Communalism

Lynched and framed

Print edition : October 28, 2016

The panchayat held in June which decided to file an FIR against Akhlaq and his family. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Akhlaq's brothers (from left) Jan Mohammad, who has been named in the FIR, Mohammad Jameel and Mohammad Afjaal. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

Mohammad Akhlaq. Photo: PTI

One year after Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched, an FIR has been filed against him and his family members, apparently to harass the family into withdrawing the case and to polarise society before the Assembly elections.

A YEAR ago, on the night of September 28, a murder catapulted Bisahra, a nondescript village in Dadri in Gautam Buddha Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh, to notoriety. According to the first information report (FIR) filed that night, a mob of 10 to 15 persons, armed with scythes, sticks and metal rods, broke into the house of Mohammad Akhlaq, an ironsmith, and lynched him on suspicion of slaughtering a cow and storing its meat in the refrigerator. Akhlaq’s wife, son and daughter were beaten up. Akhlaq’s son sustained severe head injuries and is still undergoing treatment at a hospital in Delhi.

The incident sent shockwaves across the nation and the world and drew widespread condemnation. Several writers returned the awards given to them by the government and expressed their anguish over the growing atmosphere of intolerance. The battle of and over ideas had come out in the open. Statements made then by Culture and Civil Aviation Minister Mahesh Sharma that the incident was an “accident” drew widespread opprobrium. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) saw a conspiracy in these widespread protests by authors and eminent public personalities as the Assembly elections in Bihar were approaching.

The family moved out of the village within weeks of the incident. Twenty people were identified by the witnesses—Akhlaq’s daughter Sayista and son Danish were the main eyewitnesses—but only 15, including three juveniles, were arrested (one of the accused, 21-year-old Ravin Sisodia, died in a Delhi hospital on October 4). The juveniles were released on bail, but Yusuf Saifi, the advocate representing Akhlaq’s family at the Sessions court, told Frontline that one of these three was not a juvenile but an adult.

More than a year later, attacks by cow protection groups continue unabated and the ghosts of Dadri are still lingering.

In June this year, a panchayat was held in Bisahra, and it was decided that an FIR would be filed against Akhlaq’s family. Ironically, the FIR named Akhlaq as well. It was registered in July after the court ordered the police to do so under Section 156 (3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Lawyers involved in Akhlaq’s case said it was highly unusual to name a dead person in an FIR. “For nine months they sat tight. It is a travesty of justice. The magistrate forgot the basic principle of law that no suit or proceedings can be made against a dead person,” said Farman Ahmad Naqvi, the advocate who has filed an application in the Allahabad High Court for the quashing of the FIR. Apart from Akhlaq, six others, including his brother Jan Mohammad and wife Ikraman, were listed as accused under the cow slaughter laws of the State.

A tale of two reports

Yusuf Saifi told Frontline that the police had confiscated some meat and body parts of an animal that were recovered near a transformer where Akhlaq had been bludgeoned to death. The police sent the samples to the government veterinary hospital in Dadri. The veterinary officer clearly stated in his report, a copy of which is available with Frontline, that the meat weighed four to five kilograms and was in the form of small pieces. He made three specific points in his report on the details of the meat given to him for testing: one, “all meat, non-hygienic, red in colour and foul smelling with white fat deposits between the groups of muscles”; two, “both forelegs and both hind legs up to knee level also recovered and both hind legs have intact [sic] with skin”; and three, “skin of face”. He concluded that “ prima facie, it seems that this meat belongs to goat progeny”. He recommended that for a final diagnosis, samples of the meat be sent to the forensic laboratory in Mathura.

The Mathura laboratory, located at the University of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry, received the samples from Dadri on October 3, 2015, and analysed them the same day. Its report, not as detailed as that of the veterinary hospital in Dadri, merely stated that “on the basis of chemical analysis, the sample belongs to cow [sic] or its progeny [sic]”. It was signed by the Joint Director, Forensic Investigation Laboratory, Mathura. Although the report was dated October 3, 2015, it only surfaced in May 2016, when it was submitted to the court. “The report was never provided to us at any stage. It mysteriously made its way to the court,” said Farman Ahmad Naqvi.

The FIR, filed on the basis of a complaint by one of the Bisahra villagers, draws an elaborate narrative of the events of the day. According to reliable sources, the complainant, who is reportedly close to a political party, was not present in the village when the incident occurred. But it is this FIR, coupled with the Mathura forensic report, that threatens to deflect attention away from the dastardly murder that took place on September 28, 2015.

Not only is the family being targeted all over again, but the Muslim families in the village, numbering about a score, live in constant fear because of certain developments. An indefinite hunger strike by Sadhvi Harsiddhi Giri and some of the mothers of the accused persons has given the case a new twist. And it is not a coincidence that the venue of the sadhvi’s fast is the same temple from where the call to attack Akhlaq emanated.

“The Bisahra men are not doing anything to raise their voices. That is why the women have come out. Besides, the BJP has to respond sometime as everyone knows the elections in Uttar Pradesh are going to be fought on Bisahra and Kairana,” the sadhvi told Frontline. Kairana is a town in Shamli district. Hukum Singh, a BJP MP, alleged that more than 300 Hindu families had left the town owing to pressure from the minority community. Several BJP and Sangh Parivar leaders jumped into the fray, demanding a probe. The administration has denied any such exodus.

