| Vikash Ranjan’s parents at their house in Patna on Tuesday. Picture by Jai Prakash |
Fifty-eight-year-old Kundan Gupta’s voice choked on hearing about the court’s order of capital punishment for former additional in-charge of Shastri Nagar police station and life term for seven others in the 2002 fake encounter case.
Her son Vikas Ranjan was one of the three youths killed by the police, the others being Prashant Singh and Himanshu Yadav.
“How could they do something like this to the boys? They were loaded like animals in tractors after being mercilessly beaten and then shot. They had some life left in them still. They had a long way to go in life,” she said sobbingly on Tuesday as she heard about the court’s verdict in the infamous fake encounter case.
Vikas was just 18 years old back in December 28, 2002, and was striving to become a computer hardware engineer. His best friends, Prashant and Himanshu, too, had high ambitions. Vikas’s younger brother, Mukesh, now 28, said the incident shook the existence of three families and they are yet to come out of the shock.
“My father Jagdish Prasad Gupta doesn’t speak much now. He gets up every day, looks at the photograph of my brother, stands quiet for a while and then starts his daily work. We have a sweetmeat shop named Manbhaawan Sweets just near our residence at the Ashiana Mor. In the evening, he closes the shop, comes home and is more or less quiet again. My mother too became more scared from then on. She keeps worrying about me. My brother and his friends were killed when they were in the prime of their lives and wanted to be successful. The men involved in killing them in cold blood might have been sentenced today but the void cannot be ever filled. If they would have been alive, our condition would have been different,” said Mukesh, who has a government job to him on compassionate grounds.
Just then, Mukesh’s mother, who was seated with her husband with a picture of Vikas in between, said the boys deserved the tag of martyrs. “All the three were best of friends and had nothing to do with any illegal or unlawful activities. My son was pursuing BSc in electronics from AN College at that time and had also done a computer hardware course from Beltron (Bihar State Electronics Development Corporation Limited). Prashant, who was also killed, wanted to become a naval officer. Himanshu too was into computer hardware training. Vikas and Himangshu wanted to start some business venture after completing their studies. Though we are grateful for the court’s decision, the shopkeeper of the STD (subscriber trunk dialling) booth should also be given a death sentence. They treated our children like animals, kicked their bodies and dumped them on a tractor. That officer (Shamse Alam) was seen laughing and boasting that he had killed three criminals in an encounter,” Kundan said, while Jagdish nodded.
Some months after the incident, the family of Himanshu shifted to Madhepura. Prashant’s family lives in the Jallalpur area in Danapur.
Recalling the Saturday afternoon of December 28, 2002, Mukesh said his father was not in town then. “I was 16 then. On that day, my father was on his way back from Arrah in Bhojpur. He had gone there to take part in the last rites of one of my aunts. Prashant had reached Patna from Delhi on December 26. He was living in Delhi for sometime studying to become a naval officer. He had met Samse Alam for police verification in connection with his job the following day at the police station. On December 28, the three of them met at my home around 3pm and decided to go to Arrah to my aunt’s place. I don’t know what happened from there on. Just 45 minutes later, one of our relatives gave us the news that my brother and his two friends had been shot dead. Imagine the shock we were in.”
He added: “Then the events followed. Till date, I don’t know who wanted to make a call and what happened in that telephone booth. In 2002, there were no mobile phones. We have heard the version of the CBI and how things unfolded on that day. But for once, we want Shamse Alam to face all the three families and tell us about the incident. Sometimes, the families talk but we do not meet as it just leads to tears and sorrows,” Mukesh told The Telegraph.
The three youths — Vikas, Prashant and Himanshu — were gunned down around 4pm on December 28, 2002. The police had initially claimed that the trio were members of the notorious Ashok Natwa gang and had gone to the market for committing some crime. A source had said Vikas had a tiff with a telephone booth owner, Kamlesh Kumar Gautam, over payment against calls on the fateful day. Vikas left the place only to return with Prashant and Himanshu to teach Kamlesh a lesson. However, Kamlesh and the other traders confined the trio to the market and thrashed them. Later, the police killed them.
During investigation, it came to the fore that Vikas was a student of electronics and a diploma holder in hardware engineering. His friends Prashant and Himanshu were students of RPS College here.
The incident took a political twist with opposition parties giving a bandh call. The frenzied mob ruled the roost almost for three consecutive days, forcing the police to remain mute spectators. Later, the CBI took over the case.