COMMUNALISM

Kin of lynching victims wait for justice

Print edition : July 30, 2021

RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat at the launch of Khwaja Iftikhar Ahmed’s book “Meeting of Minds” at Mewar Institute in Ghaziabad on July 4. Photo: PTI

Mohammad Akhlaq, whose murder in 2015 was the first in a series of lynchings over suspected cow slaughter. Photo: PTI

Pehlu Khan, who was lynched in 2017, is survived by his wife and two sons. In this photograph, his wife and one of his sons, Irshad, at their home in Jaysingh village in Haryana’s Mewat region in 2019. Photo: MANOJ KUMAR

The RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat has asserted that those who kill innocent Muslims over cow slaughter go against Hindutva, but the families of men who have been lynched over suspicions of cow slaughter are yet to secure justice.

The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) supremo Mohan Bhagwat made headlines recently with his seemingly placatory noises towards Indian Muslims. Speaking in Ghaziabad near Delhi on July 4, he said: “When people speak about the need for Hindu-Muslim unity, we say we are already one, we are not separate.” This was the first time since 2014 that Bhagwat deemed it appropriate to denounce the lynching of innocent Muslims. “The cow is a holy animal, but the people who are lynching others are going against Hindutva. Law should take its own course against them without any partiality,” he said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, incidentally, is yet to break his silence on the subject, seven years after the first case of lynching was reported from Pune.

Bhagwat’s words would not have pleased those who lynched Mohammed Akhlaq on September 28, 2015, or those who attacked Pehlu Khan, Rakbar, Qasim, Alimuddin Ansari and many others. Good as his words were, Bhagwat did not deem it necessary to comment on why justice has not yet been done to the victims of lynching or why the Central government has not extended any financial assistance to their families. The bereaved families are yet to see their legal cases reach the desired end.

Also read: Dodging duty in curbing lynching

The case of Akhlaq

The family of Mohammed Akhlaq, the best publicised victim of lynching, was the only one to get any compensation or aid from the government. Akhlaq was dragged out of his home in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh and lynched by cow vigilantes who accused him of storing beef in his fridge. The then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav, gave an assistance of Rs.30 lakh to Akhlaq’s widow and Rs.5 lakh each to his three brothers. However, justice was far from done in the case. His assailants, who were nabbed soon after the attack, got bail soon afterwards. One of them, Hari Om, even planned to contest the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha election in 2017 and the Lok Sabha election in 2019. The other boys arrested in the case were allegedly helped by the local MLA, Tej Pal, and MP Mahesh Sharma to get back to normal life with contractual jobs in public sector units in the area.

Ironically, Akhlaq was initially made an accused in the case. Later, his brother Jaan Mohammed’s name was added to the charge sheet and he was made the principal accused in the alleged cow slaughter. It was claimed that Akhlaq killed a calf; his brother and children were said to have helped in the slaughter by holding the animal down. In a conversation with Frontline, Jaan Mohammed said: “I got a summons from the sessions court last year before the lockdown. Now that Akhlaq is not there, they have made me the principal accused. They do not have any proof against me. They have made me an accused basically to counter the charge sheet filed against the accused in Akhlaq’s lynching.”

In the main case of Akhlaq’s killing, a charge sheet has been framed, and the sessions court at Surajpur issued a summons to Akhlaq’s wife and daughter to give their account of the killing. Jaan Mohammed said: “Just before the second lockdown this year, a summons was issued, but Akhlaq’s wife was not well at that time. So, she could not go to give her eyewitness account. Also, police protection was not provided. The court is closed and the next summons yet to be issued. Otherwise, only the charges were framed last year on the basis of the names given by Akhlaq’s family. One of the accused was released. Three were found to be allegedly juvenile, though we have their voters’ ID cards to prove they were not juvenile when the incident happened. All of them got bail soon after the Adityanath government came to power.”

