Over the past three and a half years, India has witnessed an increase in attacks on marginalised communities in the name of “cow-protection” (Gau Raksha). From Jammu and Kashmir to Karnataka and West Bengal to Maharashtra, it would be fair to say that the series of attacks have left few states untouched. The impact of these attacks has been especially felt in the state of Jharkhand, which has been witness to some of the worst attacks by right-wing goons in the name of ‘protecting’ cows. From the brutal murder in Latehar, including that of a minor, to the mob attacks in various parts of the state, the state has seen some of the worst attacks in the country. TCN’s Afroz Alam Sahiltravelled across Jharkhand to understand and narrate how the terror spread by right-wing fundamentalists under the garb of protecting the cow has left a trail of blood in its path. In the third of the eight-part series, Afroz Alam Sahil revisits the Latehar lynching and finds out that despite the heinous crime, the accused are not only out on bail, but also on a mission to continue to terrorise and intimidate Muslims living in the region.
Balumath, Jharkhand: One of the most ghastly images from the attacks on Muslims by the so-called Gau Rakshaks came from Latehar in Jharkhand. Two people, including a minor, were hung on a tree with their hands tied at the back for allegedly smuggling cows in July 2016. This incident created outrage in the country at least for some time before the public conscience moved on to the next victim of cow-related terror, and the people accused of this ghastly crime were also soon let out on bail. The entire region of Balumath, about 50 km from Latehar, is now continuing to experience the terror of the people who committed this crime. The worst affected are of course, Muslims. They allege that not only have the attacks increased, the police also refuse to even register FIR complaints when they are attacked, let alone investigate or arrest those guilty!
In a conversation with TwoCircles.net, Mubarak Quraishi (28) narrates a chilling story. “Arun Sahoo, the main accused in the Latehar incident and a member of the right wing extremist group, Bajrang Dal, has in the past held a pistol against my head and threatened to kill me. They asked me for a ransom of Rs 1 lakh and when I refused, I was taken to the nearby jungle where I was beaten to near death. Then, Sahoo and his associates had the tenacity to call the police and instruct them to ‘finish us off’,” says Mubarak. “The police did not kill me and took me to a hospital. I was admitted in Ranchi Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) for 15 days, but the police refused to even register an FIR in the matter,” he adds.
The story of Hashim Quraishi is no different. A year ago, he and two of his friends were coming back to Balumath after purchasing cows for breeding and rearing. On their way, about 15-16 people stopped them in Bariatu and attacked them. “Shamim, the driver of the vehicle, was hit on his head with a blunt instrument. We were then taken captive and taken to the side of the road to be lynched.” Thankfully, Hashim said, a passerby alerted the police who arrived at the spot. “But even then, the police refused to arrest the perpetrators of such a crime. These are the same people who in March 2016 killed Mazloom Ansari and the minor Azaad Khan,” he adds.
The story of how the people who are accused of committing such a heinous crime continue to perpetrate the same crimes without accountability is a testament to the indifference of the local cops. Despite the fact that the lynching of Mazloom and Azaad created national headlines; resulted in opposition parties organizing protests in favor of those affected, and even asked for a CBI court trial, the reality has been different after media spotlight ended.
The effects of their terror are visible in the village of Navada in Latehar, which has about 300 families of which nearly 55 families are Muslims. This is the village of Mazloom Ansari. When TwoCircles.net met Mazloom’s brother Munawwar, the fear on his face was visible. “Everyone here is scared…our family has asked for security, but we did never get it. The case is in court.The eight who were accused are now out of jail, while only three of the five witnesses have given their statements.” But more than the lack of progress, what scares the family even more is the intimidation that inevitably takes place at the time of the trial. “They (the accused) appear in the court like they are heroes. They come with about 200 supporters, while most times we are all alone, just our family members,” adds Munawwar.
Recalling the aftermath of the incident, Munawwar says that barring the BJP, leaders of others parties helped in their own ways. Congress legislator Sukhdev Bhagat from Lohardagga gave Rs 1 lakh to the family. Members of the Muslim community also helped in their own ways.
The story of Imteyaz Azaad Khan and his family is no less heartbreaking. They live in Arahara, which has about 100 families, of which about 6 homes belong to Muslims.
In a conversation with TwoCircles.net, Imteyaz’s father Azaad is in tears when he recalls how his son died. Azaad, one of the witnesses in this case, says that he broke his foot a few years ago following which Imteyaz, one of his seven children, took over earning for his family. “We have been selling cows in fares for generations. I am at a loss thinking of what we will do next.”
Azaad adds that he has lost faith in the government lawyer. “We see him laughing, talking with the other party and making fun of us. I doubt if he is serious about the case and he keeps asking for money. I do not know who to trust, and what to expect from this case,” he adds.
The family is still feeling the aftereffects of Imteyaz’s murder, but more telling is how the village has responded after his murder. Azaad points out that almost no one in the village talks to them anymore.
Saira, the wife of Mazloom Ansari, said that Mazloom Ansari used to stay mostly at his in-laws home. “He and Azaad Khan were partners and used to buy and sell cattle. The people who attacked and killed them were also involved in the same profession but their business was not as good…they had come and threatened us in the past. I have said the same in the court also,” she added.
On March 11, 2016, Mazloom Ansari and Imteyaz, deputizing for his father, bought 8 bulls from a local fare and brought them to Dumatand, where Mazloom’s in-laws stayed. The plan was to take the bulls to another fare on March 18, so early that morning the duo started on foot and were taking the bulls to the fare. Azaad and another friend of theirs, Nadeem, were following them on a bike. On their way, the cow vigilantes in the village of Jhabar attacked the two and hung them by the tree.
It is clear that even after more than a year, the villages around Balumath are in a state of fear, especially Muslim homes. When the villages came to know about the murders, they organized massive protests. However, the police instead of arresting the ones who committed the crime turned its ire on protesters, opening fire on them and injuring many. Cases against 10 Muslims? were filed, while FIRs were filed against another 150-200 people.
As per the locals, the 10 against whom cases were filed have been scared and have run away from the village. On the other hand, the father of Imteyaz has sent a letter to the President seeking a CBI inquiry into the matter, but there has been no response yet on the issue. And given how the case is progressing, it is unlikely that the families of Mazloom and Imteyaz will get justice.
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