When Manish Khari, a Class 12 student in Greater Noida, went for a walk on Friday evening and didn’t come home, his relatives and neighbours set out to look for him. After someone claimed that the boy had last been seen with five Nigerian students who lived two doors away, the crowd barged into the house. Khari wasn’t there. But it set off a horrifying rumour: that the Nigerians had eaten up the young man.
As it turned out, Khari returned to his home in NSG Black Cat Enclave a short while later, though in a disoriented condition. But that didn’t let the Nigerian students off the hook. Khari died on Saturday, seemingly of a drug overdose, leading his family to insist that the police file murder charges against the Nigerian students.
On Sunday, scores of African students participated in a demonstration at Kasna police station in Greater Noida to protest the murder charges.
“How can someone come up with such inhuman allegations?” asked Najib Hamisu Umar, 29, a Nigerian who is pursuing a PhD in India. “I have lived in Russia and Germany but never been through such trauma. The day I leave India, I shall never come back.”
Sujata Singh, Superintendent of Police (Greater Noida-Rural), said that the five Nigerians, who study at the Noida International University, had been interrogated and booked for murder. But despite the severity of the charges, the students were allowed to go on Sunday.
“They had to be released as there is no evidence against them,” Singh said.
Khari goes missing
The bizarre episode is playing out in a Greater Noida township, about 40 km from Delhi. The NSG Black Cat Enclave, where 19-year-old Manish Khari lived with his parents in a rented house, is a colony of independent houses that are owned by members of the special forces. Khari’s father, Kripal Khari, is a property dealer. About 300 families live in the enclave.
At around 7 pm on Friday, Khari had an early dinner and set out for a walk. When he failed to return, his family and other residents of the enclave set out to search for him.
Some residents claimed that Khari had been seen with their Nigerian neighbours. The police are yet to verify this claim. The CCTV cameras in the area were of no help because they were not working.
When the crowd entered the home of the Nigerians, only two of the five occupants were present. Failing to find Khari there, the crowd concluded that the Nigerians had killed and cannibalised the teenager.
The police were eventually called. They took the two Nigerian men into preventive custody, fearing that the mob would harm them. All the while, the mob kept insisting that they should be allowed to interrogate the Nigerian students.
Khari returns, dies
Amidst the drama, Khari returned to the enclave on Saturday morning. But he seemed out of sorts.
“He looked shocked,” said one of Khari’s neighbourhood friends who did not wish to be identified. “There were injuries on his foot and he barely could recognise anyone.”
Around an hour after Khari had been escorted home, his condition deteriorated. He complained of heart palpitations and started to vomit. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, and then referred to another, where he died.
After Khari was declared dead, the police – who were unable to speak to the young man after his return – registered a First Information Report against the Nigerian occupants of the neigbouring house on the basis of a complaint by Khari’s parents. Identified as Usman Abdul Qadir, Mohammad Amir, Saeed Kabir, Abdul Usman, Saeed Abu Waqar, they were booked under charges of murder and causing hurt by means of any poisonous substance with the intent to commit an offence.
On Sunday, security had been beefed up at the NSG Black Cat Enclave. Visitors were being asked to meet the enclave management in order to enter. The Kharis had left for their village to conduct their son’s last rites. The house the Nigerian students rented was also vacant.
A group of locals explained how they had come to the conclusion that the Nigerian students were cannibals. They said that a friend of one of the students had visited the enclave on Friday, and that they recovered a hacksaw blade from the visitor’s car. The locals also claimed that the police had seized a variety of drugs from the five students.
However, the police have dismissed both allegations. “We have recovered no such thing from the possession of the suspects,” said Sujata Singh. “We cannot comment much on the case at this stage as the final postmortem report is yet to arrive.”
Several locals also claimed to have spoken to Khari after he returned on Saturday. They claimed that Khari had been kidnapped by a dark-skinned person who forced him to inhale a substance that made him pass out. When he woke, they said, he found himself lying in the green belt close to the Yamuna Expressway.
Samuel Abiye Jack, the president of the Association of African Students in India said that the his group’s primary demand was that the police conduct a fair investigation. It also wanted the police to lodge a case against local residents who have made the allegations against the Nigerian students. The students have been moved to an undisclosed location for their safety.