Thousands of residents and members of Hindu groups staged a street agitation in Amb village of Himachal Pradesh’s Una district on 15 April to demand fast-track trial in the recent murder case of a Hindu minor girl at the hands of a Muslim man.
The protesters accused the local police of mishandling the victim’s relatives on the day of the murder and behaving in an insensitive manner.
The victim’s parents and uncle also participated in the agitation. However, when Swarajya called them up later, they declined to talk saying they were emotionally too weak to talk.
Prachi Rana, 15, was killed by a newspaper vendor, Mohammed Arif, on 5 April. He would deliver the newspaper to her house.
That day, Prachi’s parents were away for work. Arif entered the house on the pretext of collecting change, but forced himself on Prachi. When she struggled against him, he slit her throat with the cutter he used for opening the newspaper bundles.
The first information report (FIR) in the case was filed at Amb police station of Una on 5 April. Arif was arrested on 7 April.
In a video statement made in the presence of the media, sub-divisional police officer (SDPO) Arijit Sen Thakur said that when the police visited the crime scene on the day of the murder, they did not find any signs of resistance. This suggested that the perpetrator had not entered the house by force. The police also ruled out theft as a motive since valuables in the house were left untouched.
From day one, the police suspected it to be a handiwork of someone close to the family or a regular.
The officer said it was a blind murder and the perpetrator had left no traces or evidence to reach him. His role came to light only after the police checked the CCTV footage of the area.
Local media reported the case after gathering information from the investigating police as well as Prachi’s family. The reports said that Arif knocked at the gate of the house saying he had to give change for the newspaper fee that Prachi’s mother had handed him in the morning. Prachi told him to adjust the change in the next month’s fee. Arif, who had been eyeing Prachi and had come determined to sexually attack her when she was alone, asked her if he could use the toilet.
Arif was familiar to the family as he had done plumbing work in the house a few months earlier. Prachi let him enter the house to use the toilet. Once inside, Arif forced himself on her and demanded sex. When Prachi resisted, he took out the cutter from his pocket and began stabbing her. He stabbed her on the thigh, chest, and finally slit her throat.
Pictures of her blood-soaked body were shared by the media.
Prachi’s father is a government employee. Her mother is a school teacher. She has a younger sister, who was also present in the house that day, but escaped unhurt as Arif probably didn’t notice her, a resident close to the family told Swarajya.
Sanjeev Kumar, a local Bajrang Dal leader, told Swarajya over the phone that the case has caused anger and fear among residents.
“Thousands hit the streets yesterday. This has never happened in Una before for a ‘love jihad’ case. They realise that the menace has reached their doorstep,” he said.
Love jihad is a name given by Christian, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh groups in India to a pattern of crimes where Muslim men target non-Muslim women for the purposes of conversion through love marriages. The term is also used routinely for cases such as Una’s, where Muslim men kill women for resisting conversion or sex.
Visuals from the protest shared by Sanjeev with this correspondent show protesters demanding capital punishment for Arif. “If we have to go to Delhi for it, we will,” a woman is seen saying, where Delhi is used to mean the city where lawmakers live.
“Hamari maang fast-track trial [we demand fast-track trial,” a man says, as hundreds of protesters are seen repeating the demand.
A resident who participated in the protest but did not want to be named told Swarajya that after the murder, when the police visited the crime scene, they told the victim’s parents that Prachi must be having an affair with Arif and the murder could be a result of a fallout between the two.
”We residents were extremely angry at the police’s behaviour and raised slogans against the police as well,” he said.
Sanjeev said that when Arif was arrested, Prachi’s uncle, in a fit of rage, slapped him in front of the police. The police, in turn, took the uncle to the police station as well, and briefly put him in the lock-up.
Sanjeev further said residents gave a memorandum of demands to the local police station, where they asked for mandatory checking of visitors to the local mosques. “A lot of outsiders come to the mosque for jamaats. Until a decade ago, no outsiders were seen in the mosques of Una. But now, scores of outsiders come and stay here for days,” he said.
Arif, they said, was a regular at these jamaats.
Jamaat is an Arabic word for ‘gathering’.
Sanjeev said Arif is not an outsider but a local. “His family has lived here for long. But until a decade ago, no Muslim in our village would be involved in targeting or killing Hindu women. Now, things have changed a lot,” he said.
Last year, a 19-year-old Hindu woman named Anita Thakur from the same village, Amb, “eloped” with a Muslim man named Mohammed Kaleem. After she went missing, the family gave a complaint to the police, but the police neither filed an FIR nor recovered her.
After a Swarajya journalist raised the matter on social media, the police acted in the case and found the girl in Punjab’s Kharar district. She was indeed staying with Kaleem. However, she told the local Una court that she had married Kaleem on her free will. The court allowed her to go with Kaleem.
This correspondent called up Anita’s father today, but he said he was not in touch with his daughter anymore.
Three years ago, a case that had shocked Himachal residents was when a 19-year-old woman, Ekta Jaswal, had eloped with a man named Mohammed Saqib and gone to his hometown, Uttar Pradesh. She was killed by Saqib within a week of her elopement.
Saqib looted the money and gold jewellery she had brought with him stealthily from her house and murdered her, as per Meerut police. He and his family chopped her body into pieces and buried those in a field.
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