Print edition : January 15, 2010
Were they victims of mob frenzy following the slaughter and skinning of a cow? Or did the police kill them in an extortion bid? Excerpted from T.K. RAJALAKSHMI'S report on the brutal killing of five Dalits, published in the November 22, 2002, issue of Frontline.

EACH year on Dasara day, the triumph of good over evil is celebrated with ritual and symbolic splendour in northern India. The day marks the defeat of Ravana and his forces by Rama. But this year, for five Dalits of Haryana, it turned out to be the day of victory of evil. On October 15, the police, allegedly in connivance with communal elements, ensured that the young men, who had fallen into their hands, would not escape alive. They were lynched, their eyes gouged out and their bodies mutilated. The faces of two of them were burnt. Their alleged crime was that they skinned a cow on the road leading to Jhajjar town. Ironically, the carcass was sent for a post-mortem to ascertain the time of the cow’s death.

The version of the Jhajjar police is that a mob of thousand people had found the Dalits skinning a live cow on the evening of October 15. The crowd, according to the police, was returning after watching the Dasara celebrations in Jhajjar town. On seeing the “cow slaughter and the skinning”, the crowd dragged the five to the Duleena police post, 5 km from Jhajjar town. The police claim that they were helpless and could do little to control the mob. The police registered a first information report (FIR) charging the five persons with cow slaughter and then handed them over to the mob. The attack started at 6 p.m. and went on until 10 p.m. Senior officials, including the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), who arrived at the spot even before the lynching had started, could do little.

On October 15, it was work as usual for Virender, Dayachand, Tota Ram, Raju and Kailash. While the first four belonged to villages in Gurgaon district, the fifth was a hide merchant from Karnal. Virender and Dayachand were merchants from Badshahpur village, Tota Ram was a driver from Aklimpur, and 16-year-old Raju, his helper, was from Teekli village. Around 2 p.m., Virender and Dayachand, both in their twenties, loaded the hides of buffaloes, calves and goats, collected over a period of a month from various parts of Sohna block, onto Tota Ram’s hired vehicle. They possessed licences from two agencies, the Sohna Panchayat Samiti and the State government-recognised Adarsh Gaushala of Teekli village, to skin dead animals and collect their bones. The panchayat samiti had given them, on payment of Rs.35,000, the licence valid for the period from Apri1 1, 2002, to March 31, 2003. (Frontline possesses copies of the receipts issued by both agencies.) For the past 35 years, their families had been doing this job. All five men belonged to the Jatav caste.

The families of Virender and Dayachand were the only ones in Badshahpur village that skinned dead animals. The skins, which they sold at nominal prices to traders, seemed to fetch good prices when they reached the shoe factories in Karnal. The skinners had small godowns in their homes to store the skins, which were salted to keep the smell away. These families have been living with hides in their midst for decades. Not many people belonging to the Jatav community prefer to do this work if they have a choice.

Information gathered from Rattan Lal, Virender’s father, and others revealed that Kailash had stayed for three days in the village and on October 15, around 2 p.m., he collected the skins stored in the homes of Virender and Dayachand. The skinning was usually done in the jungles, away from the roads. Tota Ram hired the vehicle from the adjoining Teekli village. The group left Badshahpur in the afternoon. That was the last time people of the village saw them.

Early the next morning, the families of the five persons were informed by the police that there had been an “accident” involving them and were told to rush to the Jhajjar Civil Hospital. The family members reached the hospital to find the mutilated bodies. Relatives of the five men do not believe the police version. They appear convinced that the police personnel at the Duleena post tried to extort money from the men and an altercation ensued.

At the Duleena post, a structure with three small rooms, there were telltale signs of brutal killings. There were bloodstains on the road where the post is located. The stains on the porch of the police post were still visible. The badges on the uniforms of the three policemen on duty were conspicuously missing. All three denied that they were present on the day of the incident. One inspector, who identified himself as Virender, showed this correspondent the grills of the two windows that had allegedly been twisted by the mob. In fact, the frames were intact, and it was surprising how a 5,000-strong crowd could not break it. The garden in front of the building remained intact, with sunflower in full bloom. When asked how the plants and the flowers had escaped the wrath of a rampaging crowd, the inspector said: “We had to do a lot to get them in shape.” He added that the police could not do anything as the mob had all kinds of implements. This also sounded improbable, for if the people were returning from Dasara festivities, they would not have been carrying farm implements. He said that the Station House Officer (SHO) was hurt, but it turned out that the officer had only a scratch on his arm.

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