Also read: Lynch mob again

He said the alleged killers were trying to prevail upon Akhlaq’s family to take the case back. “We tell them, we are not going to take the case back. As for the case they have foisted upon me, they and the police know the truth that I was not even there the day Akhlaq was lynched. We are confident of fighting my case and winning it.”

The “winning” moment may take time. Meanwhile, the family has had to shell out a lot of money to lawyers for each hearing. “Every hearing sets us back by Rs.10,000 to 15,000,” Jaan Mohammed said. But he refuses to be browbeaten: “I have lived in Dadri for 20 years. I am still there. I am not going away though the accused roam free in the area,” he said.

The case of Junaid

Things are more complicated in the case of Junaid, the teenager who was killed aboard a train on his way from Delhi to Ballabhgarh in June 2017. Junaid, who had memorised the Quran, had come down to Delhi for Eid shopping after having led the special taraweeh prayers in his village. On the train ride home, he apparently got into an argument over a seat with Naresh, Rameshwar, Pradeep, Gaurav and Chander Prakash. The quarrel degenerated into a brawl that proved fatal for Junaid. Junaid’s brother was injured.

Six men were arrested. A month later, one of them, Chander Prakash, was released by the sessions court: Additional Sessions judge Y.S. Rathore dismissed charges under Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code dealing with common intent behind the crime. The Haryana Police withdrew charges of rioting, unlawful assembly and common intention against four of the accused. Later, the Additional District and Sessions Judge of Faridabad rapped Additional Advocate General Naveen Kaushik for helping the counsel of Naresh Kumar, the main accused. Kaushik was asked to resign in November 2017. Junaid’s family has asked, in vain so far, for an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

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Naresh, meanwhile, was seen recently at the mahapanchayat in Haryana where BJP spokesman Suraj Pal Amu is said to have asked the local residents not to give their “houses on rent to Pakistanis”, an ugly euphemism for Muslims. Naresh, too, is said to have addressed the gathering.

The social activist Khaliq, who helped Junaid’s family to overcome the trauma in the initial days, said: “Junaid’s family is yet to get justice. His family is fighting the case, but it is difficult for them. The odds are stacked up against them. The family got some reasonable help from non-governmental organisations, though nothing came from either the State or the Central government. Nobody came from the Chief Minister’s office to offer solace or any monetary help for the family or even the treatment of Junaid’s brother. Naresh was released and was seen giving a hate speech at the mahapanchayat recently. He is the main accused in the attack on Junaid, who got 54 stab wounds. Where is justice?”

The case of Pehlu Khan

Things are not much different with the family of Pehlu Khan, who was lynched on his way home from a cattle fair at Alwar in Rajasthan. His wife and children live in a joint family, so their expenses are taken care of. Pehlu Khan’s family had received help from some Muslim organisations which bought them cows and buffaloes to carry on their traditional occupation of dairy-farming. Yet again, the state has been absent in rehabilitating the victim’s family. While the Vasundhara Raje Scindia government made Khan an accused in his own killing, Ashok Gehlot’s Congress government has dragged its feet on the issue of providing the family justice.

Indeed, the case progressed in a bizarre fashion with Pehlu Khan himself named as an accused. Six persons named by Pehlu Khan in his dying declaration were given a clean chit in August 2019 for lack of evidence. (The lawyer representing the victim’s family had asked for life imprisonment for the accused.) The case was heard in the court of Additional District Judge Sarita Swami. Arguments from both the sides were completed on August 7, 2019. The six men —Vipin Yadav, Ravindra Kumar, Kaluram, Dayanand, Yogesh Kumar and Bheem Rathi—were given the benefit of the doubt and acquitted. “The Alwar court acquitted all six lynching accused giving them the benefit of the doubt," said Additional Public Prosecutor Yogendra Khatana. Pehlu Khan’s family did not give up hope. The Rajasthan government and Pehlu Khan’s sons filed separate appeals in the High Court against the lower court order in October 2020. The matter has not yet been listed for hearing.

