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'Had he been insane, he would have shot everyone'

By JYOTI PUNWANI
December 17, 2023 09:32 IST
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'How was it possible for Singh to have got a government job, and that too one involving the handling of guns, had he been insane?'

IMAGE: Chetan Singh accused for killing four people including his superior on board the Jaipur-Mumbai Central Superfast Express, being taken to the magistrate court at Borivali in north west Mumbai. Photograph: ANI Photo
 

At a time when abusive speech against Muslims starts from ministers; when state governments bulldoze homes of Muslims accused of wrongdoing, and lynch mobs who target Muslims are rarely punished, it was refreshing to hear the argument that divisive speech and the targeted killing of Muslims are crimes against the nation and against humanity.

Such were the arguments put forward by lawyers opposing the bail application of Chetan Singh Chaudhary, the RPF jawan who shot dead three Muslim passengers as well as his senior colleague with his automatic service rifle in a moving train on July 31 this year.

The bail plea was turned down by a sessions court on Saturday, December 16, 2023.

Rejecting the defence's plea of "partial insanity", the judge pronounced that "the accused not only committed the murder of ASI Tikaram Meena but also three other passengers of a particular community by making them specific targets and uttered words which clearly show that he was in a well-settled position and mind to commit murder of (members of) a particular community."

The offence, said the judge, was serious and there was direct and sufficient material against the accused. If released on bail, there was every possibility that he may tamper with evidence or commit the same type of offence.

The bail hearing was held in camera, with even the son of victim Abdul Kader Bhanpurwala, whose wife is an intervenor in the case, being made to leave the court. The son had traveled specially from Dubai for the hearing.

***

The incident that shook the country -- but elicited no response from the prime minister even though he was named by the jawan after committing the offence -- took place in the early hours of July 31, on board the Jaipur-Mumbai Central Superfast Express, when it was on its way to Mumbai.

A video that went viral soon after showed the 33-year-old uniformed RPF jawan standing with his weapon, giving a speech that ended with the words 'If you want to vote, if you want to live in India, then I say, Modi and Yogi, these are the two, and your Thackeray."'One of the passengers shot by him lay at his feet.

Singh jumped off the train as it drew into the Mira Road station, and continued shooting at the windows. He was apprehended by the police as he was fleeing on the railway tracks.

It later emerged that Singh had first shot his senior colleague ASI Tikaram Meena (57) after the latter did not concede his request to get off at an earlier station as he was feeling unwell. Later, he went from coach to coach targeting passengers who looked Muslim.

Singh has since been in custody. He is currently in the Akola Central Jail.

***

The defence took the plea of "unsound mind", relying on the medical papers submitted by Singh's family. A medical paper dated February 13, 2023, on the letterhead of Dr Praveen Kumar Nath of Mathura, had recorded that he suffered from 'abnormal hallucinations'.

Defence advocate Pankaj Ghildiyal referred to the Bollywood hit Munnabhai MBBS where the hero Sanjay Dutt kept having visions of Gandhi. He also referred to the Burari murders, wherein 11 members of a family committed suicide under the influence of delusional psychotic disorders. Last but not the least, he invoked the Hollywood movie The Last Destination.

Singh, Ghildiyal said, was not a madman in the conventional sense of the term, but someone like any of us. "In all of us there's an insane person; in certain circumstances, this person emerges. We have to see the circumstances under which my client acted the way he did."

Dr Nath had also noted that Singh was experiencing feelings of 'aggressiveness' for two days. This surfaced in the shooting incident, said Ghildiyal.

The defence lawyer also referred to Singh suffering from "white matter disease", and alleged that no psychiatric evaluation had been carried out on him.

However, Additional Sessions Judge A Z Khan informed him that the report of such an evaluation had been submitted to court. To that, Ghildiyal replied: "That was just a formal test", and then went on to enumerate the various types of psychiatric assessments.

