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.
My question is: Does anybody complain about a conspiracy being hatched for fomenting communal riot? Does anybody complain about a conspiracy being hatched for terror activities? It is the duty of the police to keep a watch on such nefarious activity and take timely action. But Amravati police says, it waited for written complaints to come.
Those who had posted messages in support on Nurpur Sharma on June 10, had immediately sent ‘apology’ videos to those who were threatening them. Umesh Kolhe posted his WhatsApp status in support of Nupur Sharma on June 14, and seven days later, on June 21, he was brutally murdered.
The post-mortem report on Kolhe’s murder makes horrific reading. There was a five inch wide, seven inches long and five inches deep cut on Umesh Kolhe’s neck. The killers wanted to behead him, but when his wife and son raised a hue and cry, people rushed to the scene and the killers escaped.
There are also reports that the killers had tried to kill Umesh Kolhe on June 19 and 20, but failed, because Umesh had closed his shop early. For 12 days after Umesh’s brutal murder, Amravati police suppressed the fact that he was killed for extending support to Nupur Sharma.
Amravati MP Navneet Rana and her husband Ravi Rana have demanded action against police officers for sheer negligence. Ravi Rana alleged that when Kolhe’s murder took place, there was Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Mahrashtra. He alleged that Congress leader Yashomati Thakur, who was the guardian minister for Amravati, had tried to project this gruesome killing as a case of loot and murder.
India TV reporter asked Amravati police commissioner about this. She replied, “it was a blind case, a sensitive case. Without clinching evidence, it was improper to say anything. In the FIR, there were no charges of theft or robbery attempt.” Congress ex-minister Yashomati Thakhur said, Navneet Rana and her husband Ravi were making baseless allegations. “Whatever happened to Umesh Kolhe was unfortunate and the culprits should get harsh punishment”, she said.
At a condolence meeting for Umesh Kolhe in Amravati on Monday, thousands of people gathered, amidst tight police security. There were no slogans, but those who came to the condolence meeting said, such a brutal killing is indicative of a Talibani mindset among some people, who believe in beheading those who insult their religion.
So long as stringent legal action is not taken against such fundamentalists, and so long as they are not boycotted by civil society, such brutal killings can recur. On Monday, reports came from Nagpur about a 22-year-old man and his family getting death threats for supporting Nupur Sharma. The youth had forwarded a post in support of Nupur Sharma, and on getting death threats, he immediately deleted it. His family members posted videos of ‘apology’, but, by then, the youth’s image with a red-coloured cross was already shared on some WhatsApp groups, clearly showing him as a ‘target’.
The youth’s family left Nagpur for some days out of fear, and returned recently. The youth has been kept in an undisclosed location. Nagpur police has provided security to the family, and senior police officers have shared their phone numbers with the family, to call them up in case of emergency.
Had Amravati police taken timely action, Umesh Kolhe’s life could have been saved. If Amravati police had interrogated the killers, it could have easily known that he was murdered for supporting Nupur Sharma. Had the police not suppressed this fact, an Udaipur tailor Kanhaiyalal’s life could have been saved, because police would have been on alert across the country.
One needs to analyse and interpret the sequence of events. Both in Udaipur and Amravati, some groups were active propagating ‘sar tan se juda’ (beheading for insulting the Prophet). First, people in Amravati got death threats, and Umesh Kohle’s neck was severed. A week later, tailor Kanhyailal was beheaded by two killers with big knives.
Kanhaiyalal had complained to police about the threat to his life, but police did not take action. Now that the NIA has taken up both the cases, evidences are tumbling out about groups that are active on social media, targeting victims, and executing the barbaric beheadings. This could have been prevented and the lives of two innocent persons could have been saved.
In both cases, those who knew the victims, triggered the murders. In both places, two human beings lost their lives, their friends were the catalysts for their death, and the ultimate loser was humanity.
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