arya sharma/ catch news
Their bodies were found hanging from a tree
Members of Gau Raksha Samiti are among the accused. One is an alleged Bajrang Dal activist
How has the government responded?
Opposition reacts, but after a 2 day lull
In a case of belated wisdom dawning upon Opposition parties in Jharkhand and at the Center, the Latehar lynchings are now being held up as a throwback to the horrific murder of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri in September 2015. After maintaining a surprising silence for two days on the murder and hanging of the two Muslim cattle-traders on 18 March, the Congress, the CPI(M) and the Jharkhand Vikas Morch (Prajatantrik) have demanded a CBI probe into the incident.
JVM(P) President and former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi and Congress' Jharkhand unit President Sukhdeo Bhagat raised the demand, after meeting the family members of the deceased at their homes in Jhabar village under Balumath police station in Latehar district. CPI(M)'s Brinda Karat also visited Latehar and reportedly said that even though she had no faith in the CBI, Jharkhand police could not be expected to carry out "a fair inquiry...in the given circumstances".
Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janatal Dal(United), in power in neighbouring Bihar, too condemned the lynchings. In a clear indictment of the BJP, in power both at the Center and in Jharkhand, RJD national spokesperson Manoj Jha told Catch this was the enactment of the same 'horrific drama' by the BJP and its affiliates that had claimed the lives of Mohammad Akhlaq, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar.
Catch also spoke to JD(U)'s KC Tyagi who called the incident another manifestation of the BJP's intolerance and an extension of what happened in Dadri. All rights of citizens of the country have come under threat in the NDA regime, he added.
Central leadership of the CPI(M) and Congress had flagged the gravity of the incident early on, with the CPI(M) politburo saying on 19 March that the incident was "a result of the sustained communal campaign conducted by the Hindutva outfits" and was "reminiscent of the Dadri lynching". Party general secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted to ask if this was "the template of public lynching approved by the BJP-RSS"?
Congress MP and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad wrote a scathing letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi the same day in which he called the incident a reckless targeting of "members of minority community" by affiliates of Sangh Parivar". Azad expressed concern at the "unchecked growth of communal hatred" and accused the government of emboldening and encouraging "such elements".
According to the FIR filed by the police, two residents of Jhabar- Muhammad Majloom, 35, and Azad Khan alias Ibrahim, 15- were on their way to the weekly market with cattle (many reports claim these were oxen) in the wee hours of Friday-Saturday. Soon, a group of residents of the same village, including Mithilesh Prasad Sahu (associated with the Gau Raksha Samiti), Pramod Kumar Sahu, Manoj Kumar Sahu and Manoj Sahu, attacked Majloom and Ibrahim in the forests on the charge that they were taking cattle to the bazaar for sale.
As Majloom and Ibrahim resisted their assailants' attempt to take away the cattle, the latter nabbed, beat up and strangled them to death and then hanged them from a tree in the forests. The police later recovered their hanging bodies and a day after the crime was committed, eight persons were identified as accused. Five of these have been arrested, while three others were still at large.
Latehar Superintendent of Police Anoop Birtharay said that at least one of the arrested accused was linked to a cow protection outfit. His relatives disagree, admitting instead that he was a member of the Bajrang Dal, another affiliate of the RSS. One of the three accused who are yet to be arrested is also said to be a member of a cow protection outfit.
Even as reports of the brutal act and visuals of the victims' hanging bodies sparked outrage, the incident appeared low on priority for the state government. Chief Minister Raghubar Das' statement to media even carried hints of justifying the murders. "There is a law...in Jharkhand also no one can take animals outside the state. The police is working to contain the situation," he said.
Das was in Delhi on 19 and 20 March for a meeting of the BJP's National Executive. On 21 March in Ranchi, the only tweet he had sent out was on World Forests Day.
And he also took out time to change his Twitter display picture to one of him celebrating Holi.
Just like the Dadri incident, the Union government maintained a stoic silence on this incident too. The incident received no mention from the Prime Minister or his cabinet colleagues in their speeches at public functions and press interactions from 18 March onwards.
The Home Ministry did not consider it worth taking note of, even if as a serious lapse of law and order in the state, as it had done on the Dadri issue.
The minority affairs ministry was entirely occupied with celebrating "the multicultural ethos of the Parsi-Zoroastrian community" throughout this interregnum on account of Nauroz.
The festival of Holi is just round the corner and Jharkhand police reportedly said their immediate priority was to ensure peace throughout the festival. It remains to be seen whether it will be granted that wish as opposition parties have planned for protests to turn up the heat on the incident.
Edited by Aditya Menon
More in Catch: