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Paresh Mesta died due to drowning, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) concluded, five years after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed it was a communal murder. Eighteen-year-old Paresh was found dead at the Shettikere Lake in Honnavar in Uttara Kannada district on December 8, 2017. His death had created massive communal tension in Karnataka with the BJP claiming that it was a communally motivated murder and that Paresh had been burnt with hot oil and then drowned.
The CBI, which said that no evidence was found to prove that Paresh was murdered, is set to write to the magistrate court in Honnavar informing it that the investigation has concluded. In a letter to Paresh’s family last week, a CBI investigating officer said:
“During the investigation, no incriminating evidence has emerged showing the involvement of accused persons and the medico-legal evidence/opinion collected from multiple Institutions clearly established the cause of death of Paresh Mesta as anti mortem drowning. Accordingly, a Final Report (Closure report) is being filed before the jurisdictional court.”
Anti-mortem drowning indicates that the person died after falling into the water. Paresh’s father Kamalakar Mesta had filed a complaint alleging that his son was killed by a Muslim group. A CBI officer TNM spoke to said that a letter to the party concerned, in this case, Paresh’s family, is a mandatory requirement.
Paresh had been caught in a minor communal clash that broke out after an argument between an autorickshaw driver and a motorbike rider. The local police had said that he had disappeared for two days after the clash and was later found dead near the lake. While the police believed that he fell into the lake as he was fleeing, the BJP alleged brutal torture and murder.
In the run-up to Karnataka assembly elections in 2018, Paresh’s death had become a massive issue, with the BJP accusing the then Congress government of not protecting Hindus from hate crimes. BJP leaders, particularly the Udupi-Chikkamagaluru MP Shobha Karandlaje, had alleged on December 9, 2017, a day after Paresh was found dead, that he was killed by a Muslim group. Shobha had also alleged that “hot oil was poured on his body resulting in the body turning black” and alleged that the murder was carried out by ‘jihadi elements’. Another BJP leader claimed that a Shivaji tattoo was removed from Paresh’s body by ripping his skin away.
In response to these claims, a forensic expert from the Kasturba Hospital in Manipal issued a point-by-point rebuttal on December 11, 2017, denying Shobha Karandlaje’s claims that Paresh Mesta was tortured before his death. “The change in colour of the face of the deceased is due to putrefaction (the process of decay),” the forensic team had said in its report. “The fingers and toes of the deceased are in normal condition. There is no evidence suggestive of assault,” the report had concluded. The report also said that the tattoo was very much on the body.
Following Paresh’s death, the BJP alleged that the police were covering up the real cause behind his death and called for a bandh in Uttara Kannada district, which sparked violent demonstrations. The car of a top Karnataka police officer was burnt during the violence. Many other BJP leaders, including Pratap Simha, Eashwarappa and others, had made multiple allegations that Paresh was tortured, and had urged Hindus and BJP cadres to protest.
Following the CBI closure report, former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah took to Twitter on Monday, October 3 to demand an apology from the BJP for communalising Paresh Mesta’s death.
.@BJP4Karnataka took unhealthy & unethical political advantage from the deaths of the innocent youth.
The power the BJP is enjoying has stains of the blood of these innocent youth.
— Siddaramaiah (@siddaramaiah) October 3, 2022