Reports on the IB staffer’s gruesome killing couldn’t agree on the basic facts and omitted some crucial context
IN THE past week, 49 people were killed in communal violence in North East Delhi.
One death received a larger slice of media focus: that of 26-year-old Intelligence Bureau staffer Ankit Sharma, whose body was retrieved from a drain near Delhi’s Chand Bagh on February 26. Channels like Republic TV, Times Now, Zee News, Aaj Tak, CNN News 18, News 18 India, News Nation and India TV all broadcast “exclusives” on it.
However, there were inconsistencies between media reports: the setting of the murder, the basics of what happened to Ankit, where he was nabbed, who he was with, the details of his post-mortem report. Most didn’t reconstruct the setting when his death took place.
Given that this is a developing story, it’s not unusual for these discrepancies to creep in. Here’s a rundown of some of them.
THE DETAILS OF ANKIT LEAVING HOME
Ankit’s father told The Indian Express that his son left home to “buy groceries”. A News18 report quoted the father as saying that Sharma was “coming back from duty” and “15-20 people came from Tahir’s building and took him along with a few others”.
Tahir refers to Tahir Hussain, an Aam Aadmi Party counsellor who’s been accused of “orchestrating” the communal violence. He’s now been booked on charges of arson and murder but has denied any wrongdoing on his part.
A neighbour provided a similar version to Newslaundry. A report in The Print claimed, based on testimony from Ankit’s mother, that Ankit had gone outside to “look for his brother Ankur who he feared may have got stuck in the riot” — although Ankur told Hindustan Times that Ankit went outside to “see what was happening in the locality”.
Rightwing news organisation Swarajya claimed to have found a witness who was with Ankit during the violence. This witness alleged that Ankit disappeared while “walking past a Muslim area amid heavy stone-pelting”.
There was some sort of a consensus between the Press Trust of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu and Scroll, which claimed that Ankit had left home to check what was happening outside his locality that evening.
A Times of India report on March 5, based on “multiple sources”, tells us that eyewitnesses have told police that Sharma “tripped over a stone and fell”. He was then overpowered by three-four men “from the other side” and dragged away. The report claimed that Sharma’s murder was a “targeted killing”.
The report claimed: “He [Sharma], along with his friend, Kalu, and a few others were on one side of a ‘pulia’ (small bridge) while heavy stone-pelting was on from the other side. Sharma was at the front.”
WHO WAS ANKIT WITH?
Then there is the case of those who allegedly accompanied Ankit.
The Hindu and Scroll did not state if anyone was with Ankit.
The Print, which spoke to Ankit’s mother, did not report on others accompanying Ankit. The report quoted Ankit’s sister who said the family was “told that Tahir and his men dragged my brother and two others to his office and killed him”.
Swarajya made the same claim. It quoted its anonymous witness as saying: “That day, Ankit, I and two other men were walking past a Muslim area amid heavy stone-pelting from the rooftops…”
Hindustan Times reported that “protesters caught” friends “who went to save Ankit,” implying that these friends were not by Ankit’s side when he was attacked, but were nabbed later.
News18 quoted Ankit’s father as saying that those who went to rescue his son “were fired upon and attacked with petrol bombs” and acid. The report doesn’t state if these rescuers were captured too.
The father told the Indian Express that a neighbour told him that he saw Ankit with “a friend”. “We went to his place and asked about Ankit,” he said in the Express report.
The TOI report on March 5 claims that Sharma was with a friend named Kalu and “ a few others”.
DETAILS OF ANKIT’S DEATH
Now we come to Ankit’s death.
Most reports agreed on this: that Ankit was dragged inside Tahir Hussain’s house and murdered. Ankit’s father said as much in an FIR. The Print reported that this claim rests on the testimonies of “other residents”.
Interestingly, the News18 report said “locals claimed Ankit Sharma could have died in stone-pelting”. It offered no details on the locals or the claim.
The discrepancies resumed when Ankit’s post mortem details were leaked to the media.
Zee News editor-in-chief Sudhir Chaudhary appeared to read the post-mortem report on-air, claiming that there were “countless” knife injuries on Ankit’s body. Republic TV’s “sources” told the channel that Ankit was stabbed “more than 400 times”. The New Indian Express’s report brought the number of stab wounds down to “over 250 times”, while The Times of India reported “over 200 injuries, including stab wounds”.
