- Gita Pandey
- BBC News – Delhi
Om Prakash, also known as Pasha, is on the list of “most wanted criminals” by police in the northern Indian state of Haryana.
The former Indian army employee, wanted for murder and robbery, hid for thirty years, but was in full view of the community in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh.
There, Pasha gained a whole new life, new official documents, and married a woman from that region and had three children.
Earlier this week, his happy journey ended when the 65-year-old was arrested by police at his home in a slum in Ghaziabad.
Police say Om Prakash did many professions until his arrest. He worked as a truck driver, toured nearby villages as a member of a band performing songs on religious occasions, and even acted in 28 low-cost local films.
Om Prakash is currently in detention and has not commented on the accusations against him, but Assistant Inspector Vivek Kumar of the Haryana Special Task Force, who was part of the team that arrested him, told the BBC that Om Prakash blames his partner for the murder that took place in Haryana. 1992.
Two days after Om Parakash made the headlines, I tried to reach out to his family to hear the story from their side and what they might say about his defense.
In the slum of Harbans Nagar, with its lanes, narrow shantytowns and unsorted house numbers, it took three and a half hours to track them down.
She met his wife Rajkumari, who married him 25 years ago, and two of his three children: a 21-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter.
From under the bed, Rajkumari pulled out an Indian newspaper detailing the accusations against her husband saying that they are still in shock/that they do not know about his “alleged criminal past” and that they are trying to understand what is going on around them.
But if you went there in search of the family to hear what could be said for Om Parakash’s defence, you would be disappointed, as his wife has nothing to say in his favour, except that she accuses him of treason.
“I married him in 1997 without knowing that he is married and has a family in Haryana,” says Rajkumari.
Who is Om Parakash and what is his charge?
“Om Parakash worked as a truck driver for 12 years in the Indian Army’s Signal Corps, before being dismissed in 1988 for being absent for four years,” says Kumar, a resident of Narayna village in Haryana’s Panipat district.
He adds, “Prakash committed many crimes even before the murder. He allegedly stole a car in 1986. Four years later, he stole a motorcycle and a sewing machine. The crimes took place in different areas, and according to the police, he was arrested and released on bail.”
In January 1992, Kumar said Om Parakash and another person had attempted to rob a man who was traveling on a bicycle.
“When the man resisted, they stabbed him and fled as a group of villagers rushed towards them, leaving the victim’s bike behind, said Kumar, and the second man who was with him, who spent about eight years in prison before being released on bail, was arrested.
But Om Parakash disappeared and the case was forgotten, as the police declared him a “to-be criminal”.
Police say Om Parakash told them after his arrest that he lived in temples in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, in the first year after the alleged murder.
A year later, he returned to northern India, but instead of returning to his home country, he settled 180 kilometers away in Ghaziabad, where he found a job as a truck driver.
Rajkumari, who married him in 1997, says he is known locally as “Bajrangi Bali” and after running a store in the 1990s that sells and lends videos and films, he goes by the name Fuji Tao – the soldier’s uncle – in reference to his years in the army.
Since 2007 he has also been doing small roles in local Hindi-language films, in one of which he played the village mayor, a villain and even a policeman, speaking in conversations and caring for songs. One of the films he starred in has been viewed 7.6 million times on YouTube. Clips from the movie also achieved several million views.
“He got a whole new set of official documents, like the voting card,” says Kumar.
But the police say Om Parakash made a terrible mistake, as all his new documents contained his name and his father’s real name.
Police agree that Om Parakash’s new family or neighbors have no idea about his “criminal past”.
Rajkumari says she realized after their marriage that Om Parakash was hiding something, so he took her to Narina village and introduced her to his brother and his family, telling her that they are his friends.
A few years later, she says, “I found out about his previous marriage when his first wife appeared one day and caused a disturbance outside our house.”
“That’s when I and all our neighbors learned that he had another life: a wife and a son he had hidden… We felt betrayed.”
She says that their marriage was marked by his long absence, which she attributed to his long-distance truck driver work, but now she insists that the reason for that absence was his visit to his first family.
Their relationship deteriorated, the couple quarreled regularly, and in 2007, he disappeared again. “I got fed up with him and broke up with him, went to a local government center and signed a written pledge that I had nothing to do with him anymore, but he came back after seven years and has been back to us ever since.”
His 14-year-old daughter adds: “He calls us unwelcome nicknames, yet we fed him out of pity because he is our father and he is old.”
Rajkumari says that on one occasion, Haryana police arrested him in a case of theft.
“He spent six to seven months in prison then, but he came back and told us he was acquitted of all charges,” she says.
Despite his arrest, he remained on the list of fugitives in the murder case because police records are mostly non-digital and it is not uncommon for police in different areas to talk to each other or share intelligence with each other.
How was he tracked down and arrested?
In 2020, a year after Haryana formed a task force to primarily look into cases of organized crime, drug confiscation, terrorism and those involving cross-border activities, the Om Parakash case was reopened.
The authorities put him on a “wanted” list and announced a reward of 25,000 rupees ($315) for information leading to his arrest.
In the past, we have seen cases where criminals who have been on the run for a very long time, sometimes decades, have been arrested.
But Emil Bhatnagar, a prominent journalist for the Indian Express who has spent years in Ghaziabad and has been interested in crime stories, says: “The police only reopen forgotten cases when they are related to terrorism or serial murders or if they receive a tip-off.”
“It is not entirely clear why the authorities decided to re-investigate this case.”
But two months ago, the police visited Narayna village and “spoke to people in their fifties and sixties, who might have information about Om Parakash”.
This is where they got the first leads, that Om Parakash came to this village about two decades ago and that he may be residing somewhere in Uttar Pradesh.
On their second trip, they found a phone number registered to Om Parakash and were finally able to trace his new address.
“The police monitored the area for a week and identified his house. They say they also found it difficult to identify because they only had one picture from 30 years ago and now it looks completely different.”
“We wanted to make sure we track down the wanted man,” Kumar said.
He added, “The operation was carried out in complete secrecy because we were concerned that any mistake would lead to his escape for another thirty years.”
What happened next?
The arrest of a longtime fugitive is seen as a victory for the task force, but Bhantagar says the real hard work for the police begins now.
“They have to prove in court that they arrested the wanted man, and the courts will have to study in depth whether he is the wanted man and whether he committed the crime of which he is accused?
Given that the crime took place decades ago, Bhatnagar says, the quality of the evidence will also be under scrutiny.
The declining and sometimes fading of evidence is a sensitive issue in criminal cases. It will be an arduous task for the police and the public prosecution to build a court case.”
Before I left her residence I asked Rajkumari if she wanted to meet him or not. She said, “The police ask us to present our IDs if we want to meet him, but I don’t want to do that. It’s no use.”
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