Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh: More than three years since police inspector Subodh Singh was lynched by a mob of Hindu fundamentalists, worked into a violent frenzy by the discovery of cow carcasses, a sessions court has not yet framed charges or begun the trial against 88 men accused of killing the officer, prompting Supreme Court intervention, especially against the man who led them.
Subodh Singh was station house officer (SHO) at the Syana police station in western Uttar Pradesh (UP) district of Bulandshahr when, on 3 December 2018, a mob laid siege to the police station in which he was trapped, battering and shooting him to death, even chopping off his fingers, according to the police chargesheet.
Since then, the man who allegedly led the mob, former Bajrang Dal leader Yogesh Raj, was arrested, got bail from the Allahabad high court and successfully contested the district panchayat elections in April 2021, defeating a relative of local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of the legislative assembly (MLA) Devendra Singh Lodhi, once a close associate.
His political ambitions growing after the inspector's murder, Raj even tried to contest the recent UP assembly elections as an independent candidate against Lodhi but found his nomination cancelled on a technicality.
Raj’s political foray came when he was out on bail, ignoring for two years a Supreme Court notice, issued after the slain officer’s wife questioned the bail order of the Allahabad High Court in 2019. Raj surrendered in January 2022 but only after India’s highest court ordered a warrant for his rearrest and asked why the local UP court handling the case had not begun the trial or examined any of 126 witnesses.
According to the chargesheet filed in March 2019, the mob attack on a police outpost was led by the Bajrang Dal, of which Raj was the Bulandshahr district convenor at the time. The cascade of violence began when Raj and the other men accused in the murder of inspector Subodh Singh put the carcass of a bovine animal on a tractor trolley and drove it on the highway, raising slogans against the police, the chargesheet said.
Only five men of a mob of about 400 were charged with murder, with the first information report (FIR) naming 28 accused and 60 unidentified “others”.
Raj, the man whom police said lead the mob, was not among those charged with murder. In the course of an interview for this story, the public prosecutor accused the head of the special investigation team (SIT) formed to probe Subodh Singh’s killing of diluting the case, as we explain later.
Raj was accused of lesser, bailable crimes, such as causing “grievous hurt”, assaulting a public servant, “mischief by fire or explosive substance”, crimes that carry sentences between two and 10 years.
Police Silent Over Justice For Their Own
In 2015, Subodh Singh was the first investigating officer in the case of Mohammed Akhlaq, lynched in Dadri, about 20 km east of Noida, by a mob of Hindus suspecting the 50-year-old Muslim villager had stored beef in his house.
The investigation into Singh’s own murder under similar circumstances three years later appeared to have suffered from judicial lapses, with the trial court yet to frame charges against the men accused and begin examining witnesses.
The murdered inspector’s wife Rajni Singh told Article 14 she believed there was pressure on the police not to conduct a thorough investigation in a case in which Bajrang Dal leaders ratcheted up communal tensions over allegations of butchering cows.
“The investigating officer and the police should come down like a ton of bricks on the accused, totally unsparing,” former UP director general of police (DGP) Vikram Singh told Article 14, “so as to give a clear message that there will be most harsh (sic) legal consequences for those who attack officers on duty.”
That does not appear to have happened, with senior police officials reluctant to even talk about Singh’s murder.
Article 14 sought comment over two days from senior superintendent of police (SSP) Santosh Kumar Singh and inspector general of police (IGP), Meerut range, Praveen Kumar.
The public relations officer of the SSP heard the questions, then said the officer was “busy”. IGP Kumar responded to a phone call but disconnected when asked about inspector Subodh Singh’s case. Article 14 sent an email with queries to both officers. We will update this story if there is a response.
Rajni Singh said she remained hopeful that justice would be done. “I have full faith in the law, that justice will be given to Inspector Subodh Singh, who sacrificed his life to save the area from riots," she said.
