New Delhi: It has been six months since Manipuri student Pravish Chanam mysteriously died after he disappeared from a music concert in Noida. Yet, his family refuses to pick up his ashes from Shavdah Griha Antim Nivas, where he was cremated four days after the 22 year-old student’s body was found in Murga Market, sector 31.
On September 8, Pravish had gone to Knowledge Park to catch the band, Chainsmokers, along with three friends, also from Manipur. The next day, his older brother, Ravi Kant Chanam, a resident of Vijaynagar in North Delhi, received a call from Pravish’s number but it was one of his friends, Ashok, on the line, who reported that Pravish went missing from the concert venue, leaving his cell phone and wallet behind for safe keeping. After going through a harrowing ordeal of filing a missing persons report in the Knowledge Park police station and a series of follow-ups, Ravi learned that his brother was not only found dead but also cremated by the Uttar Pradesh police.
“The police cremated two bodies that day without properly marking either. So we don’t know whose ashes we will be collecting”, said Ravi. Although Pravish’s last rites were completed on September 16 in Imphal, Manipur, the family has vowed to rest only after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) conducts an inquiry. Despite repeated requests to send the clothes his brother was found in for laboratory tests, Ravi is yet to receive an update on the case.
Ravi said his family has given up all hope on the Noida police cracking the case, partly because of their lackadaisical attitude. To appeal for the case to be transferred to CBI, they met several officials, including home minister Rajnath Singh and his deputy, Kiren Rijiju, as well as Manipur chief minister Biren Singh. Apart from this, protest rallies were organised in Delhi and Imphal.
In January 2018, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath wrote to the home minister informing him that the case was ordered for transfer from sector 20 Noida police station to CBI for investigation. Not only that, the UP government issued an order, “according consent to the member of the Delhi Special Police Establishment in the whole of the State of Uttar Pradesh for investigation” in this case (a copy of which has been accessed by this reporter).
Despite official instructions in this case, the CBI is yet to commence investigation. “The case is not registered with us”, the chief information officer at the CBI told this reporter. When asked for a reason, he said, “CBI takes a call on cases to be registered based on its own norms and evaluation”.
Rijiju said the CBI was engulfed in several cases referred to them. “They also have limitations, like manpower. I’m personally very upset that this case did not move in the direction that we would like to see, because it’s a huge tragedy”, he told this reporter in an interview held earlier. He said all the short-term recommendations of the Bezbaruah Committee report from 2014 had been implemented by the government.
Among other changes, the Bezbaruah Committee recommended empowering the North East Special Police Unit to have the power of a police station to register cases and provide directions to various police stations in cases related to people from the region. While a functioning North East cell in New Delhi has been established, Rijiju claimed that every city now has a special cell for NE people. “Police is for everybody. Can you imagine a police station in Imphal or Itanagar for people of Bihar or UP? You can’t just cross the limit of the provisions of the law or the system”, he added.
The Bezbaruah Committee was set up following the murder of a 19-year-old student, Nido Tania, the son of a Congress MLA from Arunachal Pradesh. Many such cases are routinely covered by the media, but do not cause that level of outrage, said Liyi Marli Noshi, a lawyer from Arunachal Pradesh who practices in Delhi’s Saket court. “Every day, cases like Nido Tania are happening but to bring media attention to it, a person has to be from a rich family”, said Noshi, one of the North Eastern lawyers empaneled for legal assistance, as per the committee’s recommendation.
The Chanam family has suspected foul play since day one, given several inconsistencies in the versions of the police and government district hospital. The investigating officer, SHO Anil Kumar Shahi told the media in September that Pravish died of drug overdose, as per the post- mortem report. However, the post-mortem report clearly states “shock and haemorrhage due to head injury” as the cause of death.
It should be mentioned that while the report says “eye bulging and bloated face”, no trace of drugs were found. The medico legal report filed by the hospital on the day of departure mentions “alcoholic smell present in the breath” and “seizure like movement of person at the time of admission” apart from a recent injury “caused by hard and blunt object, simple in nature”. Moreover, the report (prepared at 4.30 p.m on September 11, 2017) states that the body was “about 2 to 3 days old” at the time of conducting the post-mortem. “Why did the hospital wait for two days to conduct the post-mortem?”, Ravi wondered.
At sector 20 police station, a police official told this reporter that the inquiry in this case was going on, which is documented in a progress report every month. SHO Manish Saxena, the present IO appointed to the case, said he was transferred to the PS only this month and the previous IO would be better placed to comment. Despite several attempts to contact Anil Kumar Shahi, who became SSP after former SSP Luv Kumar moved to Lucknow as DIG, Prisons, did not respond to queries. In September, Kumar suspended three police officials and shunted the SHO at Knowledge Park PS to police lines for dereliction of duty.
Strangely, in the CBI proforma (a copy of which has been accessed by this reporter) the UP government states that “the investigation is still pending and no substantial progress could be made till now”. However, in justifying the case to be referred to CBI, they mention, “a possibility that persons from native state of deceased or neighbouring state like Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan etc. are behind this crime”.
It’s unclear why the government ruled out the possibility of people from Uttar Pradesh being involved since Pravish’s body was recovered in Noida. Ravi, however, says the friends who accompanied Pravish on the day of the concert have not been seen after September 11, when they accompanied him to the Knowledge Park PS.
“On September 13, all his friends (except those who were with him) came to the station to figure out his whereabouts. None of the three ever provided information to any of the police stations. They didn’t even contact us after we found out that he was no more or attend his funeral”, Ravi said, unable to mask his suspicion. Despite attempts to contact Ashok, he was not reachable.
As per the CCTV footage that the police handed to the family (accessed by this reporter), Pravish can be seen walking out barefoot from the hospital at 7.30 a.m the morning after he was admitted. The CCTV footage from Noida Stay, about 900 meters away from the hospital, shows him walking under the flyover. However, the footage has a time lapse of 81 seconds in the video, after which Pravish disappears from the frame. How did he manage to reach the Murga Market, which is a good 15-minute walk (as per Google maps) in his condition, remains a mystery.
As the family keenly waits for the CBI to initiate an inquiry into the case, so far handled with ‘utmost negligence’, the silence of the authorities and the dodging of questions related to the case indicate that a breakthrough may still not be on the horizon. In fact, it is likely to further drag on, caught in bureaucratic red tape.
Makepeace Sitlhou is a freelance journalist based in Guwahati.