Bhopal: The mysterious death of Bhopal engineering student Nishank Rathore, whose body was found this Sunday on railway tracks, may be linked to “blackmail” from agents of “Chinese loan apps”, the police special investigating team (SIT) probing the case is said to have found.

The evidence found in the case so far, the police have said, points to suicide rather than murder. The latter theory has been fuelled by cryptic messages — sent from Nishank’s WhatsApp and Instagram — about beheading being the proper punishment for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

According to Madhya Pradesh Police sources, Rathore had borrowed close to Rs 8,000 from different loan apps and his friends, and had invested in cryptocurrencies with that money. In the last two or three months, the sources added, Rathore had received numerous calls and messages, some of which were threatening in nature.

“This is a standard modus operandi of many Chinese loan apps with exorbitant interest rates in India. Once they disburse the loan amount and they don’t receive payments on time, they keep harassing people and threatening them,” a police officer told ThePrint.

“Even if the amounts were smaller for Nishank, it is established that he was being threatened frequently. He took loans from more than 15 Chinese loan apps. This has become a common phenomenon,” he added.

For at least a couple of years, authorities in India have been trying to crack down on Chinese loan apps that offer short-term loans fast and without know-your-customer (KYC) details, but at high interest rates. According to investigators, many of these apps mine personal data from mobile phones, and then use this information to “blackmail” borrowers into paying up.

Several suicides have been linked to harassment by recovery agents of such apps.

In Rathore’s case, the police said they found evidence of apps and call details from his phone, which was recovered from his body at the tracks. So far, the police have not identified any individuals who may be involved from these loan companies.

The police say that, for now, it does not appear that Rathore’s death was connected to his last Instagram story and a WhatsApp message that he apparently sent to his father, stating: “Rathore sahab bohot bahadur tha apka beta, Gustaak e Nabi ki ek sazaa tan sar se juda… (Rathore sir, your son was very brave. The punishment for insulting the Prophet is to separate the head from the body).”

These messages had led to social media speculation that Rathore’s death may have been a murder linked to him being “vocal” about his Hindu identity.

However, Raisen Superintendent of Police Vikas Sahwal told ThePrint that there is still “no murder angle” in the case, and that it appeared as if Rathore himself posted the Instagram story and sent the message. He refused to comment on the alleged threats Rathore was receiving from loan apps.

‘Edited photo and sar tan se juda post sent from Rathore’s phone’ 

Rathore’s search history on his phone indicates that he was looking for “sar tan se juda articles” a few days before his death, SP Sahwal said.

In addition, sources added, a forensic examination of his phone has revealed that the ‘sar tan se juda’ message to Rathore’s father, just hours before his death, came from his own phone. There is no evidence that anyone else had access to his mobile set.

“Nishank had been searching for sar tan se juda articles three or four days before his death. The search history on his phone revealed that. The edited picture on Instagram and on Facebook was also sent from his phone. Till now there is no indication of any foul play,” the SP said.

There is also no sign that Rathore’s phone was in the possession of anyone else, the SP added.

“His phone usage was not out of place, the pattern in which he used to access his social media and messaging platforms were similar. Hence, it looks certain that his phone was not stolen or was with someone else,” he said.

Nishank Rathore’s dead body, which was reportedly severed in half, was found last Sunday at railway tracks near Midghat station in Raisen district, more than 60 km from Bhopal. While Raisen police said it looked like a clear case of suicide, his family have insisted that he was murdered.

The mysterious circumstances and dire messages preceding the student’s death also bred rumours of a religiously motivated murder and hashtags like #JusticeforNishank.

The term “sar tan se juda” has of late come to be associated with extreme reactions against Nupur Sharma, the former BJP spokesperson who triggered a controversy over her remarks about the Prophet Muhammad.

The SIT team investigating the case was constituted by Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra.

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