No Murder Charge Against Bajrang Dal Convenor
On 1 March 2019, a UP police special investigation team (SIT) filed a chargesheet against 38 men accused in the December 2018 violence in a village called Chingrawathi in Syana.
The FIR, as we said, identified 88 accused, including 60 who had not been identified.
The 38 men face charges under at least 14 sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, including 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 124 A (sedition), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 333 (causing grievous hurt to deter public servant from his duty) and 395 (dacoity). Other charges pertained to damage of public property.
Public prosecutor Yashpal Singh told Article 14 that Raj was not facing murder charges under section 302 because the chief of the SIT, circle officer Raghavendra Kumar Mishra, “did not conduct the investigation properly”.
Mishra refused to speak to Article 14, and referred us to the station house officer (SHO) of the Syana police station.
SHO Chhotey Singh of the Syana police station would only say a chargesheet had been submitted, and a trial was underway. “... now we cannot say anything about what the court did”, he said, avoiding addressing the public prosecutor’s allegation of a police mis-investigation.
Asked whether section 302 could be still invoked against main accused Raj, public prosecutor Yashpal Singh said it could be, if the police applied to the court under section 173 (8) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), 1973.
Raj's advocate Bruno Bhushan argued that the chargesheet distinguished the role of five people who killed inspector Subodh Singh “after the mob left”. His client, he said, was not among them.
Bhushan said among the accused in the case, one group was charged under section 302, another group comprised those from whom “some recovery had been made” (of weapons, evidence), and the third group was charged with blocking the road during the protest, “which included Raj and 29 other accused”.
Bhushan told Article 14 that nowhere in the 3,000-page police case diary was it recorded that Raj killed the inspector. “Now only ordinary sections including 332, 353, 436, etc will be applicable.”
On 20 January 2019, the Bulandshahr district and sessions court dropped sedition charges against 38 of 44 accused of sedition in the FIR because government sanction, required to prosecute such charges, had not been given. But after the public prosecutor applied to have the sedition charges reinstated, they were in March 2022.
Witnesses Now Hard To Reach
According to the SIT’s chargesheet, 126 witnesses were to be examined in the trial of inspector Subodh Singh’s murder. The mobile numbers of 95 are listed in the chargesheet, 31 are not.
Article 14 spent two days calling almost all the numbers listed: we found some witnesses’ mobile numbers switched off, many not in service and a few invalid numbers.
The phone number of important eyewitnesses are not available in the chargesheet, such as that of sub-inspector Subhash Chandra, an eyewitness and the plaintiff; and Subodh Singh’s former colleague inspector Kiranpal Singh, a former investigator on the case, present when an axe used on Singh and his clothes were found.
Inspector Altaf Ansari, witness number eight, verified the names and addresses of the accused. When we called the mobile number listed against his name in the chargesheet, a message said the number was invalid.
Lynch Mob Leader Tried To Stand For Election
Raj's cousin and close friend Arvind Rajput told Article 14 that Raj had been keen to contest from the Syana assembly seat on a BJP ticket, or as an independent who would later extend support to the BJP. However, BJP leaders made it clear that the party would back neither his candidature nor that of his brother, said Rajput.
Raj decided to file his nomination papers as an independent candidate, but he was stymied.
“The Syana sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Satish Kumar Kushwaha appeared to be under pressure to not cooperate in Raj's nomination,” Rajput told Article 14. “So we had burnt effigies of the district magistrate and the SDM.”
A case was registered against Rajput and 20 other supporters of Raj.
“Our sitting MLA, Devendra Singh, wants all elected posts in the Syana area to be represented by his family alone,” Rajput alleged. When he contested the district panchayat polls, Raj’s chief opponent had been the MLA's son-in-law.
Raj's lawyer, Bhushan, accused the SDM of scuttling Raj’s candidature.
Undertrials require permission from a jailer to sign election nomination papers, and Raj’s application to his jailer was cleared and sent to the DM and then to the SDM. “The SDM deliberately cancelled the nomination,” alleged Bhushan.
