Body of a woman, suspected to have been murdered, was found in a river in Bihar’s Purnia district on 5 December 2021.
The woman, Manisha Singh, lived alone with her minor daughter from her estranged husband, Shiv Kumar Mishra. The daughter told the media and the police that one Mohammed Shams, who used to visit their house and at times even beat up her mother, had called up Manisha on the evening before she went missing. Manisha had left the house in a jiffy after the call.
Shams remained out of police net for five months, before “surrendering” at the local district court this week. The police have not revealed his statements to the media so far.
This correspondent has been tracking the case since December. In this period, a Hindu activist took up the case and the National Child Commission intervened.
Here is a chronological account of the case since December:
FIR filed in December
After Manisha’s body was found in a pond on 5 December 2021, a first information report (FIR) was filed on the statement of Mohammed Iliyas, an officer from Sadar (mufassil) Police Station in Purnia district, the next day. Iliyas had recovered the body after villagers alerted the police.
The statement recorded in the FIR (number 657/2021) says:
Around 1.35pm on 5 December, the officer was informed about dead body of a woman lying at Saura Riverfront, which is located near Bhado Tola Bellauri area. After informing the station-in-charge, Iliyas, along with a team, went for verification and other proceedings.
They reached the site around 1pm and saw the body. The woman was wearing a green T-shirt and black pants. The right side of her head was wounded.
Locals around could not identify her.
Prima facie, it seemed like murder, where the victim had been attacked brutally. Intending to hide her body, the murderer had thrown her into the river.
The statement further says that the body was sent for postmortem to Sadar hospital, Purnia, and an unidentified person was booked under IPC sections 302 (murder) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence).
Manisha’s daughter named Shams as suspect
After the discovery of the body, local media recorded and circulated the statement of Manisha’s daughter made on camera. The eight-year-old girl, Muskan (name changed), told the reporters that on the evening of 4 December, her mother left home after getting a call from her acquaintance Mohammed Shams. Khushi, meanwhile, stayed at home with her tutor.
When Manisha did not return for long and her phone was switched off, Khushi started weeping. The tutor told her he would stay back till her mother returned.
The whole night passed but Manisha did not return home. Khushi stayed with her landlord.
Muskan said that Shams used to visit her house, sometimes without being invited, and would stay for hours. He would also assault Manisha. Two days before Diwali, he had beaten her up.
The girl further said that on the day of Manisha’s disappearance, Shams had asked Manisha to come wearing simple clothes. Watch her statement here.
Shams began visiting Manisha in her husband’s absence
A local journalist, wishing to be not named, told this correspondent in December over the phone that Mishra had been arrested four months earlier for violating the Arms Act. He was in Lakhisarai jail, the journalist said, adding that Shams had starting visiting Manisha after that.
He said that the girl told the local reporters that her mother had asked her to not reveal about her father to anyone. Manisha lived alone with her daughter.
The journalist said that he had accessed Manisha’s phone and seen her pictures with Shams, which were “inappropriate”. “It is obvious that she was in a relationship with Shams,” he said.
The journalist said it seemed that Shams was threatening her over something, but neither the police nor the media knew more about it.
A Hindu activist took up the case
In absence of any family member of Manisha pursing the case, a local Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader, Vivek Lath, took it up after learning about the possible hand of a Muslim man.
When police failed to locate Shams for a month, Lath wrote a letter to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (commonly called National Child Commission), requesting their intervention. In his letter, Lath complained that the local police were not taking the matter seriously and raised questions on the child’s safety.
The Commission, chaired by Priyank Kanoongo, took cognizance of the matter and sent a notice to the district magistrate and police chief of Purnia district on 10 January 2022.
The Commission directed the officials to give an action taken report in seven days and locate the suspect.
What the police said in January
This correspondent talked to the station in-charge of Sadar police station on 9 January 2022. The officer said that Manisha’s daughter had recorded her statement in front of the magistrate under section 164 of the CrPC on 15 December 2021. The court had made her go with her uncle Amit Mishra.
The officer said the postmortem report of Manisha suggested murder. He said investigation was on and Shams was being traced.
This correspondent again called up the police station on 28 February to take an update. An officer, who introduced himself as Sanjay Singh, said that an arrest warrant against Shams had been issued. He said that he had been newly appointed as station in-charge and was still figuring out the details of the case.
He said that the investigating officer (IO) of the case was busy with exams duty, and would remain so for at least a month.
This correspondent was able to reach the IO, Pujendra Mandal, on 1 March over the phone. The officer said that after considering the statement of Manisha’s daughter, which was shared widely in the media, she was produced before the court. Based on her statement to the magistrate, Shams was identified as the key suspect.
Later investigation revealed that Shams had fled to Delhi. The officer said that efforts to catch him were on.
Asked about the details of the postmortem report, the officer said he was busy arranging copies of the examination and would share it later. The next day, however, the officer disconnected the call without answering it.
What activists shared about Manisha in January
This correspondent spoke to Manisha’s landlord over the phone (the family has vacated the landlord’s house as the only resident left, that is the girl, moved with her uncle).
The landlord said that Vivek Lath was fighting the case single-handedly as no one in Manisha’s maiden or in-laws’ family was intervening.
He said that Manisha’s parents did not want to pursue the case as they had severed ties with her, after “her love marriage with Shiv”.
The landlord said that Manisha used to work at a vehicle showroom to support her and her daughter.
Vivek Lath, in a brief chat over the phone, told this correspondent that it was suspected that Shams had taken some money from Manisha, which he was not returning. He said that the case followed the pattern of Muslim men targetting Hindu women for relationships and sexual exploitation, and called it “love jihad”.
Manisha’s brother-in-law declined to speak to this correspondent about the case.
Shams in police net, finally
This correspondent tracked the case for months till she was informed by Lath this week that Shams was finally in the police net.
Lath said that after a recent protest staged by him and his team, the local police was forced to detain Shams’s family at the police station. The next day, Shams surrendered, Lath said.
Calls made to the investigating officer went unanswered on 27 May. The report would be updated if the police statement is accessed.
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