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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

3 murders, one suicide and a TikTok villain

Between September 26 and 30, Johnny Dada allegedly gunned down three people: two relatives of a local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Bhim Sen, and a Dubai-returned air hostess he was apparently obsessed with.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2019 09:48 IST
Shiv Sunny
Shiv Sunny
Hindustan Times, Bijnor
Phoolwati Devi , the grandmother of Ashwini Kashyap, at her residence in Bijnor.
Phoolwati Devi , the grandmother of Ashwini Kashyap, at her residence in Bijnor. (HT image)
         

Before he hopped on a UP Roadways bus in Nagina town in Bijnor district at around 12.15am on October 5, the man covered his face with a handkerchief and armed himself with a semi-automatic pistol.

He purchased a ticket to Barhapur, a small town 15km away. But, aware that police were checking every vehicle entering Barhapur, he told the bus conductor that he would get off 2km before the town. He then wrapped himself in a shawl, kept the cocked pistol in his hand, and occupied a seat diagonally opposite the bus driver.

Minutes later, the man who had given the Bijnor police sleepless nights for over a week, fell asleep.

When he woke up at 12.44am, he realised that the power nap may have given him away. Two armed policemen were searching the bus, occupied by six other passengers, right outside Barhapur police station about a kilometre short of the town. He looked around and saw about a dozen policemen standing guard outside the bus. Trapped from all sides, he soon found himself staring into the familiar face of constable Badal Pawar, who held a torch to his face.

They knew each other from his recent visit to the same police station.

“He looked sleepy and didn’t speak a word. The moment I asked him to lower his mask, he pulled down the handkerchief, raised his right arm to his head and shot himself. He had kept his pistol cocked throughout the bus journey,” said Pawar.

Nine live cartridges were found loaded in two magazines of his country-made pistol.

The man lying dead on the brown leather seat of the bus was 32-year-old Ashwani Kashyap, nicknamed ‘Johnny’, notorious as the ‘TikTok Villain’ for his angry, short videos on the video-blogging platform.

Between September 26 and 30, Johnny Dada allegedly gunned down three people: two relatives of a local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Bhim Sen, and a Dubai-returned air hostess he was apparently obsessed with. At least a dozen others were his potential targets. The hit list included his father, two siblings, two women and a BJP leader’s family, among others, said Bijnor’s superintendent of police, Sanjeev Tyagi.

The three murders in quick succession rocked the Bijnor police force. It hunted him relentlessly for eight days; more than 350 police and paramilitary personnel used drones and physically combed dense forests and vast sugarcane fields in the region, which falls on the Uttar Pradesh-Uttarakhand border.

WRITING ON THE WALL

But if one had followed his Facebook posts, neither the killings, nor the suicide, would have come as surprise. “Each of his posts on Facebook was his truth, but everyone failed to see the signs,” Vishwajit Srivastav, superintendent of police (Bijnor rural), said.

Sample these recent posts accompanying the photos and videos he uploaded on a fake Facebook profile that he created underthe name ‘Aditya Rajpoot’.

“No one will be forgiven now. Wait and watch. I’ll destroy everything.”

“Devil is coming. Devil is ready now.”

“I won’t go without killing.”

“I don’t give a second chance to betrayers. Sab dhokhebaazon ki ab toh keh ke loonga (I’ll let the traitors know before settling scores with them).”

These were all posted on August 14, six weeks before he went on the killing spree.

In his TikTok videos, Kashyap would sometimes laugh hysterically, occasionally cry out loudly, and at other times lip-sync dialogues about revenge and killings from Hindi films. His last post, “Good Bye”, was accompanied by a video of the letter ‘R’, an initial the police later linked to another woman he was obsessed with.

But Kashyap, by all accounts, was a very different man until last year. His father, Subhash Chand, remembers him as a bright student who got 85% marks for his Master of Commerce degree, and aspired to be an actor. “He had also done a course in acting and filmmaking,” said Chand, 62, who retired as a clerk from a local organisation for sugarcane farmers.

His grandmother, Phoolwati Devi, says Kashyap aspired to be an actor. “He would try different hairstyles and frequently change his look. He would pose in front of me and say he would be a film hero one day. He thought he looked handsome.”

Kashyap, lanky, 5’9, would keep changing his look in his TikTok videos. His hair would sometimes be parted down the middle, at other times from the side; he would sometimes be clean shaven, and at times grow a French beard. What remained constant were his aggressive face and tone.

SP Sanjeev Tyagi says that Kashyap was considered a well-meaning person when he was a student at Najibabad’s Sahu Jain Degree College.

“He would take recreational drugs, but he wasn’t violent back then. His friends describe him as a creative person. But in the recent past, he aspired to be a ‘dada’ (don) of his town,” said Tyagi.

