Rajat Sharma

Beheadings in Udaipur, Amravati could have been prevented

AKB30 Even as the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is grilling all the seven accused arrested in the gruesome June 21 murder of chemist Umesh Kolhe in Amravati, Maharashtra, audio recordings have surfaced about death threats given to dozens of people for supporting Nupur Sharma on social media.

On Monday, an Amravati court gave the custody of all seven accused t the NIA, while Amravati police slapped additional charges of hurting religious sentiments and fomenting disharmony against them under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). NIA has taken all the accused on transit remand and will produce them in a Mumbai court before July 8.

Evidences found so far clearly show that Umesh Kolhe was murdered by radical Islamists for extending support to former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma, who had made a blasphemous remark against Prophet Mohammad. Kolhe had forwarded a supporter’s message on WhatsApp group. Threatening phone calls were made to all those who had posted messages in support of Nupur Sharma.

The surprising part is that Amravati police took these threats lightly and did not take action against the Islamic radicals who were threatening people. These revelations are both surprising and worrying. They raise questions over the role of Amravati police, which had initially arrested the killers of Kolhe but suppressed the fact that he was murdered for supporting Nupur Sharma. Initially, Amrvati police had described it as routine murder.

The most worrying part is that two weeks before Kohle was brutally murdered, several people, who had supported Nupur Sharma on social media, got threatening calls on phone. They were intimidated to make videos seeking apology for supporting her. These videos were made viral, but Amravati police did not take up this matter seriously.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Monday night, we showed audio conversation between an Islamic radical and another person, who was being threatened for supporting Nupur Sharma. Another worrying point is that in both the Udaipur beheading and Amravati murder cases, those who conspired the killings were close friends of the victims.

Out of seven persons arrested in Amravati, two were arrested within 48 hours of the murder, but local police was exploring the motive of murder for ten days. Several others were also threatened with beheading on phone, 10 days before Kolhe was murdered. All these evidence are now in public domain, and there seems to be no logical reason to accept Amravati police’s plea that it could not establish Nupur Sharma links with Kohle’s murder. Now that the NIA has taken up the case, Amravati police has sprung into action and fresh evidence are surfacing.

On the basis of evidence that I have received, it is clear that there were several WhatsApp groups active in Amravati. One of the groups is named Black Freedom, and the other group is named Rahbar. There are dozens of such groups that had posted screen shots of the WhatsApp status and posts of those who had supported Nupur Sharma. Soon after, threatening calls started coming to these supporters. This continued for several days, but local police had no inkling of such activity.

The surprising part is that those who were threatening people knew each other. One of them Irfan Sheikh, who runs an NGO called Rahbar, was dialling up Nupur Sharma’s supporters and threatening them. He was telling them in plain words that Muslims behead those who insult the Prophet. He also told them that if they refused to apologize, they will have to face serious consequences.

One resident in Amravati put up a WhatsApp status in support of Nupur Sharma on June 10, and within hours, he started getting threatening calls. He was asked to post video apologizing for his ‘mistake’, otherwise he should be prepared to face consequences. In ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Monday night, we ran the audio conversation between the two, in which the radical Islamist was threatening to go to his shop and take action, and the other person, appearing worried, was saying he would soon send a video seeking apology. Soon after, he sent a video of ‘apology’ with folded hands on that number.

All this appears to be part of a coordinated strategy, and not a spontaneous action. In another incident, a well-known doctor in Amravati was threatened from somebody from Rahbar NGO group. The person who was threatening on phone knew the doctor, but at the same time, was telling him that those who speak against the religion will have to face consequences.

The doctor was pleading on phone that he had no malafide intention while posting a status in support of Nupur Sharma. He offered to delete the status, but the person threatening the doctor said, if he continued to do this, the entire city would go against him. When the doctor asked about a way out, the man said, make a video of apology and send it to me.

The doctor quickly made a video of apology and sent it to the caller. In the video, the doctor was shown saying: “Yesterday I had put a status supporting Nupur Sharma. I had no intention to hurt the sentiments of any religion, caste or individual. If I have hurt the feelings of anybody, I am withdrawing my status, and I apologize for my act. I promise never to repeat this in future.”

The man who was threatening people from the NGO Rahbar is its vice-president Razik Mirza. India TV reporter Rajesh Kumar met Razik Mirza, who admitted that he had rang up the doctor, but he did not threaten him. He claimed, he was only ‘requesting’ by saying that if he did not tender apology, the entire city would go against him. Asked further, Razik Mirza said, he knew the doctor and used to refer patients to him. What he meant was that if the doctor did not apologize, he would stop sending patients to him.

The person whom he was threatening was a doctor. When India TV reporter told Razik Mirza that it was Yusuf Khan who had posted the screen shot of Umesh Kohle’s status on social media, and soon after Kolhe was murdered, Razik denied it. But he was clearly lying. Yusuf Khan had shared Kohle’s WhatsApp status in his Rahbar group. Umesh Kolhe owned a pharmacy and Dr Yusuf Khan was a veterinary doctor. Umesh Kohle used to help the vet doctor.

Kolhe had put up his WhatsApp status supporting Nupur Sharma, but after getting threats, he had deleted it, but, by then, Dr Yusuf Khan had posted the screen shot on Rahbar WhatsApp group. Soon after, NGO vice-president Irfan Sheikh became active, and, according to police, he planned the murder of Umesh Kolhe. All activity of this NGO Rahbar has now ended after Kolhe’s murder, but the WhatsApp group has not been deleted.

The names of all the seven accused, now in NIA custody, are: Yusuf Khan (32), Abdul Taufiq (24), Mudassar Ahmad (22), Shahrukh Pathan (25), Shoaid Khan (22), Atib Rashid (22), and alleged mastermind Sheikh Irfan Sheikh Rahim.

Let me make it clear that Nupur Sharma’s remark against the Prophet cannot and must not be supported, but if anybody comes forward to extend support to Nupur Sharma, and that person gets a death threat, it cannot be described as a step that can be justified. There is no doubt that those who supported Nupur Sharma in Amravati were being given death threats.

The logical question arises: Why didn’t Amravati police taken corrective steps immediately? Had the local police taken action against the Rahbar group vice-chief after June 10, it could have prevented the brutal killing of chemist Umesh Kolhe on June 21.

When India TV reporter Rajesh Kumar asked Amravati Police Commissioner Aarti Singh about this, she admitted that there were three such cases, but in two cases, those who were threatened refused to file complaints. There was a complaint in the third case. The police commissioner said, there can be no correlation between Umesh Kolhe’s murder and these threatening calls.

The surprising part is that an IPS officer of the rank of police commissioner is saying that since there were no written complaints, the police did not start probe.

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