How the Police Response to the Lynchings in Jharkhand was Characterised by a Lack of Clarity on the Events that Led to the Killings

25 June 2017
The charred remains of the car in which Sheikh Sajjad, Sheikh Halim, Riyaz Khan, and Naeem were travelling. The four men were killed by a mob that lynched them on the suspicion that they were "child-lifters."
Subham Dutta/ Indian Express Archive
The charred remains of the car in which Sheikh Sajjad, Sheikh Halim, Riyaz Khan, and Naeem were travelling. The four men were killed by a mob that lynched them on the suspicion that they were "child-lifters."
Subham Dutta/ Indian Express Archive

On 18 May, seven men were lynched to death during two disturbing incidents that took place within 20 hours of each other. Both incidents occurred in the Kolhan division of Jharkhand, within a 40-kilometre radius of Jamshedpur city. In each incident, a mob attacked a group of men, and brutally beat them to death using sticks, stones, rods and axes. In both instances, the victims were suspected of being “baccha chor”—child-lifters.

The first incident took place during the early hours of the morning that day. It originated in Shobhapur village in Seraikela-Kharsawan district. The second occurred in Nagadih village in East Singhbhum district. Four Muslim men were killed in the first incident.  Three Hindu men—two brothers and their friend—were killed in the second.

The news of these deaths travelled quickly. Short videos of the lynchings were circulated widely on social media. According to news reports, police officials were present during both instances. The incidents also received widespread media coverage. Yet, the events leading up to the violence were unclear. Although most reports noted that the victims in each case were suspected of being child-lifters, there was little information regarding where or how these rumours began. Both villages fall under areas of the region that are dominated by tribal people. Some stories blamed these residents, portraying them as vicious and lawless.

On 27 and 28 May, I travelled through various villages in the Kolhan division. I visited the East Singhbum and Seraikela-Kharsawan districts and met the families of five among the seven victims, as well as the police officials posted in the area. My reporting too, yielded several differing theories regarding the events that had led to these deaths. But there was little credible evidence available to confirm any of them. In the case of the lynchings that took place in Nagadih, the local police officials insinuated that some residents of the village may have resented the victims and fuelled the rumours to further their own interests, while in the other, activists suggested that some villagers may have had a cattle-trade rivalry with the men who were killed although the police authorities I met did not mention the existence of any such rivalry. “Udti hui khabar hai sab, likhit mein toh itna hi hai: baccha chor ka”—these are rumours that are flying around; on paper the reason is only child-lifting, a sub-inspector at the Baghbera police station—which is responsible for law enforcement in Nagadih—said during my visit.

The two police stations that have jurisdiction over the villages in which the lynchings occurred—the Baghbera police station in East Singhbhum and the Rajnagar police station in Seraikela-Kharaswan—began their respective investigations soon after the incidents. The police officials I met told me that they had made several arrests: by 28 May, four men had been apprehended for the first incident, and nine for the second.

Sagar is a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: Jharkhand lynchings Nagadih Shobapur
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