Suraj’s family members accuse Maharashtra’s Palghar police of cover-up.
New Delhi: Mithilesh Dubey, 57, is a broken man. Less than a week ago, Dubey, who stays in Kolhua Khurd village of Palamu district, Jharkhand, cremated his son, Suraj, who was 27 years old and a sailor with the Indian Navy.
Suraj was set on fire, alive, in the forest area near Gholvad village in Maharashtra’s Palghar district after allegedly being abducted from Chennai where he had alighted from his Ranchi-Chennai flight to continue his onward journey by bus to naval base INS Agrani, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu where he was posted. He joined Indian Navy in August 2012 and was posted as Leading Seaman before his death.
The family members of Suraj have raised serious allegations against the Palghar district police who are investigating Suraj’s death and accused them of “covering up” the entire case and trying to give an “incorrect motive” to Suraj’s death.
While the Palghar police has been alluding that Dubey’s death was linked to the “financial debt” he was in, his family members, quoting the statement given by Suraj to Palghar police—which was recorded in the FIR—have stated that he was a victim of “hate-crime”.
It is pertinent to mention here that Dattatray Shinde, Superintendent of Police (SP), Palghar, has stated, on record, that Suraj was killed by his abductors because his family members did not fulfil the ransom demand of Rs 10 lakh. The SP has also stated that Suraj was under a lot of debt, a charge which has been vehemently denied by his family members who spoke to The Sunday Guardian.
Multiple messages and calls to Dattatray Shinde, SP, Palghar, by The Sunday Guardian seeking his response on the charges by Suraj’s father and brother did not elicit any response till the time the story went to press.
However, Suraj’s father, Mithilesh, and brother Neeraj have categorically denied that either they or any of their family members received any ransom calls. They have also denied media leaks that Suraj used to carry three phones. According to them, he only had two phones. Suraj was burnt alive within three weeks of his engagement which had taken place on 15 January.
According to Suraj’s family, in his statement to the police, he has mentioned that he was killed by three individuals from a particular community. “He named three individuals from one community and we believe it is a hate crime and not related to financial issues as the Maharashtra police has been saying. The way in which he was brutally killed also indicates that it was not related to money matters. Would killing him get the so-called lenders their money back? The FIR quoting Suraj clearly mentions that he was burnt by three people, all from a particular community,” Suraj’s brother Neeraj and his father Mithilesh told The Sunday Guardian.
“If we had received a ransom call of Rs 10 lakh, as the Palghar police is claiming, would we not have paid the money to save Suraj? It is a total lie,” Neeraj said.
The FIR in the case, accessed by The Sunday Guardian, which has Suraj’s statement as saying: “I was kidnapped from outside Chennai airport by three unidentified people by threatening me with a revolver in a white SUV. They kept me in Chennai for three days and wanted Rs 10 lakh from me. After that, they took me to a place on foot and poured petrol on me and then set me on fire. Of the three people who kidnapped me, one of them was Irfan as I could hear them talking. They were of dark complexion and had small beards and moustaches. The driver was wearing kurta-pyjama. They snatched my mobile as soon as I came out of the airport. I will recognize them If I see them. They burnt me at 9 am on 5 February.” The statement was recorded by Inspector Sarjerao Shamrao Kumbhari, police station Gholvad on 5 February at 6.18 pm.
A video accessed by the family members of Suraj, just after he was recovered in a 90% burnt state from the forest near Gholvad and seen by The Sunday Guardian, quotes a villager telling a local media outlet that he saw a man coming out of the forest (alluding to Suraj). The man was asking for water. “I thought he was drunk so I went near him with water, but then I saw he was in a burnt state. I told my nephew to call the police and I gave him water and a bed sheet to cover him. He was then taken in an ambulance to the hospital,” the villager is quoted saying.
Mithilesh Dubey, Suraj’s father, who had a small business setup, which he wound up due to old age, told The Sunday Guardian that Suraj, who had got engaged on 15 January and was supposed to get married on 22 May, might not have met the brutal fate if the Commanding Officer (CO) of INS Agrani had taken the risk to his life seriously. Suraj had come home on leave which had started on 1 January and was to end on 1 February.
“I last spoke to him at 6.45 pm on 30 January when he reached Hyderabad which was a stopover location for the flight that he had taken from Ranchi to Chennai. His fiancée last spoke to him at 8 pm. When I did not get a call from him until 9 am the next day (31 January), by when he should have reached his base, I started calling him but found his number switched off. I kept calling him and finding it switched off, I organsied the number of his CO, Ashok Rai at 4 pm and apprised him of the entire incident. He assured me that he would check and revert. After some time the CO called me and said that Suraj had still not reached the base and that since his reporting time was 9 am, 1 February, he must have stayed back in Chennai. I told the CO that even if he had stayed back in Chennai, he would have called me or his mother to tell us about his plan, but his phone was switched off for more than 16 hours. I told him something bad had happened with him and something should be done,” Mithilesh Dubey told The Sunday Guardian over phone even as he continued breaking down at intervals.
