Last June, residents of a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut district found a body of a woman in a field, unclothed and with her arms and head chopped off and mutilated.
A year later, the Meerut Police say they have cracked the murder and found a ‘black magic’ practitioner to be behind the brutal crime.
The woman has been identified as 19-year-old Ekta Kumari whose family hails from Chanaur village in Dehra tehsil, of Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district.
The accused, Saqib, is a native of Meerut’s Lohia village that falls under Daurala Police jurisdiction. It was in the same village that the woman’s body was found on 13 June, 2019.
The body was discovered by a farmer named Suresh when he saw stray dogs digging out flesh from the ground, as per a report published by Hindi daily Patrika that time. The discovery had left the villagers shocked and the police worried as all identity markers had been destroyed.
The police chased the case for a year, working on weak clues. You can read the story of the investigation in this report by The Times of India.
Meerut SSP Ajay Sahani told this correspondent over the phone that after getting some initial leads through local phone-call records, a team was sent to Ludhiana to look for recent missing persons’ complaints.
One case, of a young woman who had disappeared in May and her family jewellery had been stolen, caught the police’s attention.
The police have made a total of six arrests in the case, including Saqib‘s family members; two of them are women. The accused are named Musarrat, Mustakeem, Reshma, Ismat and Ayan – all hailing from the same village.
Ekta lived with her family in Punjab’s Ludhiana district. She met Saqib in 2017 when she was pursuing her Bachelors in Commerce from Khalsa College, her uncle Pawan Thakur, who lives in Himachal’s Kangra, told this correspondent over the phone. (Ekta’s mother was unavailable for comments).
“Sometime in 2017, she started doing events along with a friend. The ones where telecom companies set up a kiosk to reach out directly to customers in malls and hotels,” Thakur says. “We never liked it. But she was adamant. She said she could earn enough pocket money from it to sustain her studies. We gave up.”
Thakur says Ekta met ‘Aman’ during one of those events. “He initially told his name to her as Aman. He probably wanted to show himself as a Hindu. Later, of course we all found out that he was a Muslim,” he says.
“However, we have known him only as Aman all these years. We learnt of his real name, Saqib, only recently when Meerut Police told us so.”
Thakur says Aman helped her get a part-time job. They both connected on Facebook and started seeing each other. “Initially, Ekta did not tell us anything. It was when she started demanding we get her a phone — which we did — and began to spend long hours on it that we suspected something is amiss.”
Thakur says that sometime in 2018, Ekta’s mother set about to inquire what her daughter was up to. She found out that she was seeing a man, that he was a Muslim, and that he was learning occult art from a practitioner to make a living out of it.
“You know, those ‘vashikaran’ specialists who give people ‘tabeez’ claiming to cure their problems? That’s what he was learning. All of us told Ekta to stop seeing that boy. We told her he is no good, and doesn’t even belong to our caste. But she had become very adamant by then. She had stopped listening to us,” says Thakur.
“I won’t lie. Aman was strikingly good-looking. Our daughter was beautiful, but he was no less.”
Thakur says Ekta no longer spoke to her family much, and made her visits to her maternal family in Kangra less frequent too. In 2018 end, however, there was a family wedding that she attended in Kangra. There, she announced her plans of marrying Aman and dismissed all opposition, says Thakur.
Sometime later, she left her home and began to live separately in a paying guest accommodation within Ludhiana, he says.
He says that Ekta’s phone calls to her maternal family too trickled down to almost zero, and her Facebook and WhatsApp accounts became the sole mediums of any connection.
Around Eid last year, she posted a photograph of her wearing “chooda“ (bangles that Himachali and Punjabi women wear after marriage) on Facebook. “That’s when we learnt she had got married,” says Thakur.
All of last year, there were occasional updates on her Facebook account and messages from her WhatsApp account. “Her mother called her at times, but nobody would answer the call. Instead, a WhatsApp reply would come. It went on like that. None of us suspected that she was not alive anymore,” says Thakur.
“Until last week. That’s when we received calls from senior police officers in Meerut. They told us our daughter may have been killed and involved us in the investigation.”
A couple of days ago, Thakur and his sister (Ekta’s mother), were made to travel from Kangra to Meerut where they confirmed that the body found was indeed of Ekta. The family was also present during the press conference by Meerut police on 2 June to brief the media about the investigation.
“During that event, my sister slapped one of the women arrested in the case. The woman was telling the media that she was the one who had removed Ekta’s clothes after spiking her drink. My sister could not control her anger and slapped her in front of everyone. ‘How can you do this despite being a woman’, my sister shouted,” says Thakur.
The police’s press note to the media has a more simplified story behind the crime, as is often the case with police press notes.
It says that Ekta had got in touch with ‘tantrik’ Saqib through an advertisement as she was facing troubles in her professional life as well as health issues. It also says that he killed her after bringing her to his village as he was in a fix because he was bound to face opposition from his family as Ekta belonged to a different community.
Thakur does not agree with this simplified explanation even as he praises Meerut Police and the local Daraula police station in-charge profusely for cracking the case.
“Why did Saqib kill her? Well, he was not a good man to begin with. He exploited her, robbed her, and when she was of no more of use to him, he got rid of her,” says Thakur.
He says Ekta had “stolen” gold and cash from her mother just before her visit to Meerut. “She did it when her parents were not at home,” he says.
Police investigation has found that during their relationship in Ludhiana, Saqib had shifted his “business” to the adjoining state of Haryana as he was facing regular problems with his employer, Dilshad.
He opened an “office” for occult practices in Karnal district with the help of some of his friends from his Meerut village. He called Ekta there and the two began to live together in a rented accommodation.
Thakur says this could be true but the family had stopped keeping a track of what she was up to in her life as she had been “brainwashed” completely through “vashikaran”.
Police have also found that Saqib and his family killed Ekta on chand raat, that is on the eve of Eid.
The police’s press note says that around Eid last year, Saqib came to his village with his friends while Ekta continued to live in Karnal. As she began to pressure him to introduce her to his family and marry her, Saqib eventually brought her to Meerut, but killed her soon after.
After committing the heinous murder, Saqib went to Karnal and resumed his work as before, the police say.
SSP Sahani told this correspondent that many young men from Daurala village of Meerut are into occult practice. “One of the three brothers of Saqib is also into occult practice. Another brother has a criminal record,” he said.
Daurala is a Muslim-dominated village.
Such a gruesome murder after trapping a woman in love begets the question: could Ekta have foreseen it? Could it have been avoided?
Thakur says the question has been on the mind of all residents of his village in Kangra.
“Ma’am, you should visit our village. Everybody is so simple and kind here. We have seen such murders only in films. It’s very difficult for all of us to come to terms with the fact that our own daughter has been chopped like a vegetable and buried in ground,” he says.
“All of us take a lot of pride in our icon, Maharana Pratap. We call ourselves his children. And now we find that a man easily exploited our girl and killed her and we did not even come to know about it. We are shattered.”
Thakur, however, says he has an advice for families and he plans to spread the message.
“We are a very conservative people. We put way too many restrictions on our children, especially girls. We never become their friends or confidantes. Instead, we use all our authority to keep them under control,” he says.
“That doesn’t work anymore. Not when children have mobile phones, Facebook accounts and a mind of their own.”
Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.
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