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Kid gloves for shooter, a pattern emerges

Kid gloves for shooter, a pattern emerges

The indulgent focus on the age of the gunman who describes himself as “Rambhakt Gopal” and the overdrive to mask his identity and face citing juvenile justice rules are overshadowing grave questions thrown up by the shooting near Jamia Millia Islamia on Thursday.

⚫ Who funded “Rambhakt Gopal” so that the purported juvenile could pay Rs 10,000 (far more than the so-called market price) to get hold of a country-made gun in Noida, which falls in Uttar Pradesh but is a part of Delhi for all practical purposes?

⚫ The Class XII student who hails from Uttar Pradesh apparently has no means of income and his parents have apparently said they did not give him the money. Who gave him the money then?

⚫ The youth apparently bought the gun from the grey market near the capital city. Is it literally child’s play to get hold of a gun so near the most guarded city in the country and stroll around undetected carrying such a firearm? If so, what does it say of law and order under Union home minister Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister who specialises on crushing protests but cannot keep arms away from “children”?

⚫ “Rambhakt Gopal” has allegedly told police he attended “awareness programmes” (euphemism for indoctrination and brain-washing sessions) by a sword arm of the Hindutva brigade. The organisation has promptly denied any association with the “Rambhakt”.

⚫ The inordinate stress on the age of the shooter cloaks another detail. His purported mark sheet and Aadhaar card — both of which were miraculously accessed on short notice by the police who had stood as spectators when he was taking aim at the students protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) — show his date of birth as April 8, 2002.

That means he was a little over two months — or 69 days -— short of the adulthood age of 18 when the crime took place. An ossification test will now be conducted to determine if the shooter is a juvenile.

For heinous crimes, though, a suspect aged above 16 can be treated as an adult.

If the offence carries the punishment of at least seven years in prison (the shooter’s crime does), the Juvenile Justice Board will consider three criteria to determine whether the act falls in the heinous category: whether the accused has the mental and physical capacity to commit such an offence; whether the accused has the ability to understand its consequences; and the circumstances in which the offence was committed. A designated children’s court will take the final decision.

⚫ The police have so far charged the shooter with only attempted murder. But several anti-CAA protesters have been charged with sedition merely for making speeches or leading marches.

The champions of nationalism have not called the shooter a “terrorist” yet -– a label affixed blindly when suspects from the minority community are picked up.

*A pattern –– and an ominous turn — appears to be emerging: induct someone old enough to handle lethal weapons but young enough to remain under the juvenile ceiling, brainwash him, bankroll him and set him loose with a heinous objective; cite juvenile laws to protect his identity, condemn his act and issue a disclaimer.

The gunman has told investigators that he procured the country-made pistol from Noida two days before the crime, Delhi police sources said.

“During questioning, he claimed that he bought the firearm for Rs 10,000 from a gang operating in Noida but he refused to disclose from where he got the money. It is still not clear why he paid Rs 10,000 for such a pistol, which is usually priced between Rs 2,500 and Rs 4,000 in the grey market in Uttar Pradesh and the National Capital Region (NCR),” said an officer.

“We spoke to his family members and they said they did not pay him any money,” the officer added.

The shooter has apparently told the police that he actually planned to target Shaheen Bagh, the epicentre of the protests. “As he was new to the area, he could not locate the protest site. By coincidence, he saw a large number of students marching in the area, pulled out his gun and fired,” the officer said.

He told investigators that he had become a member of the Bajrang Dal a year and a half ago. “He used to listen to speeches online and shared offensive posts. In November 2019, he had also participated in several awareness programmes in Jewar organised by the Bajrang Dal,” said the officer.

The Bajrang Dal denied any link. “The boy is neither a primary member of the Bajrang Dal nor was he entrusted with any responsibility by the organisation. Violence, committed by anyone, is not correct. We condemn his act and it was an unfortunate incident,” Praveen Bhati, co-convener of the Bajrang Dal’s western Uttar Pradesh unit, said.

The gunman has told the police that no one incited him to go and fire at the protesters.

“He told us how he was seething with anger after reading so many posts and listening to speeches in favour of the CAA on social media for the past few weeks. He said the protesters at Shaheen Bagh were against India as they were protesting against the Indian law and that’s why he decided to teach the deshdrohis (anti-national people) a lesson. So far he has not revealed any name who could have incited him to fire at the protesters,” an officer said.

Over the past few years, Hindutva outfits have been organising awareness programmes regularly in several parts of Uttar Pradesh and have launched an “Akhand Bharat” drive to motivate youths.

“The idea behind such a drive is to motivate youths and educate them about the erstwhile undivided India and ensure that there is no further division on any ground,” said an organiser of one such programme in Uttar Pradesh.

During these awareness programmes, the youths are usually taught about the rich history of India and administered an oath to protect the country from further division, he said.

The police said the gunman was being treated as a “juvenile” now. He was produced before the Juvenile Justice Board, which remanded him in protective custody for 14 days.

“We have sought permission from the board to subject him to an ossification test to verify his age,” an officer said.

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