Finally, Ghildiyal claimed that his client was even today, suffering from panic attacks which he ascribed to the sleeping pills being given to him in prison. He deserved the love and affection of his family, said Ghildiyal, adding that the ambience in jail would affect his overall health.

***

This plea of "partial insanity" was countered effectively by the Public Prosecutor as well as the three lawyers who appeared for the victims' families as intervenors.

Public Prosecutor Sachin Jadhav read out the statement Dr Nath had given to the police, which said that Singh had come to him with a complaint of headache and he had treated him only for that. Having seen him just once, he could not make any conclusion about his mental health.

Jadhav pointed out that it was with a cool head that Singh killed four passengers. He intentionally fired four rounds on his superior Tikaram Meena. Then he went looking for passengers of a specific religion, identifying them by their appearance.

Jadhav traced his journey as he went from coach to coach, shooting selectively. "Had he been insane, he would have shot everyone or at random," he said.

How was it possible for Singh to have got a government job, and that too one involving the handling of guns, had he been insane, asked the PP.

To top it all, said Jadhav, Singh had asked a passenger to make a video of his speech, wherein he spoke words so divisive that he didn't want to repeat them. Even though the investigation was complete and the charge sheet filed, said Public Prosecutor Jadhav, if such a man were to be released, he would be a danger to society.

***

"A blot on humanity." These words were used by Advocate Karim Pathan of the APCR (Association of Protection of Civil Rights), representing the widow of Jaipur-based victim Asgar Ali Shaikh (48). The accused had been assigned to guard passengers, he pointed out, instead, he shot them as they slept.

Pathan quoted an eye witness who had dared to confront Singh, only to be told to shut up. Another eyewitness, Alfiya Pathan, had told the police that Singh asked her to say 'Jai Mata Di' on pain of death.

Pathan also quoted Dr Nath's statement that "abnormal hallucinations" had been mentioned only as part of Singh's medical history. The doctor's report also showed that except for a slightly high cholesterol reading, other parameters were normal. The MRI of the brain also did not reveal anything abnormal.

Countering the defence's arguments, Pathan pointed out that neither in Munnabhai MBBS, nor in the Burari killings, did those suffering from hallucinations kill anyone.

***

Two lawyers argued on behalf of the family of Nalasopara-based Abdul Kader Bhanpurwala (64). Advocate Shravan Giri rubbished the insanity argument by saying that Singh had been certified fit for duty. There was nothing to show that he had suffered from unsoundness of mind before this incident. Neither had any doctor said he needed to be monitored or grounded.

As for hallucinations, argued Giri, they could be caused by a number of factors, including loss of sleep and overdose of alcohol.

If given bail, Singh could either flee, "create destruction" or harm himself, said Giri.

In an impassioned plea asking the court to think of the wife and children of those who were killed, Advocate Vashist Arora, also representing Bhanpurwala's wife, told the court that "Society had expectations from the court... Young people like Singh were thinking in terms of religion: So and so is a Hindu, the other is a Muslim. A wrong message would go if bail was given."

Arora also asked that Singh's family be prosecuted, since they claimed he was mentally ill, yet they had not informed the RPF about it. Thereby, they had had endangered the lives of innocents.

Given a chance to reply to these arguments, defence advocate Ghildiyal said that the incident itself showed Singh's unsoundness of mind. Which sane person would ask that his speech made after committing four murders be recorded? Which sane person would kill four passengers suddenly? The headaches for which Singh had gone to Dr Nath may have signaled the beginning of his mental illness, said the defence lawyer.

***

Looking very different from the pictures of him in the train, where he was wearing his uniform and holding a rifle, Singh, dressed in a t-shirt, sat expressionless through the proceedings till his wife joined him with the permission of the court and kept up a non-stop conversation with him.

Interestingly, defence advocate Ghildiyal started off by offering to let the intervenors have their say first. "I understand their feelings," he said. However, the judge asked him to follow procedure and start the proceedings as he was the petitioner.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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JYOTI PUNWANI / Rediff.com
 
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