After walking along the Kishan Pura railway line in Panipat for more than 10 minutes, Nadeem Salmani, 23, stopped in his tracks. “This is where I found my brother — naked and blood soaked. Somebody had covered his exposed private parts with a dupatta,” he said. Looking up, Nadeem pointed to a house with a white tank: “That’s where it happened. That’s where they cut off his hand with an arra machine (chainsaw). You are a Hindu, you can go there but I won’t come further than this,” he said.
More than 100 kilometers from Delhi, in Nanauta, a small town in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district, Akhlaq Salmani lies on a charpoy while his brother fans away the flies perched on his now bandaged severed arm. Akhlaq’s body is covered in injury marks and he is constantly writhing in pain. He is one of six brothers in his house and along with their father, the family runs a local salon where Akhlaq is a hairdresser. After the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed in March, the family had to shut their salon. As restrictions began to ease, on August 23, Akhlaq left for Panipat where his cousin Nadeem had also gone in search of work.
Nadeem Salmani showing us where his brother was found.
Akhlaq told us that on August 23, after spending a full day looking for work, by sundown, he was tired. On finding a park bench under a tree in front of railway lines, he decided to rest for a while. Akhlaq had almost dozed off. It was getting dark. Suddenly, he was woken up by two loud men reeking of alcohol. Although Akhlaq doesn’t remember what time it was, he remembers it being very dark. The men began shaking him, asking him to wake up. “They saw the 786 number tattooed on my arm and started beating me and asking for my name,” Akhlaq added. In Islam, the numbers 786 translate to “Bismillaah al-Rahmaan al-Raheem” which means “In the name of God”. Hearing Akhlaq’s name which confirmed his religious identity, the men beat him some more and left. The rattled Akhlaq, clothes torn and covered in mud, made his way to a nearby house and knocked on the door. “I just wanted to wash my face and ask for some water but unfortunately, I knocked on the house of the same men,” he said. According to Akhlaq, when the men saw him, they immediately dragged him in and shut the door behind him.
The park bench where Akhlaq decided to rest for a while.
Inside, Akhlaq said it looked like a dairy. The men and two women began beating him again. After a while, they dragged him towards an arra machine or chainsaw, pulled his hand with 786 tattooed on it and ripped it off using the machine which is used to cut wood. Akhlaq said he began losing a lot of blood and blacked out. The next thing he remembers is regaining his consciousness near the railway tracks next morning — naked and bloodied. He called out to a few passers by who helped him phone his brother in Saharanpur. By this time, the Government Railway Police (GRP) had also arrived at the spot. His brother had called his cousin Nadeem in Panipat who reached the railway line at around 7:30am. “When I reached I saw Akhlaq lying on the ground. He was in a lot of pain and kept moaning. I also saw two police men standing and talking to two other men from the area. I managed to take Akhlaq to a local hospital and after giving him first aid, they referred him to a hospital in Rohtak”, said Nadeem.
On August 24, Akhlaq Salmani was admitted to the Pandit Bhagwat Dayal Sharma Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Rohtak, more than 70 kilometers away from Panipat. His medical report diagnosis claims that Akhlaq has suffered a “traumatic amputation below elbow” and was received with his right upper arm bone and muscle exposed. The medical report claims that the amputation was caused by “accident under unknown circumstances”. On August 28, Akhlaq was discharged.
Even though the incident took place on August 23, an FIR was filed by the Chandini Bagh police station only on September 7, two weeks after the incident. Razzaq Salmani, Akhlaq’s younger brother, said that the police refused to file the FIR and kept saying he was “unfit for statement.” However, just after the first two days of the incident, Akhlaq was able to recollect and narrate the entire incident to his brother, Ikram Salmani, and cousin, Nadeem, who were with him at the hospital.
At the moment, Akhlaq is back home but is still in a lot of pain. “I don’t know why the hospital discharged him so quickly. He has not received proper medical treatment so we are planning to take him to Chandigarh tomorrow,” said Ikram.
The FIR copy records 7 pm on September 7 as the date and time when the police received information regarding the incident. In the FIR, the sections titled “details of unknown/suspect/unknown accused with full particulars” and “reason for delay in reporting by the complainant/information” remains blank. The copy records Akhlaq’s narration of events and then lists sections 323 (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) , 326 (Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means) and 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code as charges levied.