Bhushan said 10 people told the SDM they would propose Raj's nomination. “The SDM told them to go and talk to the MLA about why they were contesting elections,” said Bhushan, alleging “a political motive” behind the cancellation of Raj’s nomination.
Reacting to Bhushan’s and Rajput’s allegations, Syana SDM Satish Kumar Kushwaha said: “Raj's signature was not there in the nomination paper."
Asked who was normally tasked with obtaining the signature of a candidate lodged in jail as an undertrial, Kushwaha refused to take further questions.
Formerly close, the relationship between MLA Lodhi and Raj soured after the latter won the panchayat elections from ward number 5 in Syana as an independent and became district panchayat member, defeating the close relative.
Lodhi told Article 14 Raj was “still close to us”, and that in a democracy, everyone had the freedom to contest elections.
About allegations from Raj’s supporters that officers cancelled Raj’s nomination for the assembly elections at the MLA’s behest, Lodhi said it was “merely a technical problem” that led to the cancellation of Raj's nomination.
“In Bulandshahr, four people's nominations were cancelled,” said Lodhi. “The allegation is wrong, because the election commission works impartially.”
The Lynching And Murder Of A Policeman
A fortnight before his murder on 3 December 2018, inspector Subodh Singh had tried to stop two mini-trucks carrying livestock in the vicinity of Syana, said his widow Rajni Singh.
Police seized one vehicle, but a driver fled with the second.
Rajni Singh alleged the Bajrang Dal was transporting livestock in order to cause communal tension over purported cow slaughter incidents. “The main reason was that Raj had to become a leader,” said Rajni Singh.
Inspector Subodh Singh was anxious after police detained a vehicle with cows and bullocks, sensing that it had been brought there to foment communal tensions.
Singh sought reinforcements, but because an ijtema (a religious gathering of Muslims) was taking place in Bulandshahr town, policemen from the district had already been diverted there.
On 3 December 2018, the last day of the ijtema, local residents said they saw carcasses of bovine animals in a field located some distance from the Chingrawathi police post in Syana.
According to Rajni Singh, an angry crowd led by the Bajrang Dal, blocked the road near the Chingrawathi police post. The road was part of the route that several thousand Muslims would take to return to the towns of Moradabad and Deoband after the ijtema.
Subodh Singh reached the spot and met the owner of the land where the carcasses had been found. The landowner reportedly agreed with the inspector that the best course of action would be to bury the carcasses temporarily and have the matter investigated the following day.
“The owner of the farm had nothing to do with the politics of the Bajrang Dal,” Rajni Singh said.
Later that day, however, Bajrang Dal workers arrived and began to protest the alleged killing of cows and surrounded the police station. Understaffed, Subodh Singh repeatedly called the district’s senior superintendent of police. “He called 25 to 30 times, but the SSP did not pick up the call,” said Rajni.
Bulandshahr SSP Santosh Kumar Singh and Meerut IGP Praveen Kumar did not respond to Article 14’s queries over text and whatsapp about the lack of support to inspector Subodh Singh on the day he was killed.
Subodh Singh then tried to leave the Chingrawathi police post and head to the police station but was attacked by the mob, according to his wife. She claimed that the circle officer (CO, a rank equivalent to deputy superintendent of police), was in the outpost at the time.
“He hid in the room of the outpost,” said Rajni Singh. “My husband told CO sir that his head was injured, he was bleeding, so please let him into the room too.”
According to Rajni Singh, the CO stayed inside. Subodh Singh’s driver and accompanying constable also left, leaving behind the injured inspector.
Rajni Singh said she met eyewitnesses who told her that someone from the crowd took her husband's pistol, mobile and a diary. “And after that, my husband was shot.” Subodh Singh’s fingers were also chopped off.
One more person in the crowd was hit by a bullet, and died while being taken to Meerut.
