mob taking the law into its hands to disastrous consequences — is proceeding as a textbook example of a bungled probe, with much ground left uncovered in the crucial initial days that can make or break a case. ThePrint takes a look at all the ways the probe faltered.
Police took eight hours to come to Tabrez’s aid
The Jharkhand Police have come under a lot of criticism since it was discovered that they were informed of the assault just as it began, but reached the crime scene only around 7.30 am the next day.
Early intervention, needless to say, could have saved Tabrez’s life.
But the police have defended their delayed arrival, citing a Naxal ambush three days before, in which five policemen were killed.
The Naxalites had posed as villagers and ambushed a police patrol vehicle in a village market at night. Following the incident, the police directorate in Jharkhand issued instructions that police personnel avoid “loose” movement at night until a given piece of information is verified. “This is the reason our team could not reach the spot until the morning,” a senior police official told The Print.
No one identified the gravity of Tabrez’s injuries
Immediately after the police rescued him, Tabrez was taken to a primary healthcare centre where the doctor let him go after some first-aid.
When Tabrez died, his autopsy claimed a cardiac arrest was responsible. However, a panel of experts engaged to take a second look at his autopsy report pointed to a fracture in his skull and blood clots in his heart.
The two phases of the investigation
The probe into the Tabrez case can be divided into two phases.
Between 18 and 22 June, Tabrez was sent to jail, and police and doctors did not do much to treat his grievous injuries. He died on 22 June.
Between 22 and 25 June, meanwhile, police conducted raids and arrested 11 accused. Police seized the footage of the assault, and sent it to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory for examination (it was found to be verified).
In between these two phases, some changes were made in the police administration.
The Saraikela superintendent of police was transferred out and S. Kartick took over.
Since then, Kartick has camped in the village and conducted several raids to arrest the accused. An inquiry has been initiated against some police officers and disciplinary action taken against the officer in charge of the Seraikela police station. The first responders have been suspended as well.
The sub divisional officer (SDO), meanwhile, has held the medical team that attended to Tabrez responsible for negligence in his treatment.
All this points to severe lapses in the investigation conducted in the initial days of the case. Urgent medical intervention that could have saved Tabrez was not taken either.
“It is a matter of investigation… We have filed chargesheets, and corroborated all reports. The matter is now sub judice. It will not be appropriate for me to comment on that,” Kartick said when approached by ThePrint for comment. “But I can assure you that Seraikela police is doing its best to secure conviction for the accused persons.”
The cause-of-death flip-flop
Tabrez’s autopsy identified cardiac arrest as the cause of death, which led police to invoke Section 304, culpable homicide not amounting to murder, in the first chargesheet filed in the first week of September to keep with the 90-day deadline.
Earlier, Kartick had sought a second opinion on the autopsy from another panel of experts, convinced that the preliminary report was not elaborate enough to invoke 302, let alone secure a conviction.
The panel came back with its report after the chargesheet was filed, saying they had found several grievous injuries that had been ignored in Tabrez’s initial medical exam as well as his autopsy, including a head fracture and blood clots in the heart.
A supplementary chargesheet was then filed with murder charges.
Questions about supplementary chargesheet
Parveen’s lawyer Altaf Hussain has raised questions about the supplementary chargesheet filed to restore murder charges against the suspects.
In the first chargesheet, 11 accused were booked under Section 304, with two suspects still at large (they were subsequently caught). The supplementary chargesheet invokes murder charges against all suspects, but the lawyer said the way it was done seemed dubious, calling it a “flip-flop” by police meant to mislead the legal process.
According to him, the supplementary chargesheet was not submitted with the requisite documents, weakening their case in court.
“In the supplementary chargesheet, they slapped murder charges on the two accused who were absconding. In the same chargesheet, they wrote a line stating Section 302 has also been slapped against the 11 others mentioned in the first chargesheet,” Hussain said, adding that it was illegal. “The court now has to take cognisance,” Hussain added.
The public prosecutor, however, sought to assuage his concerns. “The chargesheet… only speaks about the opinion formed by police. But it is not binding by law. During the trial, and framing of charges, there are provisions to appeal for remedy if the aggrieved party has a problem.”
The case will come up for hearing in a local court on 1 October.
Widow wants suspects hanged
Meanwhile, Shahista Parveen says she won’t rest until her husband’s killers are hanged.
“I want the death sentence for them. They have no right to live. I want to see them suffer from the same pain that I have been suffering over the last three months,” she added.
“If my husband was committing any crime and they nabbed him, they could have handed him over to police. But they tied him to a pole and continued the assault for eight hours,” said Shahista, who had been married to Ansari for just two months when he died. “I want to see the same fear on their faces that I saw on my husband’s face when I met him in jail.”
In the three months since his death, said Shahista, no minister and no senior leader from any party — ruling or opposition — had visited her. “No one came to me and asked how we are surviving,” she added.
“That day, Tabrez told me that he will be going to meet his aunt in Jamshedpur. Around 10 pm, he called and told me he will be back in 10 minutes,” she said. “He never came back.”