Ikram Salmani, Akhlaq’s older brother said that for two weeks after the incident, he was living in Panipat and Rohtak. “I kept running between the GRP station, Kishan Pura station, Chandini Bagh station and pleaded with the police to do something. Finally sub-inspector (SI) Balwan Singh, agreed to come with me, and I showed him the house where it happened. We went in and I saw the arra machine. The SI asked the people there, I think the man’s name was Randhir Saini, if something had happened and he said no. After that the SI told this man to come to the station,” said Ikram. After this, Ikram was made to wait for a few hours. When he later went to the Kishan Pura station to inquire what happened, he said the police threatened him and chased him away.
“Why have they made no arrests yet? Why is the arra machine still there? And why are the charges for such a heinous crime so small?” asked Ikram, Akhlaq’s brother.
When we visited the GRP station, we were told that the GRP personnel is no longer authorised to comment on the case as the file has been handed over to the police. When we visited the Kishan Pura police station, after much coaxing, Inspector Omprakash finally told us, “The file has just arrived. We have to investigate. Go and ask the police at Chandini Bagh station.” At Chandini Bagh station we were told that the Station House Officer (SHO) is not present. A sub-inspector told us that they cannot comment on the case since the file is with Kishan Pura police and we should talk to them. When we told him that we had already been there, he said he cannot help us. Meanwhile, sub-inspector Krishan Lal of the Panipat GRP station, over a phone call, kept insisting that the matter is being investigated and added that it “looks like a railway accident.” But on asking why Akhlaq had multiple injuries all over his body that do not resemble injuries from a train accident, Inspector Lal did not answer and told us to contact Chandini Bagh police station.
We made our way to the house that Nadeem pointed to us from the railway line. Before going there, Ikram Salmani who was in Saharanpur with Akhlaq at the time, asked us if the police were with us. “These are very dangerous people. Please be careful,” he said.
As we entered the area, we found a few boys sitting around and asked them if they knew which was the house where a man’s hand was cut off. “Yes, it’s that one. This is the backside, you have to go around it and find the door,” said the boys pointing to the back of a house with the tank. As we walked along the lane, we asked another woman the same question. “You reporters only report one side. What about their child that the man tried to rape?” she said, refusing to engage.
Hearing her, neighbours began shutting their doors. Finally one shopkeeper called out and told us to go to the lane behind and ask for “Randhir’s house.” On finding the house, we were invited inside by a short middle-aged man who warmly offered us a seat. “I will tell you everything but first have tea and snacks,” he said. After tea, he took us to their dairy opposite his house which had buffaloes, a grass-cutting machine, and an arra machine (chainsaw). “Is he saying I cut off his hand with this grass-cutting machine?”asked Randhir standing next to it.
The grass-cutting machine in Randhir Saini's house.
Sitting down, Randhir explained his side of the incident. According to him, on the night of August 23, his wife, his 7-year-old nephew, and he were sleeping on a charpoy inside their dairy. When he woke up at around 1 am, he said the boy was missing and the back door of their dairy, which opens to the park facing the railway line, was open. Waking up his family, they began searching for their boy. “We finally found that man Akhlaq and our boy in the park. Both of them were naked, Akhlaq was smelling of alcohol and our boy’s mouth was swollen and bleeding,” he said. Angered by this, he said that they did beat Akhlaq a little until he managed to free himself and run away. “We don’t know how he cut his hand,” said Randhir Saini.
On being asked if we could speak to the boy, Randhir said the boy had gone to the hospital to get medicines. He refused to share details of the boy’s medical report. “We have now filed an FIR against Akhlaq for trying to kidnap and rape our child,” he said, but was evasive when we asked to see a copy of the FIR. Currently, Randhir Saini is not responding to our phone calls and the report will be updated if we receive his FIR copy.
Randhir Saini with his buffaloes.
According to Inspector Ankit Kumar, Randhir Saini filed a complaint (FIR no. 518/2020) on September 7, the same day when Akhlaq’s statement and FIR were recorded, that is two weeks after the actual incident. The charges mentioned in the FIR are section 6 (punishment for sexual assault) and section 18 (punishment for attempt to commit an offence) of the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act. According to Inspector Kumar, the delay by Randhir’s family in filing the FIR was because, “They were just happy that they got their child back and thought of letting go of the incident.”
The media must be free and fair, uninfluenced by corporate or state interests. That's why you, the public, need to pay to keep news free. Support independent media by subscribing to Newslaundry today.