After Hate Crime On A Train That Shocked India, A Series Of Lapses

Junaid Khan, 16, was stabbed to death on train in Haryana in June this year. He and others attacked were allegedly abused with religious slurs.

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Junaid was one of three cousins attacked on a train in Haryana by other passengers.

New Delhi: 

Highlights

  1. Junaid and his two companions were attacked in a crowded train in June
  2. High Court stayed trial recently after Junaid's family sought CBI inquiry
  3. Murder charges were dropped by police against four of six accused
On June 22 this year, the murder of 16-year-old Junaid on board a train from Delhi to Haryana sent shockwaves across India. Two of his companions, Shakir, 23, and Hashim, 20, were grievously wounded.

In theory, this should not have been a difficult case for the police to crack. Junaid and his companions were attacked in a crowded train; later his bloodied body was carried out onto a train platform, milling with people.

The police, after initial delays, arrested six men for Junaid's murder. They filed a 350-page chargesheet and the trial began at the Faridabad sessions court in October.

But seven months after the crime, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has stayed the trial after Junaid's family moved a petition seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry.

An NDTV investigation found multiple lapses in the probe into the killing of the young man.

Hate crime or skirmish over seats?

A fundamental weakness that runs through the police investigation is their attempt to portray the crime as a skirmish over seats and not a hate crime.

Hashim, Junaid's brother, and his father, Jalaluddin told the media - and the police - how the attackers showered them with communal abuses.

"They called us beef-eaters, traitors and asked us to go to Pakistan," said Hashim.

However, the chargesheet did not invoke Section 153A - promoting enmity against a religion - which is a non-bailable offence and carries a maximum punishment of up to three years in jail. The police applied the milder charge of uttering words to wound religious feelings of any person.

Rebecca John, criminal lawyer told NDTV, "This was not the case where there was a trivial fight over seats. This was a religious assault. He was purely assaulted because he belonged to a particular religion."

"The investigation has been one sided," Ms John added.

No murder charge against "enablers"

The police had initially invoked murder charges against all the accused. However, murder charges were dropped against four of them - Ramesh, Chandra Prakash, Gaurav and Pradeep - who subsequently got bail.

This, despite the chargesheet stating that all of them were holding the victims down and hurling communal abuses as the main accused, Naresh, struck them with knife blows.

Legal experts say the police could have brought the other four accused into the ambit of the murder charge through other sections, pertaining to "acting with common intention" and "unlawful assembly". "So everybody who participates in this except a few innocent bystanders will be implicated either through Section 34 (common intention) and in this particular case, there is a provision in IPC called 149 of the Indian Penal Code which talks of unlawful assembly," Ms John told NDTV.

The murder charge remains against two of the accused - Naresh, a security guard at the National Agricultural Museum from Palwal and Rameshwar Dass, 53, who works as a health inspector at the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD).

Naresh, according to the chargesheet, served eight knife blows to Junaid, five to Shakir and three to Hashim. He has not denied the crime, but his family told NDTV that he acted in self-defence, since he was being attacked by Junaid and his brothers.

"Naresh found a knife from somewhere in the coach and used it in self-defence," said Naresh's brother Suresh.

Dass, the government servant, is accused of starting the fight over seats and instigating the crowd with communal abuses.

Witness statement "censored"?

Junaid's family also alleges the police appears to have selectively edited out portions of Hashim's statement, particularly his description of the communal nature of the assault. "I told them that the mob called us beef-eaters, traitors and Pakistanis. But that is not in my statement (attached to the chargesheet)," said Hashim.

He also said that the police have removed his claim that two men with government ID cards boarded the train with Dass.

These details of the abuses hurled, are part of the chargesheet, but in the form of statements of the accused, not admissible in a court of law.

Sanjay Hegde, a Supreme Court lawyer, said that this omission could be used by the defence to erode the credibility of witnesses (like Hashim). "This non-recording often creates an element of doubt on the as far as witness is concerned and if you get reasonable doubt in a criminal matter and the guilt can't be proved beyond reasonable doubt, the matter ends up in an acquittal," he told NDTV.

Police, however, say that they have no reason to redact anything from the victim's statement and added that the victim's allegations are simply because they want a CBI inquiry into the matter.

State cites hostile witnesses

In an affidavit filed on November 5, in response to a petition filed by the victim's family for a CBI inquiry, the state has once again debunked the suggestion of a conspiracy behind the violence, making a case that this was a murderous act by an individual.

As proof, the state has quoted two witnesses who claim they did not see anyone holding down the young men as they were being attacked.

Except, those witnesses had never claimed to identifying the accused. Moreover, both had turned hostile 10 days before the state filed its response.

The witnesses, Yudhister and Mahendar, said in their statements to the police that they could not identify who had committed the crime. Yudhister's statement read, "I do not know the person giving knife blows," while Mahendar's statement read "I had seen boy causing knife blows slightly from the side and I am unable to recognize him completely".

State endorses blood money theory?

The Additional Advocate General of Haryana, Deepak Sabharwal told the court November 2 that based on information from a police informant, Junaid's father Jalaluddiin asked for Rs 2 crore and 3 acres of land for an out-of-court settlement.

Jalaluddin filed an affidavit denying the allegation. He said he was approached by delegations from the villages of the accused, but he turned them down.

"They were asking us to compromise and pressurising the gram panchayat of my village. There were around 200 to 300 people," Jalaluddin told NDTV. "I turned them down", he said.

We checked with the Sarpanch of Jalaluddin's village, to corroborate his claim. "People from nearby villages had come to offer condolences. That Jalaluddin asked for Rs 2 crore and 3 acres of land is an absolute lie," Nishar Ahmed, Sarpanch of Khandawali village told NDTV.

Despite this, the state filed a response in court stating that Jalaluddin was lying to "save himself".

In November, Sabharwal's predecessor, Naveen Kaushik, had to resign after allegations of colluding with the defence counsel. Kaushik was seen handing over documents to the lawyer of the accused, Vishal Jolly.

All this, their legal counsel says, has led to the victim's family losing confidence in the investigation and the trial.

"I just believe in God and the court. I will accept any kind of decision given by the court even if it exonerates the accused or punishes them for 50 years," Jalaluddin told NDTV.

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