Gorakhpur: On the midnight of 27 September, a loud knock at the door woke up Harbir Singh, who was staying with two friends at room number 512 of Krishna Palace Hotel in Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur.
The three men — Singh, Pradeep Kumar and Manish Gupta — had only checked in, in the evening and had just gone to sleep after a tiring day’s work. While Gupta hailed from Kanpur, the two other men were from Gurgaon in Haryana.
Singh told ThePrint that he opened the door, as the other two were fast asleep. He saw a bunch of policemen who then barged inside along with the hotel receptionist and asked for their identification cards.
“I showed mine and Pradeep’s IDs and asked Manish, who was sleeping at that time, to show his ID,” Singh said. “They asked us about the purpose of our visit… We told them we came to meet somebody here regarding business.”
“They also called our acquaintance in the city and asked about the purpose of our visit. But the policemen aggressively kept searching our bags,” Singh said. “To this, Gupta commented, ‘Do you think we are terrorists that you’re searching our bags in such a way’. This was enough to trigger the SHO and station incharge of Ramgarh police station Taal J.N. Singh. He then said ‘will you teach a policeman how to do his duty’ before abusing us and started beating me”.
According to Singh, he was slapped multiple times and pushed out of the room.
“Soon after, I saw they were dragging Manish Gupta out of the room towards the lift and his face was filled with blood, while he was unconscious,” Singh said.
Gupta was eventually referred to a hospital, where he was declared brought dead.
In the days since, the Gorakhpur Police claimed that Gupta accidentally fell to his death. However, the police later back-tracked and suspended the six policemen involved, with the case now being transferred to the Kanpur Police. The UP government has recommended a CBI probe.
The incident has also raised questions on law and order in Uttar Pradesh, but more importantly, the very nature of policing in the state.
No arrests, family alleges murder
The six policemen allegedly involved — Ramgarh Taal SHO Jagat Narayan Singh, SI Akshay Mishra, SI Vijay Yadav, SI Rahul Dubey, head constable Kamlesh Yadav and constable Prashant Kumar — are on the run and yet to be arrested.
While all six were suspended on 29 September, only three — SHO Jagat Narayan Singh, SI Akshay Mishra and SI Vijay Yadav — have been named in the FIR and charged with murder.
The police had initially claimed that the death was an accident, with Gorakhpur SSP Vipin Tada issuing a press statement, in which he claimed that Gupta died due to “falling in a flurry”.
The police have since back-tracked.
ADG Gorakhpur Zone Akhil Kumar told the media that arrests will be made on the basis of evidence.“ I would like to assure that strict action will be taken against the culprits, but before that we are collecting all the evidence. Court demands evidence”, he said.
On why only three names were mentioned in the FIR, the ADG Akhil Kumar said he cannot confirm the details of this and strict action will be taken against all those who were involved after an inquiry.
The probe, however, has been moved to the Kanpur Police.
On the ground, evidence doesn’t match the police version.
Krishna Palace Hotel owner Subhash Shukla told ThePrint that the police entourage went straight to room number 512.
“I saw the CCTV footage; they (policemen) checked the register and went ahead and knocked on the door of Gupta’s room around 12 am midnight,” Shukla said. “I was told that this was a routine visit and the policemen were suspicious because three people were staying in one room together and they had different IDs — one was from UP and the others were from Haryana.”
Shukla added that the CCTV footage has captured the whole incident, but said the police took hold of it.
“We saw that they parked their car outside around the hotel and checked the register and went ahead to room 512. What happened inside the room could not be captured, but soon after they could be seen dragging the unconscious body of Gupta,” Shukla said, who claimed that he saw the CCTV footage early morning before it was seized by the police as evidence.
Gupta’s wife, Meenakshi Gupta, however, accused the police and hotel employees of destruction of evidence.
She told ThePrint that when she reached the hotel on 28 September, she found that the blood in the hotel room had been cleaned, which the hotel owner said he had no information about.
She also told ThePrint that she was on a call with her husband right before he went to bed that night.
