On June 28, Mohammad Riyaz Attari shared four videos and a voice note on a WhatsApp group in Udaipur.
Two of the videos have been widely shared on social media by now. They were recorded on June 28 itself, shortly after Riyaz and another Udaipur resident, Ghouse Mohammad, murdered Kanhaiya Lal, a tailor in the city. The first video shows them attacking and killing Kanhaiya Lal in his shop. The second shows the two men, both in their 30s, claiming responsibility for the crime as they brandish the cleavers used in the murder.
Riyaz also shared a third video, apparently recorded days before the incident, where he poses with what appear to be the same cleavers.
A fourth clip was shared minutes later. “I am Mohammad Riyaz from Kanchipur in Udaipur,” he says in the fourth video. “I am making this video on Friday, June 17.” He goes on to say that he will ensure the video goes viral on the day he kills the person who offended the Prophet Muhammad.
This is presumably a reference to Kanhaiya Lal, who had posted on social media supporting the comments made against the Prophet by former Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Nupur Sharma. Sharma’s comments, made on prime time television on May 26, had gone viral, triggering communal tensions and protests across the country.
Lal had been arrested on June 10 for social media posts supporting Sharma – another Udaipur resident had filed a police complaint against him for allegedly “hurting religious sentiments”. When Lal was released a day later, he reportedly started receiving death threats for his comments.
It is not yet clear if Riyaz threatened him directly. But in the video recorded on June 17, he rebukes other Muslims for not acting against those who offended the Prophet. “Do not worry about what will happen to your family or work,” he says in the video. “I also have a family. I also have a job, but I have no worries about it.”
Riyaz adds that if he is killed, he will go to paradise, and if he is not, he may go to jail, but he is fine with that too.
Finally, he taunts the “dadas” of Udaipur for not acting the same way. He holds up a bunch of green bangles. “You do not have the guts to do it, so wear these bangles,” says Attari, referring to the popular notion that men wearing bangles have been emasculated.
As other members frantically started leaving the WhatsApp group after the videos surfaced on it, Riyaz sent a final voice note at 3.24 pm on June 28: “Riyaz Attari has cut the head of the one who offended. Our brother Ghouse Mohammad was also with me. Keep me in your prayers.”
About five hours later, the two men were held by the Rajasthan Police as they tried to flee Udaipur on a bike.
The erratic tenant
The two men lived in parallel lanes in Khanjipir, a Muslim-majority enclave in Udaipur. While Ghouse’s family built their own home about 30 years ago, Riyaz has been a tenant in a number of flats in the neighbourhood. Former landlords complain he often defaulted on rent.
Mohammad Umar, landlord of Riyaz’s current accommodation, said he had failed to pay rent for the 15-odd days he had stayed there with his family. Four months earlier, Riyaz had been asked to leave the ground floor room he rented in the house of Syed Fayyaz Hussain, a taxi driver in his 40s. But rent was not the problem there.
“His attitude was odd,” said Hussain. “He would sit outside with a few people, smoke bidis and chew tobacco and spit.” But even that was not the main problem.
“He was a deeply religious man and would keep telling me that women must be under purdah and other such things,” said Hussain. “I did not like his comments. I am just not as religious as he is.”
Hussain added he had to think of his daughter-in-law, who lived in the same building. “I was not comfortable seeing him sitting with his friends and discussing these things out loud,” he recalled. “He [Riyaz] spoke about Islam a lot, as if he knew it all.”
However, neighbours cannot recall any acts of violence before the incident on June 28. “It was only because of what that woman [Nupur Sharma] said that he got so upset,” said 52-year-old Anju Mahara, who had rented out rooms to Riyaz for a while. He still owes her six months of rent.
Riyaz, who has two children, was employed at a local welding workshop. It was at this workshop that Riyaz made the cleavers a few months ago, said a local resident who did not want to be named. The police also said Riyaz made the cleavers used for the murder at the workshop.
His employers were unreachable on the phone.
The good neighbour
While Riyaz has a reputation for being unreliable, Ghouse Mohammad was liked and respected in the locality. Hussain, for one, was shocked to see him in the video with Riyaz. “He was the simplest of men,” Hussain said. “I do not know how he got involved.”
