Over 50 women sat around Ambreesh Sharma’s body. “My father stood up for me. That was his only fault,” said Nisha, 24. According to her, Ambreesh, 50, was killed by Gaurav Sharma. In July 2018, Nisha had filed a case against Gaurav for sexual harassment. Gaurav was arrested but released on bail a month later.
“He had been threatening us and asking us to withdraw the case against him. He used to keep saying he will kill us. We just never expected it to happen,” said Nisha, breaking down.
Ambreesh lived in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras with his wife and younger daughter Nisha. His elder daughter is married and lives with her in-laws in Ambala, Haryana.
The scene at Ambreesh Sharma’s house.
Around 9 am on March 1, Nisha and her mother went to a temple a few meters from their house, bumping into Gaurav Sharma’s wife, aunt, and two of his cousins. Nisha said they began “commenting and swearing” at her and her mother. “We said nothing and went to the field where my father was harvesting potatoes,” she said.
Gaurav’s relatives followed them to the field, continuing to swear at them, Nisha claimed. At this point, Nisha retorted and asked them to “stay in control”. Ambreesh, hearing the commotion, came towards his daughter and wife.
“Gaurav’s wife saw my father and she directly threatened him. She kept saying that she was going to call Gaurav,” she said. Her father didn’t pay much heed to the fight as this happened often and the family returned home.
The temple near the house.
Tensions have prevailed between the two families since Gaurav’s arrest in 2018. “It was normal. The two families fought quite often. Gaurav was like a rogue in this area. Everyone knows that,” said Nanumal, a resident of the same village.
Nisha said even though this was normal, after her father had returned to the field, she called the police because for the last few months Gaurav had been quiet and she thought he had “moved on”. “The police told me their vehicle would be delayed so if something happened I should call on 112. I told him okay and hung up.”
That particular day, Gaurav apparently decided to act on his threat.
At 3.30 pm, Nisha and her mother went to their field to give Ambreesh lunch. While the family were sitting together, they saw Gaurav and five of his friends arrive in a white car, Nisha alleged. On seeing the men with rifles, Ambreesh asked his wife and daughter to go inside.
Nisha told Newslaundry that Gaurav walked up to Ambreesh and said, “Take our case back and tell the girl to give her decision.” Before Ambaresh could respond, however, Gaurav shot him in the foot. “My father was still trying to move and save us, and they shot him in his other foot as well. When he fell down, they shot him twice in the temple and chest. Gaurav had two rifles in his hand. He tried to shoot my mother as well but the bullet didn’t hit her. All of them then ran away,” she recalled.
The field where the shooting occurred.
At 6.10 pm, Nisha filed an FIR at Sasni police station. Gaurav, Rohtas Sharma, Lalit Sharma, Nikhil Sharma, and two unnamed persons have since been charged with murder, rioting with deadly weapons, and criminal intimidation.
Vineet Jaiswal, Hathras police chief, said, “We heard through the media that she had called the police. The family never told us when we went there after the incident. In her videos she is saying she called a constable. Once we catch all the culprits, we will investigate this and take required action.”
Gaurav and his family lived in Shravasti district, about nine hours from Hathras. But he often visited his uncle in Hathras who lives near Nisha’s house.
Nisha said that prior to 2018, Gaurav had wanted to marry her. “He is a distant relative of ours and I used to talk to him as a brother but he started becoming forceful. I told my father I don’t want to marry this man, and my father told him so.”
Following this, she said whenever Gaurav would see her, he would sexually harass her. “Because it would be socially embarrassing to tell anyone and become a problem for my parents, I never told anyone,” she added.
The harassment escalated and in July 2018, when Nisha was alone at home, he came to the house. “I was studying when he entered the room. He held me, tried to push me onto the bed and started choking me. When I finally managed to scream, my parents and few others came to my rescue,” she said.
Nisha, accompanied by Ambreesh, filed a complaint against Gaurav at Sasni police station. An FIR was registered against Gaurav under sections dealing with trespassing, outraging a woman’s modesty, and criminal intimidation. After spending a month in jail, he was released on bail.
“Once he was out on bail, he continued eve teasing me but this time there were death threats as well. He kept saying we should take the case back or we would pay. My father was the one who stood firm and said we would not take back the case because what he did was wrong,” Nisha said.
Kailash Upadhya, Gaurav’s cousin, reached the village on March 2 after hearing about the killing. “My brother did this and it’s terrible,” he said, adding that Gaurav got married in 2019 and now has a child.
Main accused missing
The same day of the murder, the police arrested one of the accused, Lalit Sharma, 26. Gaurav is still absconding.
