"See for us locals, who know Lalit Sharma, we are not surprised at all. We know he is a ridiculous man, whose hobby is to constantly spread hate. But for those who do not know him, especially Muslims, they will feel strange, shocked and unsafe seeing him say and do these things".
This is what neigbours have to say about Lalit Sharma, the main accused in a recent case in Rajasthan's Ajmer district, in which a man was beaten up and told to go to Pakistan. In the video, that brought the incident to the notice of the authorities on 21 August, Sharma can be seen physically assaulting the man and a boy. The name of the victim is Ashaan Ali and he is 32 years old, The Quint has learnt.
Sharma and four others were detained for a day under Section 151 CrPC (arrest to prevent the commission of cognizable offences), and subsequently let off after being granted bail a day later. The police had initially said they did not register an FIR as the vicitim could not be traced. However, as the outrage against the incident grew, the police registered an FIR on 24 August. The five men have been booked for promoting enmity on grounds of religion, malicious intention of outraging religious beliefs, voluntarily causing hurt and wrongful restraint on 24 August.
No one has been arrested yet. Sharma has been absconding. His home has been locked.
We spoke to two of his neighbours, his mother and officials from the administration. A Bajrang Dal member also confirmed that he was a member of the outfit till some years ago.
In the videos, Sharma can be seen kicking the boy on his head and abusing him. He also repeatedly slaps Ali. They try and tell him that they are poor people (fakir log) who beg for a living and that they come to the Ajmer dargah every year during Muharram. Sharma asks them to take all their money out and show their IDs, while the family repeatedly pleads with him to stop. "They stay here and steal our jewelry," he tells the locals while asking someone to record him on video.
'Sharma Kept Disrupting Communal Harmony, Took Rally Out on 6 December'
Both neighbors we spoke to insisted we not use their real names. "You never know what will happen. We live close to his house and he has been in some organisations," both said.
Explaining the area where they live, they said that there were fifty percent Hindus and Muslims each in the area. Sharma lived in a 3-room home, which has remained locked for the last few days.
Mohammad Mustafa* alleged, "3-4 years ago 60-70 police personnel, men and women, had been stationed here for two months because of his actions. He had tried to disrupt the communal harmony then as well. There is a dargah in Madhuban park in A block, that time he and another person tried to disrupt harmony and construct a temple there. The police intervened and a compromise was struck. Sharma was told that he cannot construct anything without permission. This dargah has been here since before Independence."
Mustafa alleged that Sharma would take out rallies on 6 December. "He was in Bajrang Dal at some point and would put the tag of Vishwa Hindu Parishad on his vehicle. He would basically get young men together and take out a rally of 30-40 people. The rally would start around 10:00 am. I have seen it. Anti-Muslim slogans are raised here," he said.
65-year-old Ram Pratap* said that Hindus and Muslims had lived peacefully in the area. During the anti-CAA protests and after the Delhi riots, Sharma had allegedly put a speaker in the area.
"On these speakers, he started raising slogans of Bharat Mata ki Jai and Jai Sri Ram. Then he started saying more provocative things like if you have to stay in India, then you have to say Jai Sri Ram. Then the Hindu community members got together and told him not to do this. He had to listen," Pratap said, adding that it was a person's community and status that decided how rude or respectful Sharma would be towards them.
Both his neighbours claimed that they saw him fight with his wife often. "Things got very violent. Last year, the woman had returned from her home in Pali and found another woman at his home. She beat her up publically. It was very ugly," Pratap, who witnessed this himself, said.
They said the wife and children live in Merta in Nagaur district where the family has a temple that they look after. "Every three years the temple is taken care of by a different part of the family. Currently they are looking after it," they claimed.
The Quint tried to reach out to the wife to verify this claim, but we have not been able to yet.
Lalit Sharma's Mother: 'What My Son Has Done is Wrong'
The Quint got through to Sharma's 60-year-old mother Sushila, who lives in a Mahakali temple, and asked her to respond to the various allegations made by the neighbours.
But every time she kept reiterating, "I live separately. I do not live with him. I have not for the last 12 years. I do not know anything." Sushila lived alone with her husband in a temple. Her husband died last year.
Asked her about her son, and she again said that she lives in the temple. "I do not live with him. I have never lived with him. We have no contact with each other," she said.
When this reporter said we understood that they did not live together, but she was still his mother, she started to weep again.
Right before our conversation ended, she said, in one line. "What my son has done is wrong."
'He Was Thrown Out of Bajrang Dal Due to Lack of Discipline'
Both said that Sharma often used to get drunk and harass shopkeepers. "In the local shops, he would get tobacco and cigarettes and not pay for it," Mustafa, who has seen Sharma do this, said.
Shashi Prakash, who is the local head of the Bajrang Dal, acknowledged that Sharma was a member of the outfit but had been removed from the organisation many years ago. Bajrang Dal is the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
"He left the organization and created his own Dal I think. He did not like discipline. It has been at least three years since he was removed from the organisation. He never had a post. He would constantly keep fighting with people. Many times we heard of fights with respectable people. For how long would we save his ass. Since we never thought he was important, we let him go," Prakash said.
He said they tried to explain to him that he should improve his behaviour. "We tried to explain to him that he had a family. He was not important for the Bajrang Dal. He did not deserve to be a member of the Dal," he added.
Police and Admin Say Sharma Has a Criminal Record
We asked the police regarding the various allegations made by the neighbours, to which Ajmer South Circle Officer Mukesh Soni said that investigation was underway.
He said that Sharma had a criminal past and cases relating to physical violence had been registered against him before at the Ramganj police station. "Nothing related to disturbing communal peace," he said.
Ramganj SHO and IO Inspector Negi said Sharma would often get into brawls and beat people up. "We are trying to find him, he is absconding. Other than that, the investigation is on. No arrests have been made yet," Negi said.
Soni said that they have sent a team to try and bring the victim to Ajmer to register his statement. "Any person has the right to go to any street that they want. Article 19 gives you that freedom and no one can take it away. No one has the right to use violence against another person. Whatever their concerns, they should have handed him over to the police," Soni said.