Lying in a bed at his residence in Teharki village in Meerut, 20-year-old Sheman Khan seemed bothered by the nip in the air even as a multicoloured blanket covered him below the waist.
“The doctor has advised me not to wear anything but a T-shirt to avoid aggravating the pain,” he said, pointing to the wounds on his stomach and below that he suffered on October 17 when he was shot at by the Uttar Pradesh police in Meerut’s Kankar Khera area.
The police claimed that Mr. Khan was shot at during an “encounter” and a stolen mobile phone, a sports bike, a countrymade pistol and cartridges were recovered from him. The First Information Report states that Mr. Khan, with the help of an associate, Shadab, robbed the motorbike and the mobile phone from a man on October 10.
However, Mr. Khan, who installs mobile towers, showed the sports bike’s bill and insurance papers to The Hindu and said he bought it on October 9 as a wedding gift for his sister’s groom. His sister, Fareeda, 25, got married on November 11.
“They shot me thrice, it was a staged encounter. Thank God, I have the proof of this bike’s purchase,” he said.
Station House Officer of Kankar Khera police station Bijendra Singh Rana said the police made a “clerical error” while registering the FIR. “We meant to write that Sheman and his associate robbed the mobile phone while riding the motorbike,” he said. In the FIR, however, details of the motorbike, including chasis number and engine number, have been mentioned. It also states that when asked about the mobile and the bike, Mr. Khan said that he and Shadab “robbed them from a man around 9 p.m. on October 10”.
The “clerical error” led to the incident becoming a news report, labelling Mr. Khan as a “ lootera (robber)” in at least two regional dailies. The reports named him and quoted Mr. Rana as saying that “Sheman and Shadab have committed more than a dozen robberies”. The news spread in the entire village.
“ Kya izzat reh gai hamari [our image has been tarnished],” said Fareeda whose palms were still red from the henna applied during her wedding.
Sequence of events
Sharing the sequence of events on October 17, Mr. Rana said, around 2 p.m., some policemen were checking vehicles in the Kankar Khera when Mr. Khan and Shadab were seen coming on a white motorbike. “Their movement seemed suspicious and the policemen asked them to stop but they sped away. Sheman was in the possession of a countrymade pistol. He fired shots at the police party and in self-defence, the policemen fired one shot which hit Sheman around his stomach,” he said, adding that Shadab fled the spot and is still absconding. Mr. Rana said he was uncertain of how many shots were fired by the two men.
Mr. Khan, on the contrary, said he was distributing invitation cards for Fareeda’s wedding and was on his way to a place called ‘Macchli’ when five cops came in an SUV, hit his bike, and shot at him once. His cousin Shadab fled in the nick of time.
“They hit my motorbike from the side and I fell. They shot me in the stomach, put me in the car and took me to a field in Kankar Khera where they shot me again, twice,” he said.
Next, Mr. Khan said, the police placed a countrymade pistol and a mobile phone which were in their possession next to him. Meanwhile, Mr. Khan received a call from his brother on his mobile phone and quickly told him that the police had shot him. By then, more police officers had arrived in a PCR van.
“They started making videos and took photos while I lay there in a semi-conscious state. I remember they had asked me whether I was Mittha of Teharki village. They also made a call to someone and said ‘work has been done, prepare for the part’,” he said.
After the encounter, the police took Mr. Khan to a hospital in Meerut from where he was referred to AIIMS Trauma Centre in Delhi.
Mr. Khan’s medical record from AIIMS states “gunshot injury with three entry wounds, 1 exit wound with L3 middle column fracture with no bullets in SITU”.
He was discharged from the hospital on October 28. The doctor told him that he had a spinal cord injury and it might take years for him to walk again.
Fareeda said she was at a jeweller’s shop on October 17 when she received a call about her brother getting shot at. Three days before her wedding, the family brought Mr. Khan to Delhi for treatment. “All the money saved for the wedding went into his treatment. The motorbike which was bought as a wedding gift is in police custody,” she said.
SHO Rana said Mr. Khan has five criminal cases registered against him — one rape, molestation and attempt to murder case registered in August 2018, another robbery case registered in Sardhana in 2018, one robbery case registered in Kankar Khera four months ago, and two cases of attempt to murder and under Arms Act from October 17 incident.
Mr. Khan claimed to be unaware of the rape and molestation allegations against him but said he was arrested on attempt to murder charge in 2018 based on a complaint filed by their neighbour. He was released from jail after 22 days and hasn’t heard anything about that case’s proceedings since then, he said.
Recalling the 2018 incident, Mr. Khan’s family said that a family whose house is adjacent to their rear wall but falls in the Hindu-dominated area of the village alleged that Mr. Khan had barged into their house and threatened the family out of personal enmity. Two weeks later, Mr. Khan’s family filed a counter complaint with the same allegations.
Village pradhan Vineet Singh, who had helped the neighbour file the complaint against Mr. Khan and his family, told The Hindu: “He [Mr. Khan] is a criminal who has robbed and snatched from many people in the area; he also molests women on the road without any fear.” There’s no police record of the allegations levelled by Mr. Singh.
Narrating the August 2018 case against Mr. Khan (rape, molestation and attempt to murder), Mr. Singh said he himself went with the complainant to lodge an FIR, but claimed that the woman was molested not raped by the accused.
“I am happy that he [Mr. Khan] has been shot at. Everyone is happy. This is not Kashmir, this is not Kerala… This is Teharki and they should live here accordingly,” he said, suggesting that different communities living in clearly demarcated areas in the village interact limited to requirement.
A villager who didn’t want to be identified said there’s a running rivalry between the pradhan and Mr. Khan’s family over the post of village pradhan. “Sheman’s immediate and extended family has over 200 people and their vote matters. They are [Mr. Singh and Mr. Khan] always fighting with each other. Both sides have registered FIRs against each other,” he said, adding that he wasn’t aware of Mr. Khan’s alleged criminal records before the encounter.
For Mr. Khan his immediate concern is whether he will be able to walk or even sit straight again. “ Isse achchha to maar hi dete mujhe (It would have been better had they killed me),” he said, staring at the window of his room.