On March 2, the Uttar Pradesh Police issued a press release stating that the woman abducted from Agra on February 23 was recovered safely from New Delhi’s Tilak Nagar. “The woman had been in contact with Divyanshu from Gwalior for a year and the two used to communicate via phone calls. Divyanshu hired a car and travelled to Delhi on February 23. He instructed the girl to wear a burqa and with the help of his associate Rinku, took her away. Rinku wore a black cap and a Pathani suit to hide his identity,” the press release said.

An article in Hindi daily Hindustan stated that the woman reportedly hatched this plot to teach Mehtab Rana a lesson. In 2018, she had filed a rape and abduction case against Mehtab, in which he was sentenced to a year in prison. In 2019, he was on parole and was granted bail. On March 3, The Indian Express reported that as per the woman, Mehtab was not involved in the recent abduction case even as his wife and two sisters-in-law were arrested on kidnapping charges two days earlier. A March 4 report in The Indian Express stated that the police withdrew the abduction case against Mehtab and his family. It quoted the girl as saying that she had conspired to implicate Mehtab as he was threatening her to change her statement in the 2018 case. However, his wife and two sisters-in-law are still in custody. The police have accused them of aiding and abetting in the two-year-old matter.

Agra Police also released a video where they briefed the media on the incident.

The police issued the following statement on February 26 based on CCTV footage, “In 2018, the victim was kidnapped by this individual. While retrieving the victim, the accused was sent to jail. The victim is reported to have been captured by the same accused on February 23.”

Case given communal angle due to police’s irresponsibility

Several media outlets broadcasted a CCTV clip of the kidnapping after it surfaced on February 25. In the video, a man wearing a red kurta is kidnapping a woman in a burqa. News reports claimed that the accused Mehtab kidnapped a minor girl. Bharat Samachar termed it a case of ‘love jihad’. (Archive link)

Hindustan covered the incident in a February 26 report titled, “Mehtab kidnaps girl for the third time”.

A follow-up story published by Hindustan also identified Mehtab as the accused. The headline of the story printed on February 27 read, ‘Mehtab’s wife and two sisters-in-law arrested, brother in custody.’ However, on March 3, Mehtab was not named as the police had clarified that he was not the accused and the woman was with her friend Rinku. ‘Girl kidnapped from Dayalbagh recovered from Delhi‘, read the next headline.

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Sudarshan News also discussed Mehtab while broadcasting the CCTV footage.

OpIndia published two reports on the incident on February 26 and February 27. ‘The same girl kidnapped for the third time by married accused Mehtab, CCTV footage shows him kidnapping her in a burqa’ was the headline of the first. The second one read, ‘Father of 6, Mehtab Rana, abducts minor by shrouding her in a burqa, had abducted the girl twice in 2018, the role of in-laws, family, suspected.’ Dainik Jagran wrote on March 1, “The police have come close to nabbing the perpetrator in the kidnapping case of a teenager from the New Agra area. His two sisters-in-law and wife have been sent to jail. The brother of the accused is also in police custody. Now the police have come close to capturing Mehtab.’ A report in Hindustan stated, “Gulfam, brother of the main accused Mehtab Rana, has confounded the police. After watching the CCTV footage, he claimed that the man seen in the clip was not his brother.”

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According to Aaj Tak, “SSP Agra Bablu Kumar revealed that the victim hails from the Tajganj police station area. The accused Mehtab kidnapped her in 2018 too. She was rescued by the local police station. The woman was staying at a relative’s house in the New Agra police station area due to fear of Mehtab.”

Wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt also blamed Mehtab in a tweet demanding strict punishment for the culprit.

The police filed a case against Mehtab Rana’s family members purely on the basis of suspicion and arrested them despite their names not appearing in the FIR.

What caused this misconception?

Alt News obtained a copy of the first FIR filed in the case dated February 23. The woman’s father filed the complaint which read, “On 20/6/2018 my daughter was kidnapped by a man named Mehtab Rana. I am sure that this man has abducted her.”

Social media users and media outlets claimed that Mehtab had abducted the girl. On the basis of the father’s statement, the police arrested Mehtab’s wife and his sisters-in-law. They are still incarcerated as of this writing. A March 6 report in Amar Ujala says that the cops have also jailed recently accused Divyanshu.

[Update: The article erroneously reported that Mehtab is in police custody. Three of his family members were imprisoned after the girl’s father’s testimony. The same has been rectified in the report.]

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About the Author

Priyanka Jha specialises in monitoring and researching mis/disinformation at Alt News. She also manages the Alt News Hindi portal.