A report by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on September 21, which confirmed the “exodus”, drew strong criticism from rights-based groups. The NHRC noted that many families had migrated because of an increase in crime and deterioration in the law and order situation. Its conclusions, based on depositions from two dozen witnesses, are that women were unsafe in the town. It is a fact that families displaced in the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots were rehabilitated in Shamli, but, in hindsight, it could have been avoided had the riots not happened in the first place.

Backed by Hindutva forces

The sadhvi, originally from Kaithal district in Haryana, is a law graduate. She said that she had the support of all “Hindu” organisations in her present mission. “Representatives of the Shiv Sena, the Gau Raksha Dal, the Bajrang Dal, the Hindu Sena, the Hindu Mahasabha and the Hindu Mahasangh came here to give their support to my fast. We are planning a protest at the Collectorate very soon. The village pradhan, a woman, is also supporting me. I want that Muslim man, Jan Mohammad, to be arrested. He has slaughtered a cow and eaten its meat. Our emotions have been hurt,” she said. After the incident last year, she had “purified” the village with cow urine and Gangajal.

The path that snakes its way through Bisahra village is hardly a road. Despite the national and international notoriety the village received, nothing much has changed: the potholes remain, storing within them the memories of the lynching that happened a year ago. The Rajput-dominated village boasts of six temples, a co-educational government high school and a private school as well. But it is one temple that stands out—the Siva temple, as it was from here that an announcement was made that Akhlaq had slaughtered a calf and the temple priest, along with others, exhorted people to assemble and come to the alleged perpetrator’s house. The priest was never summoned for questioning.

Members of the majority community Frontline spoke to said that the demand for the arrest of Akhlaq’s family members would be withdrawn if the cases against the accused were withdrawn. Ramesh Lambardar, a resident, told Frontline that many attempts had been made to broker an understanding. “What happened was wrong, but Akhlaq could have disposed of the meat somewhere faraway. He got caught and then sentiments were involved. You see, it is the fault of the women. They tell their children to give the very first roti that is cooked to the cow. That is how the children develop such affection for the cow over human beings,” he said, justifying the incidents of the day.

Akhlaq’s brother Jan Mohammad is in a state of depression. A senior technician with a prominent East Asian company, he said that he was not in the village on Id or at the time of the incident. A resident of Dadri town for the last 15 years, he had left Bisahra to give his children a good education in the city. He admitted that he had a two-roomed dwelling in Bisahra, which he had given on rent to a Dalit, and the deal had been negotiated by two caste Hindus of the village. This was the house where a calf had allegedly been slaughtered by him. He told Frontline that he never ventured to collect the rent after his brother’s murder. He said he had evidence to show that he was nowhere in the village when the incident occurred. He learned about the attack on his brother’s family while he was in Dadri.

Brinda Karat, Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) who has been involved in getting justice for the family right from the beginning and who has been in touch with the lawyers, said that there were two aspects to the case that were linked to each other—the tragedy and trauma of a family and their continuing harassment, and, secondly, the politics of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Hindutva forces in the context of the forthcoming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.

‘Bunch of lies’

She said: “I have been through all the papers regarding the case against Jan Mohammad. It is just a bunch of lies from the beginning to the end and is full of contradictions. It is quite shocking how a court took cognisance of what, prima facie, is so clearly a motivated petition. We have requested the police to file their report soon so that the case can be closed. But as far as the cynical game of the BJP-RSS is concerned, they want to keep the issue alive with the obvious aim of communal polarisation. Akhlaq’s family has been stoic and dignified in their continuing trauma. Danish, the younger son who was beaten to within an inch of his life, is unable to get a job. Surely, the government has some responsibility to ensure that.”

Clearly, Akhlaq’s murder was no accident. In the months that followed, there were several cases of targeting of minorities and Dalits under the pretext of cow protection. The self-styled cow protection vigilante groups, instead of being reined in, were being given a free hand all over the country. The beating up of the Dalit flayers in Una; the “biryani testing” and harassment of food vendors in Mewat; the double murder of a landless couple, the gang rape of two women and the systematic vandalism of a minority hamlet in the Meo region in Alwar; and the near-lynching of two young Muslim men in Delhi who were disposing of the remains of a buffalo carcase after Id are some recent instances of vigilantism in the name of cow protection. Clashes erupted between two communities in Bijnor in the second week of September, leading to the death of four members of the minority community. An advocate who was accused of instigating the mob turned out to be a local BJP leader. The mobilisation of the mob followed a familiar script—it was provoked by the teasing of girls of the majority community by minority community members. It seemed as if this was a case of Muzaffarnagar redux.

The story of Akhlaq’s lynching and the identification of the meat keep on changing. The only element of truth is that 50-year-old Akhlaq was murdered brutally on the night of September 28, 2015, leaving behind a scarred family. It is apparent that the FIR, filed as an afterthought, is being used as a tool to pressure the family into withdrawing the case and, more importantly, to keep the emotional quotient around the cow-slaughter issue alive until the Assembly elections are over.

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