‘On Pretext Of Cow Slaughter, An Officer Was Lynched’
On 26 September 2019, Raj, the man who led the mob that killed Subodh Singh, was granted bail by the Allahabad high court, after spending just over a year in judicial custody.
Hearing a special leave petition filed (SLP) by Rajni Singh contesting Raj’s bail, the Supreme Court on 3 January 2022 cancelled his bail and ordered him to surrender.
Advocate Pranjal Kishor, who represented Rajni Singh in the Supreme Court, said their SLP was filed on 24 October 2019 after Raj got bail, and though the Covid lockdown led to a delay, the Supreme Court issued Raj a notice that November.
Despite the notice, Raj did not appear in court for two years. “It was when a warrant was issued by the Supreme Court that he appeared in court,” said Kishor.
Kishor said the Supreme Court in its 3 January 2022 order sought a report from the Bulandshahr district court about why charges had not yet been framed in a case now three years old, even though the charge sheet was filed in time.
“The matter is quite serious where under the pretext of cow slaughter, a police officer has been lynched,” the Supreme Court order said. “Prima facie, it is a case of people taking law into their own hand (sic).”
The Supreme Court ordered Raj to surrender within seven days, stayed his bail order and asked the district court how much time it needed to “frame the charges and to record the testimonies of the independent witnesses”.
Raj surrendered to the court of an additional district judge on 7 January 2022. The judge remanded him to 14 days in judicial custody, which was extended. At the time this story was published, Raj was in jail.
Out On Bail, Lynching Accused Booked Again For Assault
While he was on bail, a second FIR had been lodged against Raj in May 2021.
According to the FIR filed on 20 May 2021 at the Syana police station, the family of the complainant, a man named Dinesh Kumar, who lives with his family in the village of Nayabaans in Syana, did not vote for Raj in the panchayat elections. Raj lived in the same village.
According to the complaint, an enraged Raj entered their home with accomplices after his victory and attacked him and others of his family. Dinesh Kumar told police several members of his family had been seriously injured.
A case was registered against nine people, including Raj, under sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting with deadly weapons), 452 (house trespass), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide), 352 (assault or criminal force), 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of peace) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC.
‘As The Subject Was Cows, The Mob Became Angrier’
About a dozen hardline Hindutva organisations are active in Bulandshahr, including the ideological parent of the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) with 2,600 members; the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) with 1,500 members; the Hindu Jagran Manch with 300 members; Hindu Yuva Vahini with 400 members; the Bajrang Dal with 1,600 members; and the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha with 25 members.
A ‘cow protection committee’ of vigilantes is also active in the district with 125 members.
The Bajrang Dal’s co-convener in Bulandshahr, Aadesh Chauhan, told Article 14 that he was confident Raj would soon be discharged from the case. He said Raj had gone to Syana when he heard about the carcasses of cows lying in a field, and sought “urgent action” from the police on behalf of the Dal.
Call data records showed Raj made calls to other accused while heading to Syana, according to the chargesheet, which also says he directed others to gather there.
“Then he left from there, but he was made the main accused,” said Chauhan. “Now sections 302 and sedition have been removed, and the day is not far when the court will exonerate him.”
Sunil Kumar, the Bulandshahr district chief of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the parent body of the Bajrang Dal, described the death of inspector Subodh Singh in December 2018 as a “sudden accident”.
Kumar said the VHP did not view the killing as a “good deed”, and added that Raj had left the organisation before contesting the panchayat elections. He said it was “protocol” for Bajrang Dal members to quit the organisation if they entered politics.
Kumar said when a crowd gathered, it could become uncontrollable; “... since the subject was cows, people became angrier”.
Former UP DGP Vikram Singh said the family of the inspector should petition the chief minister, the additional chief secretary (home), the top police officials of Meerut and Bulandshahr and the state’s director general of police to demand justice for their slain colleague.
(Mohammad Sartaj Alam is an independent journalist based in Lucknow.)