Half an hour later, she received a call from her nephew whom Manish had called during the police raid. The family reached Gorakhpur and found that he was first taken to Mansi Hospital, and then referred to AIIMS Gorakhpur, where he was declared dead.
The postmortem report mentions death due to antemortem injury ( injuries received before death). The 36-year-old had sustained injuries on his forehead, brain, skull, arm, forearm, left upper eyelid and “went into coma due to injuries”. There is a 15-minute difference between death and injury, the report, a copy of which is with ThePrint, states.
“Mid forehead abraded contusion swelling, cutting brain skull underneath brain haematoma present, lacerated wound over right arm and forearm and abraded contusion on left upper lid while cutting skin underneath haematoma present,” the report notes of the injuries Gupta sustained.
The pictures shared by Gupta’s wife show injuries on his arm at two places with a sharp object. Meenakshi claims that he was hit by the rifle butt, but the police have not revealed whether they have taken possession of the rifles.
SHO short-tempered, known as ‘Nagad Narayan’
SHO Jagat Narayan Singh, who led the raid, is no stranger to controversy. According to reports, he has previously been associated with such cases and has shot at four people while catching them but no charges were pressed against him.
Sources in the Gorakhpur Police told ThePrint that he was infamous for his short temper and abusive language. He was also referred to as ‘Nagad Narayan’ for allegedly demanding bribes and indulging in matters of extortion, but the claim has been refuted by his colleagues.
Krishna Hotel owner Subhash Shukla said the SHO carried out frequent raids at his hotel.
“It has increased in the past two years… Singh used to take at least 10-12 rooms every month for his acquaintances and never paid,” Shukla alleged. “There was another station incharge before him, Rana Devendra Pratap Singh, who was once refused a room in the hotel as all rooms were occupied, so he raided the hotel 4 times in 15 days. All these frequent raids had poorly affected our business..why would a customer take a room in the hotel if they hear there are frequent police visits.”
A Gorakhpur police officer, on condition of anonymity, however, said this was part of routine check up. “Such check-ups happen 3-4 times a month in various hotels. The frequency increases when CM sir is on visit or around festivals to ensure the maintenance of law and order,” he said.
Another police officer who has worked with Singh, disputed the charges against the SHO. “His image was of a ‘Dabang thanedaar’… But it was due to this image that criminals used to be afraid of him.”
According to police sources, SHO was awarded a certificate of appreciation for his performance as a beat police officer (BPO), and would “tirelessly work” to maintain law and order.
“Some of us who finished a 12-hour duty were called again by Sahab, because he was so concerned about our area,” a source said. “If someone refuses, he would cite his own example as ‘if I can work non stop at the age of 54, why can’t you?’”
Evidence being collected: ADG
The ADG Gorakhpur Zone, Akhil Kumar, while speaking to media Friday, had said that an SIT was created to investigate the case, while statements were being collected and CCTV footage and audio recordings were being checked.
“This is also a matter of investigation as to why the team went to the hotel that night.. Some people’s actions have raised questions on not only Gorakhpur Police, but Uttar Pradesh Police as well, but there are many policemen who are doing a commendable job,” he said.
The Gorakhpur SP (crime) Dr MP Singh told ThePrint that no details of the investigation can be disclosed, but the inquiry was on.
A video has also surfaced in which DM Vijay Kiran Anand and SP Vipin Tada can be seen telling the family that a court case will run for years.
“I am telling you this from my experience as a big brother… Aapko andaza nahin hai salon tak court me case chalta hai,” the DM can be heard saying.
Asked about this, ADG Akhil Singh said he cannot personally comment on it as he was not aware about the authenticity of the clip, but stated that both SSP and DM are “responsible officers” and that discussion could have been a part of maintaining law and order, and could be contextual. ThePrint reached both DM Vijay Kiran Anand and SP Vipin Tada through phone calls but did not receive a response.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath met Meenakshi Gupta Thursday, promised her a government job and Rs 50 lakh ex gratia.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)