One of Ghouse’s neighbours, who did not want to be identified, was similarly appalled. “We both came to this area together and built our houses together,” said the woman, who is in her 40s. “The family was simple, religious. His father was broken when the news came. He kept asking, why did this have to happen?”
Pinky Khan, another neighbour, teared up while talking about Ghouse. He had been like a brother, she said. According to her, Ghouse had a bachelor of commerce degree and was also doing a masters in Urdu through distance learning.
Twenty six-year-old Aaqib Khan, another neighbour, remembered Ghouse as a courteous person who always greeted people as he passed. “He never missed namaz and also taught the Quran to children in the Gosiya mosque,” said Aaqib Khan. The mosque is a few minutes’ walk from Ghouse’s home.
According to Aaqib Khan, Ghouse refused to teach girls above 12 in these classes – the rules of purdah would have to apply to them.
Children he taught at the mosque said they had had daily classes till June 27, the day before the murder. They remember him as a polite, punctual teacher who never missed a class.
Ghouse also has two children. To make a living, he helped his father at a grocery store owned by the family. Earlier, he had been a collection agent for a scheme offered by an investment agency. The scheme later fell apart. But local residents did not seem to blame him. “We never held a grudge against him,” said a neighbour who did not want to be identified. “The [investment agency] people scammed him, he lost money, too.”
The police and state authorities have pointed to Ghouse’s alleged links with the Pakistan-based Dawat-e-Islami, a proselytising Sunni organisation, to suggest that there may be a larger conspiracy behind the crime. However, the Indian Dawat-e-Islami is a breakaway group that has no organisational ties to the Pakistan-based organisation.
Rajasthan Director General of Police ML Lather told reporters that Ghouse had visited the Dawat-e-Islami office in Karachi in 2014. Rajasthan Minister of State (Home) Rajendra Yadav, told journalists that Ghouse had spent 45 days in Pakistan that year, and between 2018 and 2019, he travelled to someArab countries and to Nepal. “For the last two-three years he was making calls to eight-10 phone numbers of Pakistan,” he said.
Ghouse’s neighbours corroborated the claim that he visited Pakistan and Arab countries. “Such travels happen to learn about Islam,” said Pinky Khan. She added that at least one of his trips to the Gulf was for the Haj.
A city on edge
Attari and Ghouse were formally arrested on June 29 and booked for a range of offences, from murder and outraging religious beliefs to conspiracy and terror. They were also charged under the stringent anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. On June 30, they were transferred to 14 days of judicial remand and the National Investigation Agency is expected to ask for extended custody to investigate the case further.
Poll-bound Rajasthan is on edge. Across the state, mobile internet connections have been blocked and Section 144, which prohibits large gatherings, is in place. However, when Kanhaiya Lal’s funeral was held on June 29, a large crowd gathered and chanted slogans like, “Kanhaiya hum sharminda hai, tere katil zinda hai” – Kanhaiya we are embarrassed that your murderers are still alive.
When they reached the cremation grounds amid heavy security, a signboard in the nearby Muslim burial ground was vandalised. The same day, tyres were burned in Debari, about 15 kilometres away from where the killing took place. On June 30, when Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot visited Lal’s family and announced a compensation of Rs 50 lakh, stones were allegedly hurled at security forces deployed close to the collector’s office. Members of various Hindutva groups had been headed there with a petition demanding death penalty for the killers and president’s rule in Rajasthan, among other things.
In Khanjipir, where Ghouse and Riyaz live, everyone is following the curfew-like restrictions but anger against Nupur Sharma’s statements still runs high.
Residents of Khanjipir repeatedly asked the same question: why has Sharma not faced police action for her comments against the Prophet? The BJP spokesperson was suspended from the party and Naveen Jindal, another spokesperson who made similar statements on social media, was expelled. But Sharma, who has several FIRs against her, continues to evade arrest.
“All of this has started from there,” said Pinky Khan. “All of this. Why is she underground and not arrested yet?”