Belagavi: The Belagavi police have questioned members of an offshoot of Karnataka-based Right-wing outfit Sri Ram Sene in connection with the alleged murder of a 24-year-old Muslim man, whose mutilated body was found on the railway tracks in the city on 28 September.
The man, Arbaz Aftab Mullah, was allegedly murdered over his relationship with a Hindu woman. The alleged murder was made to look like an accident, his family has claimed.
Pundalik Mutagekar and Prashant Birje, two members of the Sri Ram Sene Hindustan — an offshoot of the Pramod Muthalik-fronted Sri Ram Sene — were questioned by the police in connection with the case. Both are among the three accused named in the FIR for Arbaz’s murder.
The FIR has been registered under sections 302 (murder) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence) of the Indian Penal Code, among others.
There have been no arrests or detentions in the case, the district police said, even as more than 20 people have been questioned so far, including the woman Arbaz was in a relationship with, her family, and Arbaz’s friends and family.
Speaking to ThePrint, Arbaz’s mother also accused Pundalik of threatening Arbaz and her with an acid attack on 26 September, after inviting them for a “settlement”.
However, Ramakant Konduskar, who heads the splinter group, distanced his organisation from the alleged murder, saying the members had been targeted for “being Hindutva workers”.
“Neither I nor they or the organisation have anything to do with the murder. They have been held on suspicion of being involved, but let the investigation conclude and we will see,” Konduskar told ThePrint.
Sri Ram Sene founder Pramod Muthalik also denied any connection with the accused. “The duo accused in the case is not from Sri Ram Sene. They founded their own organisation called Sri Ram Sene Hindustan after they split from my organisation,” Muthalik told ThePrint.
Asked if the accused were working members of Sri Ram Sene earlier, Muthalik said, “Yes, they were our workers, but there were some differences within the district unit on leadership and they decided to part ways.”
On 3 October, nearly a week after Arbaz’s body was found on railway tracks in Khanapur of Belagavi, the investigation was transferred to the district police from the Railway Police Force, which initially filed the FIR.
“The matter has been handed over to Khanapur police and an investigating officer has been appointed. Nobody has been detained or arrested but we have formed several teams and are in the process of questioning people,” Laxman Nimbaragi, Superintendent of Police, Belagavi district told ThePrint Monday.
While the victim’s family is pushing for official arrest of the accused, Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra Monday told ThePrint that the investigation should be thorough and not hurried. “Can we arrest some random people instead of actual culprits? Investigation is taking place properly. There is no problem. Whoever is the accused will be caught and punished,” the minister said.
Arbaz had 8 phone exchanges with Pundalik, alleges family
According to Arbaz’s mother Najima Sheikh, between 25 and 26 September, two days before he was found dead, he had had at least eight phone exchanges with a number saved in his contact list as “Ram Sene Ana (brother)”, which she alleges belongs to Pundalik Mutagekar. She showed a video of the call list on Arbaz’s phone. ThePrint couldn’t independently verify this claim.
“At around 6 pm on 28 September, my son left the house. A neighbourhood CCTV has captured him turning the corner from our house. That is the last anyone saw him alive,” a sobbing Najima said.
The 46-year-old, who is an Urdu teacher at a government school for girls in Belagavi, has been making the rounds of the police station since 29 September, when she first filed a complaint accusing the two Hindutva activists, and the father of the woman Arbaz was in relationship with, of murdering him and attempting to make it look like an accident.
“They killed him and then put him on the tracks so Chennamma (Rani Chennamma Express) runs over him and destroys evidence of murder. It seems like the train rushed in even before they could remove the ropes they used to tie up my son’s hands. Maybe that’s why we found his torso with hands tied up,” Najima claimed.
Sheikh also alleged that Pundalik called Arbaz on 26 September to extend an invitation for a “settlement”. She and Arbaz met Pundalik and two others, only to be intimidated, threatened and asked to part with Rs 7,000. “My son gave them Rs 500 since that is all the money he had. They gave me their number to make an online payment for the rest of the amount,” she claimed.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)