On March 5, TOI claimed that Sharma’s body had “at least 54 deep stab wounds”.
When IANS accessed the post-mortem report, it reported that Ankit’s body has “multiple abrasion…deep cuts…by sharp edge objects,” adding that the “26-year-old was stabbed multiple times”.
The report did not mention the number of times the IB staffer was stabbed.
The Indian Express did not report on the post mortem per se, but spoke to the doctors at GTB hospital who said Sharma had been “stabbed several times”. This begs the question where “400 stab wounds” came from.
ANKIT’S BROTHER AND THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
A controversy erupted when a report in the New York-based Wall Street Journal quoted Ankit’s brother, Ankur, as saying that the mob “came armed with stones, rods, knives and even swords; they shouted ‘Jai Shri Ram’…”
The newspaper had interviewed Ankur over the phone. “They started throwing stones and bricks at residents, who rushed to Ankit to help them…Later, his body was found in a ditch,” Ankur told WSJ.
However, Ankur later denied making these statements. The family filed police complaints against the newspaper for “defaming a particular religion and spreading communal tension”.
Even the state intervened. Prasar Bharati tweeted that Ankur told Prasar Bharati News Service that he “never gave such a statement” to WSJ and that it was a “ploy to defame my brother and my family”.
It should be mentioned that Prasar Bharati, and particularly PBNS is tightly controlled by the state. As explored in a Newslaundry report — it circulated misinformation as recently as January after the violence in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.
Republic TV reported that WSJ has defended itself by claiming that it has a recording of Ankur’s statement. Newslaundry could not independently confirm this with the newspaper.
We sent WSJ a questionnaire. Here is the response from a WSJ spokesperson: “We are confident in the accuracy of our articles. We remain committed to fully and fairly covering events in India.”
THE SETTING OF A MURDER
Most media houses (except Scroll) did not lay out the context of Ankit’s murder: what was going on in Khajuri Khas when Ankit was nabbed and where the two mobs — yes, there were two mobs — were positioned during the clash.
These are important details that almost all reports glossed over.
Ankit lived in Gali Number 6 in Khajuri Khas’s E Block. The drain where he was found is some 200 metres away from his street. Tahir Hussain’s house lies right in between his house and the drain.
The Karawal Nagar road, which divides Khajuri Khas from Moonga Nagar, was the main site of violence between two mobs on February 23, 24 and 25. Residents of both localities told Newslaundry that stone-pelting began around 10 pm on February 23 and things calmed down around midnight.
Who started this violence? The answer differs depending on who you talk to. Hindus claim a Muslim mob lit the match, and Muslims blame the Hindus.
The violence resumed on the afternoon of February 24, around 2 pm, and went on till 7-8 pm. This was the day when the looting and arson of shops and homes began. The mobs also solidified their positions on the Karawal Nagar road on February 24. A border of sorts between the two was drawn near Tahir Hussain’s house — it was a jamun tree outside Gali Number 4 in Khajuri Khas. Over the next two days, the border moved back and forth as the two mobs took turns to overpower each other.
To the right of the jamun tree, towards Chand Bagh, stood the Muslim mob. The area to its left, leading to Karawal Nagar, was taken over by the Hindus. The lane where Ankit lives falls in the latter territory. His neighbours confirmed to Newslaundry that Hindus were pelting stones at Muslims from outside his lane.
“The Muslims were on the road till the Jamun tree, the Hindus were ahead of the tree. Both groups were also on the terraces,” says Ram Kumar, who lives in a street in Moonga Nagar, opposite Tahir Hussain’s house. This version was corroborated by shopkeepers and other residents of Khajuri Khas and Moonga Nagar.
“They [Muslims] feared that we might kill them, and we feared that they might kill us. So, they fought a pitched battle on this road,” said the owner of Pal Communications, a shop right outside Ankit’s lane. “The Hindus were pelting stones from outside this shop, and the Muslims did the same from behind the jamun tree.”
So, if Ankit’s brother Ankur was at his home or outside his street on February 25, he could have heard men carrying rods and stones chanting “Jai Shri Ram”. Newslaundry also accessed amateur videos that show this. It does not, however, prove that this mob murdered his brother.
The battle of stones and fire was not only fought on the streets, but on the terraces too.
