A Jharkhand government probe into 2017 lynchings reveals the state's brazen communal bias

30 September 2019
India has witnessed a spike in incidents of mob lynching over the past five years, and an increasing number of cases show that the violence has acquired a communal overtone with often tacit support from local administrative machinery.
Altaf Qadri/AP
India has witnessed a spike in incidents of mob lynching over the past five years, and an increasing number of cases show that the violence has acquired a communal overtone with often tacit support from local administrative machinery.
Altaf Qadri/AP

On the night of 17 June 2019, Tabrez Ansari visited his aunt’s house to seek her blessings before leaving town the next day to start his newly-married life. But as the 24-year-old returned home, a mob accused him of theft, tied him to a pole, forced him to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and beat him through the night. Despite several calls, the Jharkhand Police did not arrive at the scene of the crime, in the state’s Seraikela Kharsawan district, until the following morning. He was booked for robbery, taken to court, sent to jail and four days after the lynching, Ansari died. It was only after his death that the police registered a case against the mob that attacked him. In the original chargesheet, the mob was not charged with murder, but it was later included through a supplementary chargesheet after media reports highlighted the omission.

The circumstances of Ansari’s death were hardly an uncommon occurrence in Jharkhand. Between May 2015 and December 2018, the state witnessed as many as 17 deaths due to lynchings—out of a total of 44 across the country. Among them, seven men were killed in two separate incidents, both on 18 May 2017, in the Kolhan division of Jharkhand, within a 40-kilometre radius of Jamshedpur city. Four of them were killed in the same district where Ansari was lynched. Yet, following Ansari’s death, the prime minister Narendra Modi expressed measured condolences: “I am pained and those responsible will get stringent punishment but it is wrong on the part of the opposition to call Jharkhand a hub of lynching,” he said. The Bharatiya Janata Party has either helmed or been a part of every ruling coalition in Jharkhand since the state was formed in 2000. The 2014 state elections saw the BJP post its best performance in the state so far with 37 seats in the 81-member legislative assembly.

In the first incident of 18 May 2017, which happened during the morning hours, four Muslim cattle traders—Sheikh Halim, Mohammad Sajjad, Seraj Khan and Naim—were lynched in and around the Shobhapur village, in Seraikela Kharsawan. The first three were residents of a nearby village, Haldipokhar, and Naim lived in Ghatshila, a town in the state’s East Singhbhum district. In the second incident from that day, three upper-caste Hindu men—Vikas Verma and Gautam Verma, who were brothers, and their friend Gangesh Gupta—were killed in Nagadih village, in East Singhbhum.

On 22 May 2017, the Jharkhand government constituted a two-member committee of civic and police officials to probe the two incidents, under the supervision of the state’s home, prison and disaster management department. It comprised Pradeep Kumar, the Kolhan divisional commissioner, and Prabhat Kumar, the Kolhan deputy inspector general. In a press conference announcing the constitution of the committee, SKG Rahate, who was the state home secretary at the time, stated, “Their job is to probe the genesis of the rumours, people behind it, the purpose behind such an act, and several other angles that are unanswered so far.” The committee submitted its report in July 2017, and I obtained a copy of it under the right to information act later that year.

The investigation revealed clear biases against the Muslim community and provided an insight into the mindset of the local government machinery. The report contained discernible differences in how the committee members approached the lynching of Hindus and that of Muslims, and a failure to conduct a comprehensive independent investigation in both cases. In the Shobhapur case, the investigation was not focused on the perpetrators of the crime, but on the dietary habits of the deceased Muslim individuals, their reasons for visiting Shobhapur village and their alleged involvement with smuggling cattle meat. In sharp contrast, the investigation into the deaths of the three Hindus was briefly summarised as a result of a land dispute, and unrelated to the rumours of child lifting.

Keywords: lynchings Jharkhand BJP communalism
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