Coming from a person who had suffered a string of business losses, was buried under debt, and couldn’t stay sober for long, the idea sounded slightly fanciful to his friend. It sounded like the routine desire that people voice at least once in their lifetimes. But it did not, to Chandulal (name changed), sound anything like a pledge.
Having brutally murdered a Muslim for his religion and recorded it on a widely shared video a fortnight ago, Shambhulal has since the last fortnight not only created a name for himself, he has created a communal fissure in Rajasthan the likes of which the state hasn’t seen in decades.
Protest marches by Muslims and counter protest marches by far right Hindu groups have been held in immediate succession, violently in the latter case. Reactionary Hindu protests have broken out in various cities across Rajasthan, including Kota, Udaipur, Bhilwara and in the state capital Jaipur.
With state assembly elections only a few months away, more such marches are being planned. Social campaigns are busy mobilising people in Regar’s name.
Some political Hindu outfits have meanwhile promised to take care of the educational expenses of Regar’s children, others have assured his family free rations and groceries for a year. Those close to Regar’s family say that privately some lawyers have also volunteered to fight Regar’s case pro bono. And there are already strong rumours that Regar will fight as an independent candidate in the assembly elections, from jail.“Ye chunaavi varsh hai. Agar chunaav jeetna hai to Hindutva ko laana hi hoga aur Hindutva ko leke aaye to Shambhu ke samarthan mein utarna hi hoga [This is an election year. If we have to win the elections we will have to bring in Hindutva and if we do that then we will have to support Shambhulal Regar],” said a senior member of Bajrang Sena, a right wing Hindu group.
No one in Rajsamand knows for sure why the mild-mannered, easy-go-lucky, yoga practicing, father of three, brutally murdered a Muslim migrant labourer on video.
“I have spent 8 years with him. Not once have I seen him angry. He loved children. He would never allow anyone to raise their hand at a child nor shout at them. For the last few years he would go to the nearby lake and practice Yoga, taking the kids along. They loved him,” said Sohan a friend.
Shambhulal had tattooed his daughter, suffering from a mental illness, holding the globe, on his chest. His brother Lokesh points to the tattoo as a proof of Shambhulal’s love for children.
So what turned him into the dreadful killer?
His friends claim Shambhulal was under threat from the Muslim labourer from whom he ‘rescued’ a Hindu girl. They also point out that he was in a debt of Rs 2 lakh, which is not a small amount for someone like him who came from a poor Dalit family, all of whose 15 members lived in a very small house in a very humble locality.
Some other things about him stand out. For instance, the fact that Shambhulal was quite ambitious.
Rajsamand and other small towns around Udaipur have made name for themselves from the flourishing marble business. Regar too wanted to get rich trading in marble. So he went first to Gurgaon, 15 years ago, where his business partner duped him and then to Anand, Gujarat, where again he lost all his money. Chandulal, his friend and disciple, followed him everywhere.
Shambhulal also was a spendthrift.
“He wanted to enjoy himself. So we went to all the big cities. We also went to Delhi and visited the good bars there. Shambhuji always used to say ‘enjoy yourself because you only live once’.”
Both eventually got tired and bored of their lifestyles. They returned to Rajsamand where Shambhulal tried to get a loan to start a new business. No bank approved. All this while his creditors were closing in. So Shambhu decided to sell a property in his mother’s name.
He was quite hungry for fame.
Chandulal, to whom Regar boasted of doing something big, was the one who first introduced Regar to social media. “It was about one and a half years ago. Internet prices had dropped quite drastically. We used to spend most of our time watching videos on the internet. On Shambhuji’s request I opened his Facebook account, showed him how to browse Youtube and connected him with WhatsApp.”
Chandulal began working at his brother’s furniture shop, but just like Shambhulal, felt restless all the time.
“So it happened one fine day. I asked Shambhuji, who is also my guru, what do you think will we do in our lives? We are nobodies in this world, coming from a place whose name many haven’t heard. That’s when he talked about doing something memorable and look how the world knows him now,” Chandulal said beaming with pride.
At the same time he was warming up to the idea of Hindutva.
“Some time after he started watching different videos, and he was mostly interested in news, he began talking about Hindutva. He didn’t talk much except saying that we have to do something about it soon. He also said that he didn’t trust any of the existing Hindu outfits. He wanted to do something ‘independently’.”
It didn’t take him long. On the morning of December 6 — a day that is celebrated by extremist Hindu groups to commemorate the demolition of Babri Masjid — sometime between 11:30 and 12, Shambhulal Regar brutally murdered Afrazul. His 13 years old nephew recorded the entire episode on phone.
According to a senior police officer, Regar arrived at the spot a day earlier with his nephew to rehearse the sequence. His family members say that both had wholesome dinner the previous night, the usual breakfast on the fateful morning, between which both slept peacefully. After his arrest, Regar went on to claim that he killed the wrong Muslim. According to some friends he expressed remorse on finding out the actual identity of his victim.
While the body of his victim — Mohammed Afrazaul — was still smouldering, the video of the murder started appearing on local Rajsamand WhatsApp groups. The motive of the murder wasn’t immediately clear. By evening local television channels started showing a blurred footage of the video. Few hours later other videos, in which Regar talked about his motives, also appeared. The brutal murder turned out to be a communal hate crime. The WhatsApp videos spread like a wildfire throughout the country. Both Shambhulal Regar and Rajsamand gained instant and widespread notoriety.
Among many far right Hindu groups he’s since become a legend for some. A bit like Mumtaz Qadri, who after shooting down the man he was supposed to protect — Salmaan Taseer — became a hero for Pakistan’s Islamists.
Extremist outfits like Bajrang Dal have been taking out protest marches in his support, songs have been composed in his praise, people have replaced their own display pictures on social media with those of Shambhulal.
A BJP state office bearer, who did not want to be named, boasted about having swapped his WhatsApp display picture with that of Shambhulal’s.Shambhulal’s friends, many of who were rounded up by police and interrogated for days, express themselves on condition of anonymity. “Usne hamare andar sote hue Hindutva ko jagaya hai [He has awakened the sleeping Hindutva in us],” said Bhupesh [name changed], going on to peddle conspiracy theories like ‘Love Jihad’, ‘Land Jihad’ and so on.
At what time did they find out these phenomena?
“Only recently.” After this he refused to entertain the subject anymore.Another friend of Shambhulal (contrary to the popular belief he seemed to be very friendly and quite social) said this about his friend: “Humko to garv hai uspe. Ismein koi sharm ki baat nahi. Love jihad ka matter hai. Hamare mohalle mein hi agar ek do case hai to socho pure Bharat mein kitne case honge. Unke pure samaj mein dar bitha diya hai usne. Ye ek chetaavani hai. [We’re proud of him. What’s there to be ashamed of? It’s an issue of ‘Love Jihad’. If there have been a couple of cases in our street, imagine how many cases must there be in the whole country. Their community is scared now. This [murder] is a warning].”