In Gali Number 5 in Moonga Nagar, Muslims climbed over the rooftops of houses on one side of the street, and Hindus took charge on rooftops on the other side. Then, they pelted stones and petrol bombs at each other.
Gokul Chandra Sharma, the priest at the lane’s Shiv Mandir, lives on the terrace of the temple. He told Newslaundry that his clothes and furniture caught fire during the terrace clashes.
“The mobs did not attack the temple, but some of my possessions on the terrace perished,” he said. “I had locked my family [in my house] that day and I later sent them away from here.”
On the Muslim side, a video shot outside Hussain’s house was posted on Facebook on February 29. It shows the two mobs going at each other from the terraces and the streets.
Tahir Hussain’s terrace was not the only one with a mob that day, though locals said it definitely had more miscreants than any other house in the area — and not just on the terrace, but also inside his house.
A video posted on Twitter by journalist Rahul Pandita on February 26 showed a Muslim mob atop and below Hussain’s house, throwing stones and petrol bombs. The video did not pan to the right, omitting the Hindu mobs that were also retaliating 100 metres away. The stone-pelting from other terraces also did not appear in Pandita’s video.
The BJP IT cell latched on to the video and created a circulation stampede online — reducing the nightmarish clash to the actions of a Muslim mob from Hussain’s house.
Pandita, who announced on Twitter that he spent the whole of February 26 on the ground, did not draw out this context in his report in Open magazine.
A bakery, an e-rickshaw repair outlet, a tea shop, a drug store, and a house — all owned by Hindus — were among the properties torched by the Muslim mob.
The drug store torched outside Gali Number 4 in Khajuri Khas was owned by Sanjay Goel, 45. It stands right beside Hussain’s house. “I lost Rs 15 lakh worth of property. It was destroyed by the Muslim mob around 4 pm on February 24,” he told Newslaundry.
Despite this, there are Hindu properties in Chand Bagh at the doorstep of where the Muslim mob stood that remain untouched. “Our Muslim brothers saved our shops. We were afraid that it would be torched but our neighbours, who have known us for years, intervened,” said Sanjeev Jain, who owns Jain Garments in Chand Bagh.
This was hardly the case on the other side. Every Muslim establishment this reporter came across beyond the jamun tree was entirely wrecked by the Hindu mob. A mattress shop in Moonga Nagar, opposite Hussain’s house, was one of the many that was looted and burned.
“The man who owns this building is a Hindu, but the shop is run by a Muslim man called Irshad. He is a very good man. I wish they had spared it,” said Rajesh Gupta, who owns the grocery store next door. “It was ransacked around 4 pm on February 24 when Gujjars and Bajrang Dal men from Karawal Nagar side came and targeted Muslim shops.”
A video accessed by Newslaundry shows dozens of men breaking into Irshad’s shop and carrying away mattresses.
One of the most abject sights here is a cooler shop owned by Pappu Coolerwala, 48, in Moonga Nagar.
“My shop was wrecked by a Hindu mob of 70-80 men. They destroyed everything. I have incurred a loss of Rs 25 lakh,” Pappu told me. “All the badly dented, burnt coolers you see on this road are from my shop. It is the stocking season before summer and I was going to open soon.”
A furniture shop, an electronic store, and a medical shop owned by Muslims were also gutted. I visited half a dozen other Muslim properties along this road that met a similar fate.
Despite the running commentary on Ankit Sharma’s gruesome death on television and Twitter, the details of his murder remain muddled. The discrepancies in-ground reports on the most elementary facts prove this.
Most importantly, most journalists did not reconstruct the setting within which the crime occurred — especially how two mobs bayed for each other’s blood, and that a Hindu mob was present outside Ankit’s street, looting and sacking Muslim properties.
This does not automatically mean that Ankit was murdered by this mob, but the failure to bring out this context allowed a reductionist version of events to reach viewers. This was further contorted when the BJP IT cell ran an effective online campaign on Ankit’s death, chiefly meant to paint AAP councilor Tahir Hussain’s as the “mastermind” of the riot.
The vacuum that the Indian mainstream media’s narrow reportage created has allowed the state to intervene and weave its own stories — be it Prasar Bharati chasing Wall Street Journal or the Delhi police’s investigation into Ankit’s murder. One is a not-so-reliable broadcast wing of the Indian state, and the other an institution battling serious charges of apathy and collusion.