On the night of October 3, Jharkhand police swept down on Dighari village in Jamatara district, detaining 22-year-old Minhaz Ansari, and two of his friends, Shahban and Fahim.
Ansari, who owned a small photocopy shop, lived in the village with his parents, wife, and an eight-month-old daughter. Shahban worked in a vehicle repair shop next to Ansari’s shop.
“I was standing near Minhaj’s shop at about 9 at night, when eight to 10 men in plain clothes arrived on two motorcycles and a four-wheel vehicle,” Shahban told a team of activists that visited Dighari on October 17. “They started to chase and beat Minhaj and me. We tried to run. We thought they were criminals.”
Unbeknownst to the young men, Sonu Singh, the district head of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Jamtara unit, had complained to the police that Ansari had posted a photograph of himself with a calf on a WhatsApp group on October 2, followed by another of him posing with beef. The slaughter of cows is banned in Jharkhand.
At the police station that night, said Shabhan, they were thrashed by sub-inspector Harish Pathak and five or six other police personnel. “Later, they beat Minhaj separately,” recounted Shahban. “We could hear his cries. When they put him back in our room, his ear was bleeding. He could not speak, we tried to feed him, but he could not eat, the food would fall out of his mouth.”
A government autopsy report has found that Minhaj Ansari died of “haemorrhage and shock” of injuries “caused by hard and blunt substances”. However, Harish Pathak, the officer in charge of the Narayanpur police station in Jamtara district where Ansari was detained, and Sonu Singh, a Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader – both of whom have been accused of thrashing Ansari at the police station – have not been arrested even two weeks after the autopsy report was completed.
“Government medical records show police tortured Minhaj to death,” said Ghulam Mustafa, Ansari's maternal uncle. “Then, why has the police official-in-charge not even been arrested yet?”
'Intestine filled with blood'
After the non-profit news organisation TwoCircles.net on October 10, first reported Ansari’s death in custody, police officials said that the cause of death was likely to be encephalitis, a viral infection. However, the autopsy report by doctors of the government-run Rajinder Institute of Medical Sciences in Ranchi did not find any evidence of either encephalitis or any viral infection.
The autopsy report, first accessed by TwoCircles.net, said:
“The mucus of stomach was highly congested...it was layered with blood, reddish brown in colour. The stomach was empty...2/3rd of the small intestine was filled with blood.
Above noted injuries are ante-mortem caused by hard and blunt substances...Cause of death is haemorrhage and shock."
Senior district officials said that they were waiting for the results of a forensics report before taking further action against Patkhak, the officer at the Narayanpur police station.
“We have preserved the viscera and sent it for further forensic tests,” District Superintendent of Police MK Singh told Scroll.in. "We have suspended sub-inspector Pathak for dereliction of duty.
Dighari village, a neighbourhood of Muslim Ansari and Hindu Bhandari, Rai and Mandal families, is 45 km from Jamtara town in east Jharkhand.
Qadir Ansari, who is related to the Ansaris, told the fact-finding team that before Minhaj Ansari was arrested, his uncle was called to the police station, shown the photographs his nephew had allegedly shared on WhatsApp, and was told to send him to the police station. But by the time the uncle returned home late that evening, Ansari had already been arrested.
Soon after the young man was arrested on October 3, the police arrived at their home, Ansari’s family told the fact-finding team comprising Anil Anshuman of the All India People’s Forum, Afzal Anis of the United Milli Forum, Dheeraj Kumar of the Right to Food campaign, Tanvir of Anjuman Islamia, Ziaullah of Association for Protection of Civil Rights, and Akash of the Yuwa Ulgulan Manch. It was late at night.
“We were scared, we did not open the door, they tried to force open the door,” Umar Ansari, Ansari’s father who works in a saw mill, told the activists. “When we opened the door, Harish Pathak, the Narayanpur officer-in-charge started abusing my family. He said he would kill Minhaj.”
Ansari’s sister Gulroshan said: “Pathak made a phone call and made us listen to Minhaj’s cries as he was being beaten. He let me speak to Minhaj on the phone. Minhaj said, ‘My life is in danger, give them everything they ask for.'”
The family said the police took Rs 3,000 cash from their house that night, and also Minhaj Ansari’s laptop, mobile and motorcycle – which they later returned.
Ansari’s uncle Ghulam Mustafa, who accompanied the young man’s parents to the police station the morning after his arrest, said police officer Pathak abused and threatened them.
“Police station official-in-charge Harish Pathak threatened us [saying], ‘Go away, you Miyans, or all of you will be put in jail’ and ‘all Miyans will be straightened now,'” said Mustafa, using a derogatory word for Muslims.
He added, “Sonu Sharma of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad was also at the police station. He slapped and hit Mihnaj. He was urging Pathak to thrash Minhaj.”
After Irfan Ali, Member of the Legislative Assembly from Jamtara, visited the police station that day, Shahban and Fahim were released. But Ansari remained in custody.
“On both October 3 night and October 4 morning, we were put in the same room as Minhaj,” recounted Ansari's friend Shahban. “He could not speak at all. He signalled he would not survive.”
On October 5, the police took Ansari first to the Sadar Hospital at Jamtara, and then to Patliputra Medical College and Hospital in Dhanbad.
Ghulam Mustafa said the MLA called to inform the family that Ansari had been taken to Dhanbad. Members of the family arrived at the hospital the following day.
“We requested the policemen [to let us see Ansari], but Pathak, who was also present there, was not allowing us to see Minhaj,” said Mustafa. “At the hospital, Pathak pushed Minhaj’s mother on the chest. She tried to protect herself and in this Pathak was hurt by her bangles. He threatened us that he will register an attempt to murder case against us.”
The Ansari family filed a written complaint against Pathak, which was later turned into a First Information Report with charges of attempt to murder. Pathak also registered an FIR against Ansari’s family members.
Umar Ansari told the fact-finding team that when the family was eventually permitted to see Ansari they feared that he was dead. “When we finally were allowed, Minhaj was unconscious,” said Umar Ansari. “His mother shook and kissed him, but he did not respond. There was no movement in his body.”
The autopsy on Ansari's body was conducted at the Rajinder Institute of Medical Sciences on October 9.
Activist Afzal Anis said that district officials were being unresponsive even two weeks after Ansari’s death. “We gave a notice to the administration and have been protesting outside the District Collectorate since morning, but no official has even visited once,” he told Scroll.in on October 22.
District Collector RK Dubey said the charges in the First Information Report against sub-inspector Pathak had been changed from attempt to murder, to murder, after Ansari’s death. “Pathak’s conduct is being supervised by the district Superintendent of Police office,” he said. “After this, he may be arrested.”