On June 18, cellphone videos of a man being attacked by a mob in western Uttar Pradesh's Hapur - around 70 km from Delhi - went viral. It showed a meat trader, Qasim Qureishi, being thrashed; the 45-year-old died later. The crowd also beat up another man, 65-year-old Samiuddin, at times pulling his beard while shouting abuses at him for allegedly killing a cow.
The police made four arrests, naming a local, Yudhishthir Singh Sisodia, as the main accused. The charges in the First Information Report (FIR) include rioting, attempt to murder and murder.
But 18 days later, Sisodia walked out on bail.
Multiple anomalies in the police probe may have played a role in weakening of the case, an NDTV investigation has found. Families of the victims also allege political intervention by local groups of the Sangh Parivar, a term used to describe right-wing outfits.
HAPUR LYNCHING: MULTIPLE ANOMALIES
The biggest anomaly is the police FIR claiming that this was an incident of road rage, despite evidence in the videos, as well as claims made by both the accused and the victims that allegations of cow slaughter provoked the attack.
The FIR says that a motorcycle hit Qasim; he was killed and Samiuddin was injured in the altercation that followed.
Pawan Kumar, the circle officer (CO) of the Pilakhuwa station in Hapur, where the case is registered maintained that the FIR was based on the complaint filed by Yaseen, Samiuddin's brother. Yaseen, however, alleges that he was coerced into filing a complaint of road rage. "I was told to write a report by the CO. He kept dictating, and Dinesh (Tomar, the journalist mentioned in the FIR) kept writing. Then he made me sign it. Even when I said this was wrong, he threatened us that he would arrest my entire family on cow slaughter charges. He also said that I wouldn't be able to meet my brother until after I had signed it. I did not say that it was a motorcycle accident," he alleges.
Even Sisodia, the main accused, claims that the fight broke out over rumours of cow slaughter. "There was an announcement in the village that they are slaughtering a cow in the nearby jungle and we all went there to see. I also called the SDM (Sub-Divisional Magistrate), you can check my call records. I told him that a fight has broken out in the village, please come. I also said that it was a cow slaughter case, so please send (police) force because in such situations, some people can be killed too," he claims. He further said that he was only a spectator to the incident, claiming innocence.
CASE DIARY CONTRADICTS FIR?
This anomaly may have played a role in the bail; the bail order refers to how the police case diary states that Qasim and Samiuddin were slaughtering a cow and the attacks broke out over this, while the FIR mentions road rage.
"Case diary does not mention cow slaughter (as the reason of the attack). We have written in case diary that there was an attempt to spread a rumour of cow slaughter, after the men were badly injured," police officer Pawan Kumar told NDTV.
NO STATEMENT RECORDED OF THE ONLY SURVIVOR?
Sisodia's bail order also says that Samiuddin had named him in a statement given to the police.
However, a heavily-bandaged Samiuddin alleges that the police have not recorded his statement, even after he was released from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
"My condition wasn't good... I was floating in and out of consciousness in the ICU. At that time, my brother told me that the police are asking for a statement. But I couldn't sit up or do anything... even the doctors and my brothers said that till he is not feeling better, till he is in pain, he can't give any statement. I couldn't even speak much. They said 'fine, we will take it later'. After I got out of the ICU, nobody came to take my statement," alleges Samiuddin, who suffered fractures in his limbs.
Police officer Pawan Kumar, however, claims that they took Samiuddin's statement in two rounds, and maintains that he has proof of it. But he refused to share it with us.
SANGH PARIVAR: "THEY ARE OUR PEOPLE"
When NDTV visited Qasim's family, his wife alleged that possible political clout and interference had ensured main accused Yudhishthir's freedom. "We think the government is supporting them, because this hasn't happened before. Bail isn't granted as quickly as it was done in this case," said Naseem Parveen, Qasim's wife.
Local Sangh Parivar leaders claim that they have met the family of the accused, and contacted police officials to help their case. They, however, denied exerting any pressure.
Gaurav Raghav, the state Vice President of the Rashtriya Bajrang Dal, said the accused are "our people". "They filed FIRs against our people, and put them in jail. We also met the SP (Superintendent of Police), and handed a memo demanding a proper investigation, saying if people are found guilty, they should be punished," he said.
Ravinder, the district secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, went a step further. He said that even if the accused were guilty, the VHP supported them.
"If we feel that there really is such a video of a person who was clearly shown to be killing that butcher, then definitely VHP-Bajrang Dal would be with them. Because cow slaughter is forbidden, is banned, and people also know that cow is important to Hindus... even after knowing all this, they are purposefully slaughtering," he said.
Samiuddin has denied allegations of cow slaughter. He says he is a farmer, with no history of cases of cow theft or slaughter. Qasim, a meat trader, dealt in goats and buffaloes, according to his family.
Vrinda Grover, lawyer for Samiuddin, says the road rage theory had to be manufactured to cover up the absence of evidence to prove cow slaughter. "There is no cow", she said.