Recalling further, Mithilesh Dubey said, “After some time, the CO called me (on the evening of 31 January) that he had found that the mobile location of Suraj was showing in Chennai. The next morning (1 February), I went to the local Chainpur police station in Palamu district and told them to register an FIR related to the kidnapping of my son but they said that they could file a missing person report, which they did. I also informed the CO (Ashok Rai) while repeating that something bad had happened to my son. We waited from morning till evening at the police station. While we were leaving at around 6 pm, one police official came out and said that Suraj’s phone had become active. One of my relatives immediately called up Suraj’s number and it was answered by a voice that sounded like Suraj’s and he appeared to be very scared. When my relative asked the identity of the person he replied ‘Irfan-Irfan’ and then the line got disconnected and the phone was again switched off.”
As per Mithilesh Dubey, when all this was happening, police personnel told him that Suraj had spoken to one individual, “Dharmendra”, at least 13 times in the past few days. This individual is also in the Indian Navy and posted at INS Agrani.
“Then I recalled that Dharmendra had even called me after Suraj had left and enquired about him. I shared all these details with Ashok Rai on 1 February and told him that I suspected Dharmendra’s involvement in Suraj going missing. When I called the CO on 2 February to enquire if he had found anything, he accused me of helping my son ‘hide’. ‘Your son is an absconder; I will order a court of inquiry against him and declare him as an absconder’, he told me. I told him do whatever you want, but please find him first, please speak to Chennai police to take this matter seriously as they will take the concern of a senior naval officer seriously. He told me that this was not his job and said I can go to Chennai police and that he will wait for 28 days before taking action against Suraj for absconding and issuing public notice. I called him on 3 February, but he did not take my calls and then he blocked my number. He blocked the number of my other son too,” Mithilesh Dubey told The Sunday Guardian.
According to Mithilesh Dubey, after a lot of cajoling spread over several phone calls, they were able to get information from Dharmendra that he had given Rs 5 lakh to Suraj. However, Dharmendra denied his role in Suraj going missing. “My other son told Dharmendra that he was going to register an FIR against him and that it was he who had abducted Suraj. I, at the time, told my son ‘What have you done? Why did you tell him that you are going to name him in the FIR? Dharmendra will get scared and he will do anything to save himself’,” Dubey said.
Commenting on the stories that Suraj had a debt of Rs 23 lakh, his father denied this to be the case. “The family of his fiancée had transferred Rs 9 lakh for making arrangements for the marriage. He had also taken a home loan of Rs 8 lakh for construction work in the house that we live in. I am not aware that he took any other loan including the Rs 5 lakh from Dharmendra,” he said.
At 4.30 pm on 5 February, as Mithilesh Dubey was waiting at Ranchi railway station to catch a train to Chennai to lodge an FIR with the Chennai police, something which the CO of INS Agrani could have done much earlier, he got a call from Mumbai police stating that they had found Suraj in an injured state in Palghar. “They first called my wife’s number as Suraj had given them her number. So instead of going to Chennai, I went to Mumbai by taking the Mumbai-Howrah train from Rourkela station. I reached CST on 6 February morning. I was given the body of my son which I brought back the next day,” recalled Mithilesh Dubey as his voice trailed off.
According to Mithilesh Dubey, when he got the news from Mumbai police about his injured son, he called his CO Ashok Rai to inform him about it. “However, I could not reach him as my call was on the reject list. I called my son that he should try to inform Rai, but his number, too, had been put on the reject list by Rai. Then my son sent a WhatsApp message to Rai, after which Rai called my son and told him to ask me to call him. Why will I ever call him now? I will never call him. If Rai had taken timely action, my son could have been saved. I used to cry and call him and tell him to do something, but he told me it was not his job. I will tell the Navy Chief about this. I have lost my son. I want the same death for the perpetrators who killed my son. I have lost my son, what else is left for me,” Mithilesh Dubey told The Sunday Guardian. The INS Agrani CO has not commented on the allegations made against him by the distraught family.
Official sources in Jharkhand police who are overseeing the investigation, which is being primarily done by the Palghar district police, said that it was being monitored at the highest level.
“Dharmendra has been interrogated by the Palghar police. A three-member team from Palghar police has already spoken to the concerned people in Chennai, Coimbatore and Palamu and a kidnapping and murder case has been filed,” an official source said.
Suraj’s family members told The Sunday Guardian that the Palghar police took their statement in Marathi despite Suraj’s family members’ objection as they could not comprehend Marathi. “I gave my statement in Hindi, they noted down in Marathi, I don’t know what they have written,” Mithilesh Dubey told The Sunday Guardian.
The family members have also questioned why they were not provided or at least allowed to see Suraj’s dying declaration. “When we reached the JJ hospital where his post-mortem was carried out, we asked the two Palghar police officers to give us a copy of his dying declaration, but they refused. They even refused to show us what he had said,” said Yugant Badri Pandey, a close family friend, who accompanied Suraj’s father to receive the body. According to Pandey, even his organisation showed indifference to the entire episode as initially they refused to get involved in Suraj’s cremation and told his father that local armed forces posted in Jharkhand would do that.
His post-mortem, too, did not take place for more than 12 hours as the official photographer of JJ hospital was not present, Pandey alleged. These charges could not be verified independently. Observers note that the armed forces have a stellar track record of looking after their own, but that occasional slip-ups may occur.
It is also important to mention that Suraj was posted in Mumbai for five years and also spent a considerable time in Vellore for the treatment of one of his relatives.