Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “pained” by the lynching of a young man in Jharkhand last week but rushed to the defence of the state. It was wrong to call Jharkhand a hub of lynching, he said, all its residents should not be blamed for one crime. Instead, people should have faith in law and justice, Modi said.
Yet, lynchings have been normalised over the last few years with the police more anxious to file cases against the victim: for bike theft, cattle smuggling, cow slaughter.
On June 18, after 22-year-old Tabrez Ansari was tied to a pole and beaten by a mob that forced him to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman”, the Jharkhand police arrested him, took down a so-called confession and sent him to judicial custody. The crime was his: that of attempted motorcycle theft. Of the assault and the men who administered a deadly beating, there was no mention in the initial police record.
Four days later, Ansari was rushed to a local hospital where he was declared dead. Four vital days in which his injuries might have been treated and his life saved. Incredibly, the police claimed that they did not know of the assault, since Ansari had not spoken of it.
The Jharkhand case fits into a pattern.
In Dadri, four years ago, Mohammad Akhlaq became one of the first victims of beef-related violence. The Uttar Pradesh police initially directed its energies to studying the contents of his fridge – to determine whether the meat inside actually was beef – before it turned its attention to the mob that killed him. Within a year, a local court had ordered the Greater Noida police to file charges against the murdered Akhlaq and six members of his family under the Uttar Pradesh Cow Protection Act of 1955. At least some of those accused of the lynching have been rehabilitated by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
In 2017, Pehlu Khan died of his wounds in Alwar after being lynched by a mob on suspicion that he was smuggling cattle, despite his having produced papers to prove that his consignment was legal. A few months later, the police claimed there was no evidence to make out a case against the six men Khan had named as perpetrators in his dying declaration. A year later, Khan’s two companions, who had been assaulted with him but survived, were booked for cattle smuggling.
In 2018, 26-year-old Mohamed Farooq Khan, an MBA graduate and an entrepreneur in Manipur, was beaten to death for allegedly trying to steal a two wheeler. Videos of the violence show police loitering about as the mob rains blows on him; the chargesheet filed after the incident books some of the killers but says he was lynched for attempted theft.
This is chilling logic, which rationalises the majoritarian rage that prompted the killings in the first place. It was rough justice, the police FIRs and chargesheets suggest, but the victims died because they were somehow guilty. That the law, or the system which enforces it, does not rank hate and murder over petty or imaginary crimes does not bode well for justice in these cases.
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