His acting aspirations remained restricted to videos on TikTok, on which he had nearly 23,000 followers.

Between 2015 and 2017, Kashyap worked in Delhi with private companies, an angel broking firm among them. In February 2017, he returned to Barhapur to be with his mother, who had been paralysed for five years. In a brick house with a small courtyard and two poorly lit rooms, he would record videos for TikTok — a closed window with a brown grille in the background was a regular feature in those clips.

STRAINED RELATIONS

But his relationship with the members of his family was strained. A 10-page diary recovered from his home during his days on the run reveal that he was angry with most of them: his father for not dividing the family property; his older brother over several monetary disputes; and his married sister for once dragging him to the police station for sending her inappropriate texts.

Tyagi says Kashyap would often threaten to kill his family. “In his notes, he gave point-wise clarifications for all the issues he had with his family. He said that his family always misunderstood him,” said the officer.

In the same diary, Kashyap spoke about how attached he was to his mother, Savitri Devi. “He loved his mother deeply. He wrote that he tolerated everything in life for his mother’s sake,” said Tyagi.

Once his mother died on May 25, a week short of his 32nd birthday, Johnny began to display his vengeful side on Facebook. In Tyagi’s words, “his emotional anchor had snapped”.

Some of his posts read:

“I am going to my mother, because this world is very selfish”.

“I miss you, mom. I am coming to you”.

“Only mother is everything, without mother there is nothing”.

Around the same time, he began sharing videos wielding sharp weapons and firearms, threatening violence and revenge. “How long will you hide? I will hunt you down even if you are in hell”, was a caption for a poorly edited video in which he is seen shooting at an image.

Every now and then, he would also post videos that appeared to be a cry for help. “I wished someone understood my pain”, he said in one video.

Tyagi says that outside social media, too, Kashpay’s behaviour showed he was isolating himself. “He would remain locked in his room for weeks on end. He was getting totally cut off from the world. He had begun taking heavy recreational drugs in the form of pills,” he said.

Kashyap’s father, Subhash Chand, says he was so fed up with his son’s taunts and addiction to drugs that he decided to leave home in mid-August and be with his elder son, who works for a private firm in Dehradun. “When the SP told me that my son would be jailed for the murders, I told him he was better off dead,” Chand said.

‘HUMILIATION’ AND revenge

Tyagi says that in another 14-page set of diary notes, recovered from Johnny’s bag after he killed himself, he writes about his crimes being a “revenge for perceived injustice”. This set of notes begins with the line, “Every saint has a future and every criminal has a past.”

These notes and the police’s investigations have so far revealed that he had been holding a grudge against a local BJP leader and his family for “humiliating” him last year.

In August 2018, Kashyap got into a public confrontation with 24-year-old Chandra Bhushan Kashyap alias Rahul, a dairy trader and son of local BJP leader, Bhim Singh. They all lived in the same neighbourhood and belonged to the same caste. “Rahul had married a woman from a ‘lower caste’. Johnny didn’t like the inter-caste marriage and would taunt Rahul. One day, when Rahul couldn’t take it any more, he slapped Johnny,” said Rahul’s older brother, Shyam Kashyap, an advocatein Bijnor.

But Kashyap’s father alleges that his son was stripped and thrashed in public by Rahul and other members of Bhim Singh’s family. Though the matter was settled with the help of a senior politician, Chand says, his son couldn’t digest the insult of being made to sit on the floor during that mediation. Bhim Singh’s family denies the allegations.

“In his diary, Johnny also accused Bhim Singh’s family of suppressing his family politically and financially. He wrote that he bore all the humiliation just for the love of his mother,” said Tyagi.

As Bhim Singh and his family lowered their guard after the mediation, Kashyap became friendly with them after his mother’s death. “Johnny would visit our house, eat our food and sleep at our place. We believed things were normal, but he was only looking for an opportunity to strike,” said Shyam.

It turned out that Kashyap was hatching a plan, in his mind, to settle scores. Police said soon after his mother’s death, he borrowed ~50,000 from his father on the pretext of relocating to Singapore. Investigators believe he used this money to buy a semi-automatic pistol and bullets.

On the afternoon of September 26, Kashyap threw a party in a forested region of Barhapur. “He invited Rahul, Bhim Singh’s 21-year-old nephew, Krishna Kashyap, and their three common friends. Johnny sponsored the drinks and served eggs as a snack.Once the five men were drunk, Johnny sent away two of his friends to the town to fetch more eggs,” said Kripa Shankar Saxena, station house officer (SHO) of Barhapur police station.

With just Rahul, Krishna and their common friend, Pradeep, left in the middle of the dense forest, Kashyap turned violent. “He shot Rahul in the head and Krishna in the stomach. He then pumped one more bullet each into them,” said SHO Saxena.

Even as the eyewitness, Pradeep, stood dumbstruck by the massacre, Kashyap escaped into the woods.

