In notorious Azamgarh, the story is the same as the rest of UP. Only here, families allege that caste decides who dies, even if he is a petty criminal.
Azamgarh: The cultural distance between eastern and western Uttar Pradesh is often brought up to illustrate the sheer size of the state, and how difficult it is to administer it.
But the Yogi Adityanath government’s encounter drive seems to have bridged the gap. From Saharanpur and Muzaffarnagar in the west to the notorious Azamgarh district in the east, the patterns are pretty much the same, the FIRs read like carbon copies of each other, and the families are similarly clueless about why their sons were picked up and shot.
In six months beginning in August 2017, five persons were killed in encounters in Azamgarh, which made headlines in the past for its connections to alleged Indian Mujahideen terrorists. In all the cases, like in the west, the police version showed that the alleged gangsters were travelling on bikes with an accomplice each; they were either spotted during routine checking, or through some advance planning; and each of the accomplices fled.
The only difference to the western UP cases is that in Azamgarh, the gangsters didn’t die on the spot; they died either in hospitals where the police took them or en route.
However, the families are having none of it. Some even believe that the police are targeting petty criminals because of their caste, and aren’t touching upper caste criminals.
Picked up in front of father’s eyes, killed six hours later
Name: Jai Hind Yadav (22)
Time and place of death: 3 pm, Ramghat Kuti, Azamgarh
Date: 3 August 2017
Cases against him: 13 – Attempt to murder, Arms Act violations, Gangster Act. Reward of Rs 15,000 on his head.
Injuries: 16 bullet wounds all over his body, spinal injuries.
Jai Hind’s post mortem report shows multiple bullet wounds and even spinal injuries, which could have been caused by being beaten up. “No one kills even an animal like this,” said Shiv Pujan Yadav, his father.
As per the police FIR, a police team was conducting a routine vehicle check in the Ramghat Kuti area under Mehnagar police station. They asked one biker to stop, but he opened fire at the police team. He was shot several times in retaliatory fire.
Asked about the high number of bullet wounds, Subhash Gangwar, the superintendent of police in Azamgarh (city) said it wasn’t unusual in the circumstances.
“Jai Hind was with another person and both were firing. We responded as a team, so there is nothing unusual in the number of bullet wounds,” he said.
However, Shiv Pujan refutes the police version, saying his son had been with him that fateful morning when he was picked up near their village, Khilwa, which falls under the Tarwa police station in Azamgarh district, not far away from Mehnagar and Ramghat Kuti.
“My son was with me in the morning when some people in a vehicle just came and picked him around 8.30 in the morning. I was unwell and he was going to get me medicines,” he said. But at around 3 pm, he was informed that Jai Hind has been killed in an encounter.
According to the police, Jai Hind, Ramji Pasi (see below) and Sujit Singh Budhwa were part of the same gang. When Budhwa went to jail, Jai Hind took charge of the gang. The police said they had intercepted several calls from Jai Hind threating local businessmen for ransom.
“A few months ago, a jewellery shop was looted in Azamgarh. The CCTV footage showed that Jai Hind Yadav was one of the criminals. More than a dozen cases were registered against him in Azamgarh and Mau,” said Ajay Kumar Sahni, SSP, Azamgarh.
But Shiv Pujan called this a concoction. “This is a story the police have made up. My son was studying for his MA at Bharkula Degree College.”
For the last three or four years, Jai Hind had been living in fear of the police, his father said. “The first time he was picked up by the police, he was going to Chhattisgarh for a railway recruitment examination. Later, I came to know that the special task force had got hold of him.
“I spent a lot of money to get him out on bail. But whenever something happened in the area, the police would trouble him; so much so that he stopped living at home out of fear of getting killed by the police.”
Brother brings up question of caste, says Ramji was trying to surrender
Name: Ramji Pasi (33)
Time and place of death: 2.40 pm, Tarwa, Azamgarh
Date: 14 September 2017
Cases against him: 10 – Attempt to murder, threatening, loot etc. Reward of Rs 15,000 on his head
Injuries: Bullet injuries in stomach and chest, broken right ribs.
Once a budding cricketer, Ramji Pasi was well-known in the Tarwa police station area. “Whoever liked cricket would definitely know Ramji as he was one of the best players in the region,” said Jai Hind Yadav’s father Shiv Pujan, denying that his son or Ramji were part of a gang.
But the police insisted Ramji used to run with the Budhwa gang as well as the Rakesh Pasi gang, and had several cases against him not only in Azamgarh, but in nearby Mau, Pratapgarh, Jaunpur, and Varanasi as well. Ramji and Rakesh had allegedly fled after firing on a police team on 19 July, and had been on the run since then.
Ramji’s brother Dinesh Saroj, the pradhan of their village Jiapur, is not convinced about the police’s version of an encounter kill. He pointed out the suggestion of the post-mortem report that Ramji’s ribs were fractured, which could’ve been caused by being beaten up.
“Ramji was trying to surrender. We have no idea when the police picked him up. We only came to know after he was killed,” Saroj said.
