Less than 48 hours after two Hindu priests were murdered in Uttar Pradesh's Auraiya district on August 15 Independence Day, five men were arrested - Salman, Jabbar , Nadeem , Majnu and Shehzad. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had set the deadline.
The police say all five were involved in cow slaughter and murdered the priests for opposing them and having two of their friends arrested the night before the murder. There are inconsistencies in this version.
The cow slaughter aspect surfaced first in a police complaint by the brother of one of the murdered priests. He alleged that his brother was killed for opposing cow slaughter.
A press release from the police on the day of the arrests suggests the priests had provided information about cow slaughter on the night of August 14, leading to the two arrests and the recovery of six cows.
The arrests allegedly incensed the accused men so much that they went to the temple with knives and guns, the police say.
Yet in the village, both Muslims and Hindus claim they have never heard of cow slaughter in their area.
School teacher Ram Snehi, who has lived in the village for five years, said: "I have not heard of cow slaughter in the village in my life. I never saw anyone taking away a cow or slaughtering it in the village. I don't think the priests would have complained. As far as I know they were only interested in prayer. I have met the priests many times. If something like this was going on they would have told me."
As the local police stations NDTV visited, officers said they had never received any cow slaughter complaint from the priests - contradicting their own press release.
"We have never received any complaint. Not on telephone, nor in writing. Now we are learning that some policemen might have known. Our press release is not a contradiction. We are now realizing that the priests used to tell the local constables but that was never passed on to senior officers," says Bhasker Verma, a senior police officer.
The other so-called evidence of cow slaughter in the village is from videos posted by rightwing activists on the day of the murders. One such video shows a man in a red kurta and wearing a tilak on his forehead. He stands at the periphery of an isolated and forested spot in between the village and the temple and shows hundreds of animal bones and a dead cow lying on the ground. The pit, the man says in the video, is evidence of large scale cow slaughter in the village.
But villagers told us that members of the Valmiki caste used to skin dead animals at the pit - live ones were never slaughtered, they say.
All five men accused of involvement in cow slaughter are from one house. Two men - Shahnawaz and Taufiq, were arrested on the night of August 14 for cow slaughter. Another two - father-son duo Salman and Jabbar - were arrested by the police later.
A fifth person, Gaffar, is missing.
Relatives say the men used to trade in buffaloes, but were not involved in slaughter.
There are questions also on how a murder plot could have been executed with cops right in the village and the home of the accused from the night of August 14.
"The police were in our house from about 11 pm at night because of the cow slaughter case. The priests were murdered in the morning. If the cops had surrounded the village at night, how could our men have ganged up and murdered them," asks a sobbing Gulnaz, the wife of 22-year-old Salman.
"The police had gone to the village at about midnight and were there till about 1.30 am. I don't think it is fair to say that the presence of the police was overwhelming. From the police post there were three people and from the police station there were 3 - 4 constables," counters Bhasar Verma, a senior police officer.
The cops say at least one of the murder accused, Salman, has a previous criminal record related to cow slaughter. He was named in a case registered on July 28, after 70 kg meat, suspected to be beef, was found.
In the village, some speak in hushed voices about how one of the priests had about 14 acres of land in his paternal village and how that could have been a possible motive. The police say it's not true.
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