New Delhi: The photo of a young man — clean shaven, wearing a white shirt, his hair styled neatly — stares at you from a banner hanging overhead in a narrow lane at Delhi’s Mangolpuri area. Embossed beside it are the words: “Shri Ram bolne par hatya kyun (why was he killed for saying Shri Ram)?”
The man in the photo is Rinku Sharma, 25, who was murdered at his home in this neighbourhood Wednesday night.
Described by family members and neighbours as a devout Hindu who greeted everyone with “Jai Shri Ram”, Sharma was an active participant in the fund-collection drive for the Ram temple being built in Ayodhya.
The five men arrested for allegedly murdering him live in the same area, at a stone’s throw from Sharma’s house. They have been identified as Zahid (26), Mehtaab (20), Nashruddin (36), Islam (45) and Tazuddin (36), who belong to the same family.
The fact that all five are Muslim has led the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), which has been conducting the fund collection drive, and its youth wing Bajrang Dal, to start a campaign projecting Sharma as a victim of communal motives, and Mangolpuri as a hub of “Islamic jihadists”.
But Delhi Police have disputed the claim, saying the motive of the crime was a business rivalry as the accused and the victim both owned eateries in the same area.
Sharma’s mother Radha Devi denied her son had any food business, but dismissed the communal angle too.
The five did have a problem with the fact that Sharma greeted everyone with “Jai Shri Ram”, she said, but added that they were troublemakers who had “problems with everyone in the locality” — a statement echoed by neighbours.
“Only these people (the five accused) are at fault,” she said, adding that Hindus and Muslims of the locality share a peaceful relationship built on mutual respect.
‘No communal link’
A lab technician at a hospital in Delhi’s Paschim Vihar, Sharma leaves behind his parents and two younger brothers, Manu and Ashu.
According to a police officer who didn’t wish to be named, Sharma and his alleged murderers had known each for years, and used “to roam around together in the lanes”.
On Wednesday, the six are believed to have been at a friend’s birthday party when they got into an argument.
“At the party, a scuffle broke out over a food business — the accused as well as Sharma and his friends invested in eateries close to each other in Rohini sector 2,” the officer said. “Sharma left the party and came home. The accused followed him to his house and then stabbed him in the back”.
Viral CCTV footage purportedly captured near Sharma’s home shows a group of men armed with sticks, and a fight.
According to Sharma’s family, he had returned home “hurriedly” that night and asked Manu to close the main door behind him. Ashu was not home at the time. The police officer quoted above said Manu, “a member of the VHP youth wing, was armed with sticks” when the accused reached the house.
“They broke into our house with sticks and started throwing things. They even damaged our fridge and tried to disconnect the pipes of our cylinders. Some of them tried to strangulate me,” said Radha Devi. “Amid all of this, after we closed the door, Rinku was left outside with them and he got stabbed,” she added.
Sharma was rushed to the Sanjay Gandhi Hospital nearby, where he succumbed to his injuries Thursday morning. “’Jai Shri Ram’ were the last words he uttered,” said Radha Devi.
An FIR was subsequently registered under Section 302 (murder). The autopsy report hadn’t arrived as of Saturday morning. The case has now been handed over to the Delhi Police Crime Branch.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Outer Delhi) Sudhanshu Dhama said there “is no communal link in this crime”.
“All the five arrested and the deceased are well-known to each other. Giving this case any other motive is factually incorrect,” he added. “We are investigating if more people were involved. As of now, only these five are the accused,” he said. “It is a case of business rivalry,” he added, saying they were all involved in the food business.
Sharma’s mother, however, denied her son had a food business.
‘A peaceful relationship’
In the wake of his death, the lanes of Mangolpuri resonated with slogans like “Jai Shri Ram”, “Rinku Sharma Amar Hai” & “Justice for Rinku Sharma”.
The families of the accused left their homes Thursday morning, and police personnel have been deployed in the area to maintain law and order.
“Rinku worked hard for the Ram Mandir. The Muslims in the area didn’t like it, they hated the donation drive,” said VHP national spokesperson Vinod Bansal. “This is a crime against anyone who chants the name of Lord Ram and follows the Hindu dharma. Islamic jihadists have occupied the entire area.”
VHP International Joint General Secretary Dr Surendra Jain said, “We will take action ourselves if police continue to side with the culprits.”
On the ground, several VHP and Bajrang Dal members referred to Mangolpuri as a “mini Pakistan”. They accused police of starting a “false narrative” in an attempt to “dilute the real problem”.
Residents of the area, however, say there is no communal tension in the locality. The accused and the victim knew each other well, and even roamed around together, they claim.
Sharma’s family said he donated blood for a pregnant family member of one of the accused, and helped shift another’s relative to a hospital when they got Covid-19.
“Only these people (the five accused) are at fault,” Radha Devi said of the murder, denying any link to Sharma’s participation in the fund-collection drive. “Many other Muslims live here, two other families live right next to our lane, we say Jai Shri Ram, they offer namaz, there has been no such problem before. They are very nice people.”
Rani Jha, a neighbour, agreed. “The five of them would abuse us or try to pick fights over silly things. But the other Muslim families aren’t like that.”
Another resident of the area, Nihal Rana, who is also associated with the mandir donation drive, said the same thing. “Those guys indulged in betting and did all sorts of illegal activities in the area. But there hasn’t been such violence before, no such fight has broken out,” he added.
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