Cow vigilantism

Latehar lynchings: Independent investigation finds lapses in Jharkhand Police inquiry

Ten human rights groups have demanded that the BJP leader named by one the eyewitnesses be put to trial.

Ten human rights bodies have demanded the arrest of a Bharatiya Janata Party leader from Jharkhand for his involvement in the lynching of two people in the state’s Latehar district in March 2016. The groups carried out an independent investigation into the brutal incident of cow vigilantism and released a report on Monday, demanding that the Jharkhand government challenge the bail granted to the accused as well as action against the police officers responsible for “sabotaging” the inquiry into the case.

“Not only did the police not fully investigate the crime on the basis of eyewitness accounts and testimonies, they also failed to press appropriate charges against the accused,” the human rights bodies said in a report titled “Jharkhand Police sabotage lynching probe”. “This has considerably weakened the case, as a consequence of which every one of the accused was able to secure bail from the Jharkhand High Court.”

In March 2016, cow vigilantes abducted cattle trader Majloom Ansari and schoolboy Imtiaz Khan while they were on their way to a cattle fair in a neighbouring district. They then lynched the two and hanged them from a tree.

The independent investigators spoke to three eyewitnesses to the crime. One of them had named five of the eight accused to the police, and another had identified the local BJP leader, Vinod Prajapati. Although Prajapati was the only accused named in the FIR, he was neither questioned nor arrested in the case. The human rights bodies have demanded that he be put under trial.

The report noted that the police had acknowledged the hand of cow vigilantes in the lynching but had refused to associate the crime with any particular organisation. It also mentions details of the “unequivocal autopsy reports” of the two victims, including that the mob had used “long, hard, rod-like, blunt” weapons.

The investigation also found that some of the testimonies “unambiguously show that the accused not only knew the victims but had also long harboured explicit intentions to murder them”. Despite this, the chargesheet that the police filed in May 2016 did not include criminal conspiracy or abduction among the charges against the accused. The report pointed out that the accused got bail even though they were charged with murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code.

Although the accused had confessed to the double murder and detailed their activities before the lynching, the police had made no effort to record their confessions before a magistrate, the independent investigation found. The report highlighted that the three eyewitnesses and those who gave their testimonies to the police all said that the accused had threatened the victims with murder on multiple occasions if they did not stop working as cattle traders.

Considering the eyewitness accounts, testimonies and autopsies, the police should have concluded that the murders were premeditated, “the accused had hatched a conspiracy to carry out the killings”, at least one of the accused had links with the BJP, and that the attackers were “armed with pistols and hard, blunt rod-like weapons”, the report said.

The investigation was carried out by representatives of Alliance for Justice and Accountability, New York; Citizens for Justice and Peace, Mumbai; Dalit American Coalition, New York; Indian American Muslim Council, Washington DC, Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association, New Delhi; National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements, New Delhi; Rihaee Manch, Lucknow; South Asia Solidarity Group, London; South Asian Solidarity Initiative, New York; The Quill Foundation, New Delhi; and United Against Hate, New Delhi.

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