All seven of them sit crowded on a stone bench in the hospital, a leg each bandaged at almost the exact same spot — a few inches below the knee — a cannula in their hand, blood spots on their clothes and around them. As per the Ghaziabad police, the injuries are the result of an “encounter”, and the seven involved in “cow slaughter”.
A week later, the seven Muslim youths continue to be in judicial custody, and a probe is looking into the encounter that reportedly took place at 6.10 am on November 11 near a scrap godown that was raided in Baheta Hajipur of Loni — and has raised questions given the similar nature of the injuries.
Police ordered the probe after Loni Police Station SHO Rajendra Tyagi, who led the “operation”, was shifted out and left behind a written note in the General Diary saying he was being targeted due to the “encounter”.
At his Loni home, Mohd Islam, 55, fights tears recalling the last conversation with his 19-year-old son Shoaib, before his arrest, along with Mustakeen, Salman, Monu, Intezar, Nazim and another youth, who the family claims is a minor. The owner of the godown is reportedly missing.
Islam sells clothes from a cart and called up Shoaib to ask him whether he would accompany him the next day. “He said he had to finish cleaning at the godown where he worked. The next day I came to know that Shoaib and six others had been shot and arrested. He is a regular boy from a poor family. These are false allegations… he is being framed,” says Islam.
Intezar’s family lives in Ashok Vihar in Loni area. The 20-year-old worked as a helper at a local restaurant and at the scrap godown, said his family. His minor brother often accompanied him, they said. They are four siblings and their father passed away more than a decade ago.
Intezar’s mother Shamina, 40, says, “Often, they would sleep at the godown itself. On the night of the 10th, they told me they would come back the next morning. It was on the phone that I saw that some men had been shot, including my boys. It came as a shock… We barely make ends meet, where will we get guns? The entire locality is surprised.”
Police said they are verifying the age of the youth claimed to be a minor. A press release issued by police on November 11, following the encounter, said they acted on a tip-off regarding cow slaughter, and that the accused fired seven rounds, and they returned fire 13 times, hitting all the accused in the leg. They claimed to have recovered three animal carcasses, seven country-made pistols, two axes, five knives, and two bundles of plastic wire from the accused.
Inspector Tyagi, whose transfer orders to the Indirapuram Police Station came on November 12, left a note in the General Diary the next day, saying his “morale” had been hit and he would not resume duty.
The note says: “On November 11, my team and I arrested seven persons for cow slaughtering after they were shot in the leg. We recovered carcasses of cows and a vehicle. Since I handled the operations, I believe I have been transferred for this reason. This has dented my morale. I am not in a state to work and I have never been accused of something like this… My character is of the highest standard. Before transferring me, this incident should have been probed.”
Ghaziabad SSP Pawan Kumar said the encounter was being probed following the police officer’s “misconduct”. “I have asked for a report from the Circle Officer on the facts. Once all the details are looked at, we will be in a position to take further action,” said Kumar.
He added that the Inspector was suspended for “violating the Official Secrets Act”. “The entry that was made in the official document was unauthorised. Secondly, this secret document was leaked. The policeman also went on leave that had not been sanctioned,” he said.
Among those backing Tyagi is Loni BJP MLA Nand Kishor Gurjar, who has accused police of receiving money from cow smugglers and hence transferring the Inspector. “Police have taken lakhs of rupees from the cow smugglers. The SHO wanted to name the main accused but he wasn’t allowed to. He tried to take action against cow slaughter and was punished,” Gurjar told The Indian Express, adding that Kumar was “an honest officer dedicated to a noble cause” and that he would write to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on the matter.
Tyagi told The Indian Express he did what he felt was “right”. “They have taken action against me for reasons they thought were justified. I do not know what their rationale is… Currently I am not in a mental state to do my job.”
Incidentally, in 2018, as SHO of Kharkauda Police Station in Meerut, Tyagi had put a note in the General Diary holding himself responsible for a cow-slaughter incident in his jurisdiction.
Islam says their sons have been targeted because of their religion. “The case is straightforward. It is easy to paint Muslims in such a light. These boys are nothing but scapegoats. If this police officer is such a good shooter, with such an aim, what is he doing in police? He should represent India in sports.”