A death is what it took the police administration in Muzzaffarnagar to wake up to the security concerns of the Gupta family, whose family members have been hiding for a year fearing for their lives after giving statements against self-styled godman Asaram Bapu. Asaram has been accused of raping two women at his Surat ashram.
Akhil Gupta (35), a key witness in the rape case, was shot dead with a 12mm pistol on Sunday at 7:45 pm near Mahalakshmi Enclave on Jaansath Road when Gupta was returning home from his dairy at Meenakshi Chowk.
Gupta is the second key witness in the case who was killed by unknown assailants. But the Gupta family has no time to mourn. The safety of their daughter-in-law, Varsha (32), another witness in the case, is now their main concern. Both Akhil and Varsha had given statements against Asaram in October 2013.
Six months ago, Amrut Prajapati, another witness in the case, was shot dead in Surat.
Varsha had joined Asaram’s ashram about 10 years ago and married Akhil in 2008 with Asaram’s blessings. They have two kids – of age 4 and 1.5 years. Though Rohit Gupta, elder brother of Akhil, says that they have “full confidence in the legal process of the country,” the family is so scared that they are not even talking to the police or aiding the investigation.
After the incident, two guards have been posted near Gupta’s house for Varsha’s protection but a close friend of Akhil, Vijay Saini, said that the Gupta household feel that it was just a “half-hearted effort by the police and it was too late now.”
After Akhil and Varsha gave their statements to the Gujarat police in October 2013, the Gujarat DGP wrote a letter to the SSP of Muzaffarnagar, asking that the couple be provided security.
“Akhil had been informed of the letter but he told me that he will not go begging to the police to ask for protection. The police should give protection on its own. The letter went unheeded and the family never got any security,” said Saini. Rohit Gupta, who works as a chemical engineer in Muscat, Oman, arrived on Monday morning and has been driving the media away from the house.
Saini says that the Guptas were residents of Ubupura, but after giving the statements, Akhil shifted his residence to Geeta Enclave last year, which was on the city fringes. He used to maintain a low profile. According to shop owners near Akhil’s dairy, he was a man who spoke less and always helped others. They said that his only friend in the locality was Sanjeev Singhal, another businessman whose shop is near Akhil’s dairy. Singhal said Akhil would only speak of business affairs with him and kept his personal life to himself. Earlier, he used to work till late hours, but after his visit to Gujarat to give the statement to the police, he would leave right on time.
“He was always worried about the safety of his family. He tried to be invisible but he failed at last. Now the family is scared about Varsha, who, too, is witness. Both Akhil and Varsha were about to appear in court regarding the case soon,” says Saini.