Asked about the numerous cases against his brother, Saroj blamed the police and other residents of the village.
“You ask anyone in the area and they would vouch for Ramji. He used to play cricket and help other people in their work. He was so popular that in 2012, he won an election to become a member of the Block Development Council, and since then the upper caste villagers went against him.”
Saroj insisted that caste was the motive behind his brother’s encounter. “Why are only poor people from lower castes getting targeted? Where can we go for justice?”
Ramakant Yadav, former BJP MP from Azamgarh agreed with Saroj, after visiting most of the families of the alleged criminals who’ve been killed.
“This is not only about Azamgarh. You can see a pattern in it across UP. While people from the lower and backward castes are being killed, nothing is happening to upper caste criminals. Why are only Pasis, Sonekars, Rajbhars or Yadavs getting killed?” he asked.
But the police deny any foul play, pointing to the fact that the accomplice alleged to have fled from the scene of Ramji’s encounter was gang leader Rakesh Pasi himself.
“All our encounters have taken place during the day time. We have followed the criminals, each of whom opened fire on us once they were trapped. Our teams have only fired in self-defence,” said Gangwar, the top cop of the district.
“In each case, there have been witnesses who have confirmed that there was firing on both sides. In all the cases, we have followed the guidelines and taken the injured criminals to hospital. Unfortunately, they died of their injuries.”
Not even in the same district
Name: Mukesh Rajbhar (18)
Time and place of death: 10.25 pm, Haluadih Village, Singhari, Azamgarh
Date: 26 January 2018
Cases against him: 8 – Bike theft, attempt to murder. He was also charged under the Gangster Act in 2016, which was later dismissed by the court. Reward of Rs 50,000 on his head.
Injuries: Bullet injury in the chest.
Mukesh was first arrested in August 2016 for stealing a motorcycle and sent to judicial custody. In a few months, he was released on bail and returned home to Mutkallipur village under Pawai police station.
His father Nandlal said: “At the time, I was working in the construction sector in Mumbai, and shifted back here after the incident. I taught him how to fix tiles, thinking he would be able to earn a living. But the police kept bothering him. My son was not a criminal.”
He was then sent to Akbarpur town in the Kanpur Dehat district – nearly 500 km away – to work with Seema Yadav, a former dacoit who was arrested in 2012 and later released in 2016, and unsuccessfully contested the assembly elections last year.
“We had checked Mukesh’s background before hiring him – he was working with Samajwadi Party leader Hemraj Paswan in Azamgarh, and I got to know him from there,” said Shiv Pratap Singh, Seema Yadav’s husband, adding that Mukesh had been honest and upfront about the bike theft case.
Mukesh’s family and Singh confirmed that he had been living at the latter’s residence since March last year, and would only go to Azamgarh for his court appearances. On 19 January, he went to his village to attend his sister’s engagement, which got cancelled for some reasons. He went back to Akbarpur on the morning of 21 January with his friend Akhilesh Yadav, and was in Akbarpur till the 26th, his family and Singh both confirmed.
“I have all the proof, right from call details to pictures, to show he was in Akbarpur on the said day,” said Shiv Pratap Singh.
In fact, Singh said Mukesh participated in a Republic Day flag-hoisting ceremony and distributed sweets among the neighbours, after which Mukesh and Akhilesh went to a nearby pan shop to buy gutkha. Singh asked them to take his 18-month-old daughter along for the walk.
However, Singh’s neighbour Raju Srivastava brought his daughter back to him, saying that two Mahindra Bolero vehicles without number plates picked up Mukesh and Akhilesh, and abandoned his daughter right on the spot.
Singh said he made several calls to the SP, Kanpur Dehat, and the IG, Kanpur, and informed them about the incident but nothing happened. Singh also informed Mukesh’s family, who then sent a fax to the chief minister and director-general of police’s offices, but didn’t get any information on Mukesh and Akhilesh.
Then came news that Mukesh had been killed in an encounter.
On the other hand, the police claim that Mukesh was involved in attacking a constable on 22 January in the Azamgarh district jail campus, and since then they were looking for him.
The FIR stated that on 26 January, a group of police men were checking vehicles at around 10 pm at Haluadih village when they spotted a motorcycle with two persons. The motorcyclists started taking a U-turn, in the process, fell down. One of the riders fired, injuring constable Udaibhan Singh, and in the police’s retaliatory fire, Mukesh was hit. He was declared brought dead at a hospital.
With the assistance of Singh, the Rajbhar family has written to the National Human Rights Commission, urging a proper investigation, and has also moved the Allahabad High Court with all the proof Singh possessed.
Political and community leaders have also picked up cudgels on their behalf. Om Prakash Rajbhar, cabinet minister in the Yogi Adityanath government, has written to the CM asking for a CBI inquiry. Meanwhile, Ramayan Rajbhar, president of the Rajbhar Adhikar Manch, organised a protest in Lucknow on 27 February with the family, demanding justice for Mukesh.
“If he was a criminal, he would have been punished by the court, and not killed in a staged encounter. We demand a proper inquiry into the case,” Ramayan said.