On March 3, the police announced a reward of Rs 25,000 each for information on the whereabouts of Rohtas Sharma and Nikhil Sharma. By the end of the day, both of them were arrested. An award of Rs 1 lakh was also announced for information about the whereabouts of Gaurav.
Lalit Sharma after his arrest.
Vineet told Newslaundry, “We have arrested Lalit and six others have been detained for questioning. We will arrest Gaurav very soon.”
Gaurav, he added, is known in the area for his “behaviour”. Then why was Gaurav allowed to remain out on bail? According to Vineet, the police never received a formal complaint about Gaurav following his release. “If we had heard anything we would have taken action but nobody from the family or any other villagers came to us,” Vineet said.
Gaurav’s uncle and aunt have locked their house and left the village. The homes of Rohtas and Nikhil are also locked and abandoned. Lalit’s mother, Mamta Sharma, is still living in their house. “I have no information about my sons. I’m waiting here,” she said.
Home of Gaurav Sharma's uncle and aunt.
Mamta has four sons, including Lalit. “Right now, all my four sons are missing. I know Lalit is with the police because I saw his photo in the jail. But where are my other sons?” she asked.
According to Mamta, on March 1, the police came to their house and took away her oldest son, Ramkrishna Sharma. “Lalit and my second son, Saurabh, had gone to the cold storage to preserve the potatoes but they never returned. Shyam, my other son, was on the tractor in the field and now both he and the tractor are missing. No one from the police has bothered to come and give us any information. Can’t they at least let us know?” she asked.
Several villagers who spoke with Newslaundry on the condition of anonymity claimed Gaurav is associated with a political party. “He worked with the Samajwadi Party. We don’t know what he did but he often boasted about political connections. He used to roam around on his bike like a hero. He was sort of a political strongman,” a villager said.
On Facebook, Gaurav describes himself as “a son of a lion”. He has also posted many photos of himself and his friends holding guns.
A villager pulled up an image of a poster on his phone. It had the faces of two men, SP president Akhilesh Yadav and Gaurav. The poster was about a mahapanchayat to be held on March 3 in Aligarh.
Gaurav Sharma with his friends.
On March 2, Subrat Pathak, a BJP MP from Kannauj, accused the SP of supporting “such criminals” and asked people to be “beware of red caps”. SP workers wear red caps.
Rajvir Diler, BJP’s member of parliament from Hathras, contradicted Pathak and said, “This is not a political issue and shouldn’t be made into one. This crime happened due to old tensions between the families. I visited the family myself. Justice will be served.”
Addressing a press conference on March 2, Akhilesh had referred to the or a Dalit girl in Hathras in September and , “Why are kidnapping and rapes happening in BJP's ram raj? CM has no attention here.”
When a journalist pointed out that Gaurav was a member of his party, Akhilesh lashed out and accused him of being “”.
Gaurav Sharma's picture with Akhilesh Yadav.
Juhie Singh, an SP spokesperson, said, "I have been looking at our records from 2017 and I can confirm to you that he is not an office bearer or official member of our party. If a local person decides to use our name in their posters, then there's nothing we can do. If BJP is attacking us claiming he is a Samajwadi person, then we have enough photos to show BJP as well. This crime is a reflection of the failure of the police and state government. This man did not commit this in a fit of rage. He was out on bail for harassment and the girl had complained to the police as well. So why did the police not take action sooner? This murder could have been avoided.”
On March 2, a day after Ambreesh’s murder, chief minister Adityanath asked to invoke the draconian against the accused. Previously, in 2020, the chief minister had asked for the to be slapped against rape accused in Lakhimpur Kheri.
In contrast, his government has not spoken about invoking the NSA against the four Thakur men accused of gangraping and murdering the Dalit teenager in Hathras last September. To this, Rajvir said, “I cannot comment on the decisions of the chief minister.”
‘My father was my strength’
The UP police have not sealed the field where the murder occurred for investigation. At the time of the incident, there were close to 50 laborers on the field. “All of them were from neighboring villages and have run away. They’re scared of police,” Mukhiya Pandit, a villager, said.
Standing in the field and pointing at the blood stains, another villager, Dinesh Sharma, said of Ambreesh, “He was a good man, he was progressive. He educated both his daughters and stood up for them. And that’s the price a father pays when he supports his girls.”
Nisha’s sister is four months pregnant. “She is struggling to digest this tragedy. I have lost everything. My father was my sole strength in life.”
*Some names have been changed to protect identities and maintain confidentiality.
Keshav Pransukhka contributed reporting.