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'Udaipur Won't Forget': Is the Kanhaiya Lal Murder an Issue In Rajasthan Polls?

Sixteen months on, the Kanhaiya Lal murder case looms large in Udaipur ahead of elections.

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(Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia)

Yash Sahu, 20, has lived barefoot for almost a year now.

“I had pledged that I will not cut my hair or wear chappals till my father’s murderers are hanged,” Yash told The Quint on 14 October 2023, seated inside his family's modest two-room house in Rajasthan's Udaipur.

On 28 June 2022 his father Kanhaiya Lal, a tailor by profession, was hacked to death, allegedly by two men, Riaz Akhtari and Ghaus Mohammad, with a cleaver at his shop — an incident that brought the tourist city of Udaipur to a grinding halt.

“It doesn’t feel like he has left us. There are days we wake up and serve breakfast in four plates, only to realise that my father is no more and it’s just the three of us,” Yash said with his mother Yashoda and brother Tarun seated beside him.

Sixteen months on, the Kanhaiya Lal murder case looms large in Udaipur ahead of elections.

A photograph of Kanhaiya Lal with his sons Yash and Tarun.

(Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

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In a video that Riaz Akhtari and Ghaus Mohammad broadcast on social media after Kanhaiya Lal was killed, they not only took the responsibility of the murder but also said that they attacked him for allegedly sharing a post in support of former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nupur Sharma's controversial remarks against the Prophet.

Sixteen months after the gruesome case hit the headlines and led to nationwide protests, The Quint went back to Udaipur to understand if it is an issue ahead of the 2023 Rajasthan Assembly elections.

'Laid Down His Life for Sanatan Dharma'

Udaipur's Dhan Mandi market, where the murder took place, is once again bustling with customers. However, the lane which houses Supreme Tailors — the shop where Kanhaiya Lal was hacked to death — wears a deserted look, even 16 months after the incident.

"Nobody wants to return to this place. We still remember how horrific that day was. I shut my shop and ran as soon as I could," a shopkeeper who did not wish to be identified told The Quint.

Devendra Sahu, a BJP councillor from the area, was among the first people who reached Kanhaiya Lal's house after the incident. According to him, Kanhaiya laid down his life for the cause of "Hindutva" and "Sanatan".

Sixteen months on, the Kanhaiya Lal murder case looms large in Udaipur ahead of elections.

Supreme Tailors —the shop where Kanhaiya Lal was hacked to death.

(Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

"The administration wanted to send his body to his village for the last rites, I insisted that since the incident happened in Udaipur, his last rites will also be carried out here amid the public. He laid down his life in the name of Hindutva and Sanatan," Sahu alleged.

He also claimed that the issue is "etched in the memory of Udaipur's people and will impact how they vote."

"Such a grave incident happened in Udaipur. The case has left a deep wound in the hearts of the people of Udaipur."
Devendra Sahu, BJP Councillor
Sixteen months on, the Kanhaiya Lal murder case looms large in Udaipur ahead of elections.

BJP councillor Devendra Sahu was among the first people who reached Kanhaiya Lal's house after the case, and has since then worked to keep the issue alive among the people of Udaipur.

(Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

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'Attempt to Polarise Voters Ahead of Polls'

On 2 October, at a rally in Chittorgarh, almost 100 km from Udaipur, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about the issue. "What happened in Udaipur was unimaginable. They came with the excuse of getting their clothes stitched and slit the tailor's throat," the PM said.

Earlier in September, Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government had relaxed the existing service rules to allot government jobs to Prahlad Singh Chundawat and Shakti Singh Chundawat, who helped the police to nab the accused, Mohammad Riyaz and Ghaus Mohammad, in the case.

Kamal Hussain, an advocate at a trial court in Udaipur, however, said that the common people in the city have forgotten the incident, and the politicians are trying to raise it again to "polarise" the voters ahead of elections.

"This (raising the issue again) is being done to polarise the votes. We know that there are certain parties and people who want to keep such issues alive so that people can be reminded of these cases as per convenience. The public has forgotten the case. Time and again, however, people are reminded of these cases to polarise them ahead of elections," Hussain, who provided legal assistance to several people who were detained by the police after the murder, told The Quint.

Udaipur district has eight assembly constituencies — Udaipur, Udaipur Rural, Kherwara, Jhadol, Salumber, Gogunda, Mavli, and Vallabhnagar. Seven of these seats were won by BJP candidates in 2018.

'We Continue to Live in Fear'

The lane outside Kanhaiya Lal's house in Govardhan Vilas, a residential colony, makes for a curious site. A policeman stands guard 24/7 screening people as they make their way to meet the the family.

"I miss him a lot but I have to hold my tears back for my children. If I start crying, who will handle them?" his wife Yashoda said, struggling to hold back tears.

Their children, Yash and Tarun, try to put up a brave face.

"After the case, the Rajasthan government under Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot gave a government job to me and my brother, and a compensation of Rs 50 Lakh. Several BJP leaders also came forward to help. Kapil Mishra helped with over Rs one crore. But what good is this money when the culprits haven't been hanged, yet?" questioned Yash.

The FIR registered in the case by the Rajasthan police invoked sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), that made it eligible for the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to take over.

Sixteen months on, the Kanhaiya Lal murder case looms large in Udaipur ahead of elections.

Kanhaiya Lal's wife, Yashoda, now works on his sewing machine.

(Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

In the chargesheet filed in connection with the case, the NIA named 11 people. While one of these accused was recently let out on bail, at the time of publishing the probe in the case was still underway. 

For the family, however, life hasn't changed much since the murder. "You think we want to be tailed by a policeman all the time? But what can we do? My mother is worried that after our father, something might happen to one of us," Yash said.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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