SHO Saxena says Johnny wanted to wipe out Bhim Singh’s entire family, holding them all responsible for his purported humiliation. That is perhaps why he also killed Krishna, he added.

SECOND STRIKE

Around 50km from Barhapur, in Daulatabad village under the jurisdiction of Seohara police station, 30-year-old Nitika Sharma had just walked her nephew and niece back from school on the afternoon of September 30. The door of their house was left ajar as Sharma watched television with the two children while her mother and brother sat in the courtyard.

“At 2.40 pm, Johnny entered our house and began shooting at Nitika. Seeing my children in danger, Nikita rushed towards the shooter to push him out. The whole episode lasted barely 10 seconds,” said Nitika’s brother, Mohit Sharma.

Nitika was shot five times. One bullet hit a pillar in the courtyard and a second hit the floor.

Kashyap ran out, the pistol still in his hand, even as Mohit chased him through the street on foot. “On the main road, he hopped on to an e-rickshaw and used his pistol to threaten the driver to get moving. I also got on to another e-rickshaw that was close behind,” said Mohit.

The chase ended about a kilometre away when Kashyap hopped off the vehicle to run into the sugarcane fields. Nitika Sharma died at a hospital later that night.

A trained air-hostess who had worked at Delhi’s IGI Airport before working in Dubai for six years, Sharma had returned to her Daulatabad home just two months ago. “Her marriage to a sub-inspector in the CRPF was scheduled in December,” said her father, Hariom Sharma, a bank employee.

The Daulatabad village was Kashyap’s maternal home. He and Sharma had done much of their schooling together here. According to an investigator, inspector Tejpal Singh, the two families knew each other well.

“Our probe has revealed that Johnny liked Nitika since childhood, but she never reciprocated his feelings. When Johnny was in Class 9, he had confessed his feelings to Nitika, who scolded him in front of other people for it. We cannot rule out that he bore a grudge for that humiliation for all these years,” said Singh.

Sharma’s family says there was never any relationship between the two. “She would share all her secrets with me. There was no way she would have hidden even an old relationship from us. She had anyway been away from this village since 2007,” said her brother.

In his 14-page note, Kashyap has written that he was in a relationship with Nitika Sharma from 2002 to 2017, says SP Tyagi. “Main tumse upar aakar saare gila shikwa mita loonga (I’ll settle all my problems with you after death)”, the officer quotes the notes as saying, while cautioning that Johnny could have “imagined” them being in a relationship.

“He wrote that he was yet to hand over to her a present he had purchased for her,” said Tyagi.

The notes also indicated that Johnny was reading newspapers during his time in hiding, and that some of the contents of the notes had been penned during his time on the run. “He was angry with the press for writing that Nitika had turned down his proposal. ‘The press knows nothing,’ he wrote in his notes,” said Tyagi.

It turns out that Sharma’s murder was not without a warning either. Kashyap would often post images of actor Shahid Kapoor from the 2019 film, Kabir Singh. In one of his videos, he warned, “Jo mera nahi ho sakta, use kisi aur ke hone ka mauka nahi doonga (Who is not mine will not be someone else’s either).”

What the police are certain about is that Kashyap was stalking Sharma’s family even before she had returned from Dubai. Inspector Singh says that Johnny’s mobile phone had selfies with her nephew and niece. The children revealed that he had met them at a shop near their home several months ago.

THE HUNT

With Kashyap having disappeared in the sugarcane farms after Sharma’s murder, the police launched a massive hunt.

“Within hours, we had more than 350 personnel from the Bijnor police and paramilitary forces comb the forest and fields. We used three drones to search the area. More than 50 check posts were set up just to hunt him down. Johnny had no personal vehicle and it was likely he would hide in these parts,” said Tyagi.

By this time, the police had accessed Kashyap’s fake Facebook profile, accessed his posts, and drawn up a list of 12 people he could target next. They were provided four armed policemen for 24x7 security. “These included his father, brother, brother-in-law, a cousin sister, two women he knew, and Bhim Singh’s family across places such as Muradabad, Sambhal, Haridwar, Dehradun, Barhapur, Nurpur, Chandpur and Seohra,” said Tyagi.

The police’s hunch was not misplaced. On the night of October 3, Kashyap allegedly followed Rahul’s brother, Shyam, to Nagina railway station, but failed to kill him. CCTV footage showed him at a restaurant nearby.

Like his other alleged crimes, Johnny had given a warning about his suicide. In one video, on May 18, he pretended to slit his throat using a knife, with the word “coward” repeatedly sounding in the background.

“Don’t worry, I am not so weak. It’s only an act,” an accompanying caption read. It was probably the only time Kashyap was being dishonest in a Facebook post.

First Published: Oct 13, 2019 06:41 IST

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