Also read: Law against lynching in Madhya Pradesh

Three remaining accused were said to have been minors at the time of the crime and were tried in a juvenile court. In March 2020, barely days before janata curfew was imposed, Alwar’s Juvenile Justice Board sentenced two of them to three years in a special or safe home. They were held guilty under Sections 302 (murder), 147 (rioting), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 341 (wrongful restraint) of the Indian Penal Code. Sub-inspector Ram Kishore, the officer investigating the case, told the media: “The board sentenced both of them to three years in a ‘vishesh’ or ‘surakshit grah’ [special or safe home] in Jaipur.”

While those accused of lynching Pehlu Khan and filming the attack were set free for lack of evidence, the State Police framed charges against Pehlu Khan under Section 6 of the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995. His sons Irshad and Arif were also charged under sections 5, 8 and 9 of the Act. The Rajasthan High Court, however, quashed the cow smuggling case against Pehlu Khan and his sons.

The case of Rakbar Khan

Rakbar Khan was lynched in July 2018. He was attacked when he and his friend Aslam were walking with his cattle in Ramgarh, not far from Alwar. While Rakbar was pronounced dead on arrival at a local health centre, Aslam escaped with his life. It was only on June 17 this year that the principal accused, Nawal Kishore, a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, was arrested under Sections 302, 304, 323, 341 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code. This was the fifth arrest in the case; earlier, charge sheets had been filed against the four other accused, Paramjit, Vijay, Dharmendra Yadav and Naresh. Paramjit approached the High Court for bail; the court turned it down, as the public prosecutor argued that 26 eyewitnesses had given their account and the case was heading towards its final stages. Any bail at this time could prove detrimental to the case, it was argued.

The arrest of Nawal Kishore provided some relief to Rakbar Khan’s family, which in February this year sought a transfer of the case, accusing the court handling it of bias. “We are afraid the court will acquit the accused just the way they did in the Pehlu Khan case,” Harun Khan, Rakbar’s brother, told the media. Harun and Habiban, Rakbar’s 73-year-old mother, said that the accused claimed to have “managed” the presiding officer who, they alleged, favoured the accused while writing down the evidence.

Also read: For cow and cash

The social activist Khaliq said: “In both the cases, of Pehlu and Rakbar, the accused should have been hanged. Instead, they have been booked under more lenient provisions, making it easier to get bail.”

The case of Mohammed Qasim

Mohammed Qasim was lynched in Pilkhuwa’s Bajhera Khurd village in Uttar Pradesh, barely 15 kilometres from Akhlaq’s Bishara village in Dadri, in June 2018. A photograph and a video of the assailants dragging Qasim’s body across the village with local policemen clearing the way for them went viral after the crime. Samiuddin, a bearded old man who tried to help Qasim, was also attacked and spent many weeks in hospital with a broken arm and other injuries.

Police arrested four men after non-bailable warrants were issued against them. One of them, Yudhisthir Sisodia, spent only 20 days in jail before the sessions court in Hapur granted him bail. Later, he was heard boasting in a sting operation, “They slaughtered cows, so I slaughtered them.” The Supreme Court took notice of the sting operation and agreed to hear the petition filed by lawyers representing the victims. Meanwhile, more than 20 hearings have taken place at the trial court and eyewitnesses have given their account. Nadeem Khan of United Against Hate, who was at the forefront of efforts to secure timely treatment for Samiuddin in Ghaziabad and Delhi, said: “But for the COVID-induced lockdown in April this year, we were hoping for a final verdict in the case.” Indeed, Mohammed Qasim’s family is hopeful that justice will be done.

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The families of Qasim and Samiuddin live a few kilometres from the place in Ghaziabad where Mohan Bhagwat made his conciliatory noises. Their families, and those of Akhlaq, Rakbar, Pehlu Khan and Junaid, would be hoping his message percolates down to Hindutva’s foot soldiers.

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