Mumbai: On July 31, as most passengers were still asleep on the Jaipur-Mumbai Superfast Express, constable Chetan Bachu Singh allegedly strangulated his colleague Aman Ghanshyam Acharya, snatched his service rifle and shot his senior Tikaram Meena from a point-blank range. Singh then ran amok between the three-tier AC coaches, pantry car, and sleeper coaches of the train. In a matter of a few minutes, Singh had allegedly killed four (including Meena) persons, three of whom were middle-aged Muslim men. The dastardly act was caught on the cameras of a few passengers onboard and soon a videos was circulated on social media.
After killing one passenger with a beard and in a Pathani suit – a visible Muslim appearance – Singh can be seen addressing the passengers. “…Agar vote dena hai, agar Hindustan me rehna hai, toh mai kehta hoon, Modi aur Yogi, ye do hain, aur aapke Thackeray” (…If you want to vote, if you want to live in India, then I say, Modi and Yogi, these are the two, and your Thackeray’),” he announced.
The three civilian victims have been identified as Abdul Qadirbhai Mohammed Hussain Bhanpurwala, Akhtar Abbas Ali, and Sadar Mohammed Hussain.
But when 33-year-old Singh was produced before a magistrate court in Mumbai’s Borivali Court, the narrative was diametrically opposite to what was in the public domain. The remand copy doesn’t make any mention of the video that clearly shows his communally charged speech. The remand, on the other hand, entirely focuses on Singh’s “illness” and indicates his unstable mind which led him to take an extreme step.
The police have charged him with Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code for murder, under sections of the Arms Act and the Indian Railways Act. Crucial sections like 153 A, 153B, 295 A, and 505 of the IPC that specifically look at hate crimes and communally- charged offences are missing from the FIR.
On Tuesday, August 1, Singh was brought to the court amid high-security. Although an open court, and otherwise accessible to everyone, it was suddenly cordoned off. Journalists gathered outside the court were denied entry.
The prosecution focused on the act of cold-blooded murder and sought 14-days of custody. The magistrate court granted seven days.
In a parallel move, “Railway ministry sources” in Delhi have provided a section of the media with a similar narrative. NDTV, one of the media platforms invited for this ‘briefing’, reported:
“A ‘comprehensive mental and psychological health assessment’ of the RPF personnel is being carried out, Railway Ministry sources said. They have ruled out the communal angle – raised by videos and posts on social media – and pointed out that the accused had also shot Hindus, including his own boss.”
Though the reports speaks of ‘Hindus’ in plural, Singh in fact shot only one person who may have been Hindu, his boss. He then moved through some eight bogies and shot dead three men, all of whom were Muslims clearly identifiable by their facial hair and clothes.
It is not clear if the “sources” were asked by those at the ‘briefing’ to explain Singh’s selection of targets and his onboard comments recorded on video, and if they were asked, what their answer was.
What does the remand copy say?
Singh along with three others – Meena, constable Aman Ghanshyam Acharya, and head constable Narendra Parmar – was on escort duty. At 2:53 am, when the Jaipur Mumbai Superfast Express entered Surat station, the armed personnel entered the train. Singh and Meena were assigned escort duty of the three-tier coach; Acharya and Parmar were to man the sleeper coaches. Acharya, who is now the complainant in the case, has claimed in his statement that a few minutes after entering the train, Singh had complained of bad health.
“He complained to Meena that he was not keeping well and wanted to deboard the train at Valsad. Meena had tried telling him that his shift is soon coming to an end and he should stay back till the train reached Mumbai,” Acharya’s statement, which is a part of the remand copy, claims.
Acharya further claims that Singh “looked angry” and unconvinced with Meena’s suggestion; he had insisted Meena call up another senior, Sujit Kumar Pandey. Pandey too, Acharya claims, had directed Singh to stay back and complete his full duty hours.
When Singh was not convinced, Acharya says, Meena asked him to go to the nearby B-4 coach. “I sat close by as Singh rested on one of the empty seats,” Acharya claims in his statement. Here, Acharya says, Singh stayed only for 10 minutes and demanded his service rifle. When Acharya refused, Singh allegedly snatched the rifle. Until this point, Acharya, who had completed his supervision duty and returned to Meena, had witnessed the incident.
Acharya claims Singh snatched the rifle and walked away. This was around 5 am. Around 5:25 am, Meena was shot dead. Acharya, who was afraid of being targeted by a visibly enraged Singh, claims to have hidden in a sleeper coach as he saw Singh walk towards him at one point.
As the passengers began to run helter-skelter, someone pulled the train’s emergency chain. Acharya looked up a train app and found out that the train had now entered Mumbai and had halted between Mira Road and Dahisar station. “I walked towards B-6 coach and found one man lying in [a] pool of blood. Another man was lying in the pantry car,” Acharya’s statement says.
No mention of communally-charged video
Acharya, besides being a colleague, is also someone who closely saw what transpired on the train. As a complainant, his statements are crucial. The first information report is based on what he witnessed. But between Singh’s arrest (that happened soon after the train halted and Singh ran towards Mira Road railway station) and his production before the magistrate court, the police had over 24 hours to gather witness statements.
As the videos were already public, one can safely presume the police too had access to them. Singh’s statements are audible and are communally charged. In the less than one-minute video that was circulated on social media, Singh is heard speaking about Pakistan and clearly declaring that if one has to live in India, Modi (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) and Yogi (Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath) were the only way forward. The remand makes no mention of this.
Interestingly, soon after the incident, BJP MLA Manisha Chaudhary, who visited the Borivali GRP, had told the media, “A thorough investigation must be carried out to ascertain the exact reason behind the incident. It must be found out if the accused was under depression or if he was disturbed.” Chaudhary spoke of Singh’s “mental illness” even before the police had ascertained anything.
The BJP-led Union government has meanwhile written to X, formerly Twitter, asking them to take the video of Singh and of the slain men’s bodies down.
In no time, the official narrative was relayed by many media channels – some even running a primetime discussion over his mental health. His lawyers, Amit A Mishra and Surendra A Landage, too, argued before the court that Singh was of unstable and unsound mind – an alibi that would help him a great deal in the case. Mishra told The Wire that Singh looked “depressed in court”. Landage told the media, gathered outside Borivali court, that Singh doesn’t remember the incident.
Note: This story was updated at 0120 on August 2 to, inter alia, add details from a ‘briefing’ provided to a section of the media by ‘Railway Ministry sources’
Correction: The article had earlier incorrectly stated that Singh had snatched the service rifle from his slain senior Tikaram Meena. According to the remand application, the rifle belonged to his colleague Aman Ghanshyam Acharya, also the complainant in the case.
The article was first published by The Wire and written by Sukanya Shantha