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‘Beheading warning, crypto debt, body cut’: Suicide theory cuts no ice with Bhopal student family

Nishank Rathore, 20, was found dead on railway tracks soon after a post about 'beheading' as punishment for insulting Prophet appeared on his Instagram profile. Police deny foul play.

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Bhopal: The last message that Umashankar Rathore, a resident of Narmadapuram in Madhya Pradesh, sent his 20-year-old son Nishank was an advertisement for a second-hand scooter last Saturday. The reply he got around 5.45 pm Sunday, was chilling: “Rathore sahab bohot bahadur tha apka beta, Gustaak e Nabi ki ek sazaa tan sar se juda… (Rathore sir, your son was very brave. The punishment for insulting the Prophet is to separate the head from the body).”

Hours earlier, Umashankar’s daughters had sent him screenshots of an Instagram story posted on Nishank’s profile. It showed the baby-faced student holding a saffron-coloured religious flag, with a large red cross drawn over the picture. The caption featured the same line about beheading those who insult the Prophet.

What made the situation even more worrying was that Nishank, who was pursuing an engineering degree at Oriental College in Bhopal, had not been picking up his calls or answering messages for a couple of days. The only exception was on 11 am Sunday, when he briefly picked up to say he’d be home soon, before going incommunicado again.

Nishank’s concerned family had already organised a search party with the local police when they received devastating news: Nishank’s dead body had been found at railway tracks near Midghat station in Raisen district, more than 60 km from Bhopal.

According to police sources, the autopsy revealed that Nishank’s body was cut into half from his torso. The final report is likely in a couple of days, they added. Nishank’s two-wheeler, phone and slippers, the sources said, were the only things around him at the time of his death.

He had been heading in the direction of his home on a rented bike but, for some reason, decided to take a U-turn, the sources added. Shortly before travelling to the tracks, he filled fuel in the bike, they said.

The mysterious circumstances and dire messages preceding Nishank’s death have bred rumours of a religiously motivated murder and hashtags like #JusticeforNishank.

Considering the sensitive nature of this case, state Home Minister Narottam Mishra has constituted a five-member special investigating team (SIT) headed by Raisen Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Amrit Singh Meena.

However, the police claim that, so far, all signs point to suicide rather than murder.

Speaking to ThePrint, Raisen Superintendent of Police (SP) Vikas Sahwal said Nishank seemed to be in financial trouble due to money he’d borrowed from “loan apps” and “investments” he’d made in cryptocurrencies.

“His phone and laptop were given for forensics and we found out that he had plenty of loan apps on his phone that he was using. We are yet to ascertain how and when he used these apps,” the SP added.

Nishank’s family, meanwhile, has rejected the suicide theory, stating that there was “no reason” for him to have taken such a step.

“I am certain Nishank was murdered,” his sister Deeksha told ThePrint. “He was just a jovial and cheerful 20-year-old engineering student trying to figure out life… I am certain he wouldn’t take such an extreme step.”

Sahwal said “although we believe that this is a case of suicide, we also want to investigate the allegations levelled by the family”. No FIR has been filed yet.

Also Read: ‘Please act’, Telangana govt urges RBI as loan app agents ‘harass & blackmail’ borrowers

‘Evidence indicates suicide’

In some sections of social media, speculation is rife that Nishank was “killed” because he flaunted his “Hindu identity”. The matter became even more emotionally loaded when Nishank’s sister tied a rakhi on his lifeless hand.

The term “sar tan se juda” has of late come to be associated with extreme reactions against Nupur Sharma, the former BJP spokesperson who triggered a controversy over her remarks about the Prophet Muhammed.

However, other than two or three posts showing him posing with religious flags, Nishank’s Instagram profile is like that of any other college student, with pictures of him relaxing in cafes and a few reels lately that suggest a brooding mood.

Prima facie, the Raisen police had said, the case looked like a suicide, but Nishank’s family rejected this possibility outright.

SP Sahwal, however, told ThePrint that the evidence so far did not suggest any foul play.

“Usually, parents don’t have much of a clue about their children’s mental health, but we do understand what they are going through. Our experience and the evidence we have collected so far indicates that this is suicide,” the police officer said.

“There is no behavioural pattern or trace of him being involved with a larger group. He did not even have disciplinary issues in college. We did not find any information that would suggest that he was murdered by someone.”

The SP said what police “know so far is that Nishank was hit by a train and his body was cut in half”. “There were no other injuries that could have caused any suspicion of foul play,” he added.

The SIT has found during investigations that Nishank borrowed money from several friends and was investing in cryptocurrencies, police sources said. After detailed statements from family members, college authorities, and friends, police also believe he “fell into the trap” of loan apps, which approve small loans instantly but also charge high interest rates.

Police sources said that it seemed that Nishank was under pressure to return money he had borrowed from friends and loan apps. They added that since the crypto market was also crashing, it may have added to his distress.

‘He did not show any signs of depression’

Nishank’s family members are not the only ones who are unable to believe he died by suicide.

In the days preceding his death, Nishank was staying in Bhopal with Raj Raghuvanshi, one of his friends from school.

“I’ve known him since Class 4, and he couldn’t have done this. He was not doing too badly in college. He knew all about cryptocurrencies and was actively investing in them. He did not show any sign of depression even when the market was crashing,” Raghuvanshi said. “He did borrow money but that was also in good faith from friends who would never blackmail him. It would be bizarre if he took this step.”

The authorities at Oriental College in Bhopal, where Nishank was a fifth-semester BTech student, are also shocked, although they said there were signs that the engineering student may have been struggling,

For instance, Ashish Nigam, registrar of the college, said Nishank had missed all his classes in the previous semester.

“Nishank’s fees were cleared till the fourth semester and it has been just 10 days since the fifth semester began. But he did not attend any classes during the fourth semester,” Nigam added.

He, however, said that Nishank never had any disciplinary issues and that his academic performance was satisfactory. “Good students who usually take a quieter path are sometimes hard to keep a track of. His results were also fine so we are not sure what to make of this incident,” he added.

SP Sahwal said the probe is not yet over, but might soon be.

“We will begin our inquest report once we are 100 per cent sure that there is nothing beyond our collected evidence. It is hard for the police to ascertain details in just a few days. So, we will wait two more days and then will officially rule out murder if nothing new comes up,” he said.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)

Also Read: Suicide or Murder? Varying narratives cloud the truth behind arrested IAS officer’s son’s death


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