On the afternoon of Monday, June 5, seven-year-old Sabir was kidnapped while he was playing near his home in Karimpur village, located in Nathaur block of Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor district. Sabir’s family was asked to pay a ransom of Rs 30 lakh to ensure his safe return. The next day, the kidnappers lowered their demand and asked for Rs 20 lakh instead. Thankfully, owing to swift action by the police, three men involved with the kidnapping – Mohammad Ahmed, Rashid and Sadiq – were nabbed and Sabir was reunited with his family on Wednesday. The alleged mastermind, a man named Satish who worked as a teacher at a school where Sabir studied, was arrested earlier today along with another associate.
The police did its job, the child is safe and the criminals have been apprehended – end of the story, right?
Or so one would think if it wasn’t for Hindi newspaper Amar Ujala’s report on the incident that gave it something of a twist. The June 8 issue of Amar Ujala’s Meerut edition carried a story in which it sought to explain the reason behind the kidnapping under the sub-head: “Dharam parivartan karane ke liye thi rupaye ki zaroorat (Money was required for religious conversion)”.
The report mentions that two of the accused, Ahmed and Rashid, had converted to Islam three and 11 years ago, respectively. Citing police sources, it goes on to state that they were pressuring Satish to also convert, who agreed on the condition that he be paid Rs 4 lakh. In order to procure this sum, Satish hatched a plan to abduct Sabir, the report says. “If the kidnappers had been successful, Satish would have converted soon. Although the two [Ahmed and Rashid] were involved in the attempted conversion, it isn’t clear if there was someone behind them,” it concludes.
However, claims made in the paper have been either contested or contradicted by other sources. Among these is Bijnor-based journalist Saleem Ahmed who attended the police press conference on Wednesday after the three accused were arrested. “I was present at the press conference addressed by the SP [Superintendent of Police],” he told Newslaundry. “The police did not confirm any such claim [of religious conversion].” Ahmed also shared images of the press note released by the police which also doesn’t ascribe any motive behind the crime.
Abdul Kalam from Nathaur, a correspondent for Hindi daily Awam-e-Hind, also rubbished the religious conversion angle of the story. “This is an attempt to spread communalism, nothing else,” Kalam told Newslaundry.
While these two local journalists have contested Amar Ujala’s claims, its rival newspaper Dainik Jagran provided an alternate theory about why Satish concocted the plan to kidnap Sabir. “Satish wanted to divorce his wife,” Jagran’s report reads. “For that purpose he needed money. That’s why he recruited the three for his plan.”
Ibrahim, Sabir’s relative, said Satish had been working as a teacher in their village for the last 3-4 years. When asked what Satish’s motive for the kidnapping was, he answered, “Uska case chal raha tha (There was a case going on involving him). He divorced his wife and they were demanding Rs 4 lakh and he didn’t have the money.”
Meanwhile, Hindi daily Hindustan did not mention the motive of the accused at all in its report on the incident.
When Newslaundry asked Bijnor SP Atul Sharma whether there was any truth to Amar Ujala’s story, he refused to either confirm or deny. “There are rumours that some people entice people with money to convert them,” Sharma said. “Whether it is true in this case or not needs to be identified.” On probing further, Sharma said he was unwilling to discuss the matter over the phone.
Ashok Madhup, Bijnor city chief for Amar Ujala did not respond to Newslaundry’s calls. Amit Mudgal, the paper’s Meerut city chief was of the opinion that the difference between the reports carried in Amar Ujala and Dainik Jagran was because “each reporter does their own investigation”.
While each reporter does indeed carry out his/her own investigation, one usually expects them to verify the facts from multiple sources before putting out a story. And if one source makes a claim as grave as religious conversion being at the heart of a serious crime, it must be examined with even greater scrutiny. At the very least, if there are contradictory accounts, they must both be acknowledged and reported in the story.
In the absence of confirmation from the police, one can only speculate about which account is true. At the face of it, Amar Ujala’s version seems downright bizarre. One can understand that the men wanted Satish to convert to Islam. One can even concede that they might want to offer him some material gain so as to incentivise him to convert. But to kidnap a child and then offer the ransom money to someone who might not convert after all – that reeks of either immense stupidity or blatant fabrication.
Perhaps, facts which might explain this odd behaviour are yet to be revealed. Either way, the fact that Amar Ujala’s editors found this story credible enough to run is extremely worrying, especially given the sensitive nature of the claims made.
The author can be contacted on Twitter @Kshitijmalhotra