With at least 23 incidents of mob lynching in Jharkhand between March 2016 and November 2019, the state's Adivasi and minority communities are incredulous at the consistent silence of major political parties on the issue, and are determined to convey that anger in the voting booth as the five-phase Assembly election gets underway in the state.
The violence, which has largely taken a toll on marginalised population, has been on the rise under the BJP-led Raghubar Das government since 2016.
Even the main Opposition parties, like the Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), and the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik), have chosen to keep mum on the issue during their election campaigns as the accused are not only given a free reign after a nominal jail time, but some have even been felicitated by state ministers of the ruling BJP.
While the Congress promised an anti-lynching law in its manifesto unveiled on 23 November — seven days before the first phase of the election — social activists said the move is "not enough" to convince affected voters of a decisive voice against unabated mob violence.
"A negligible number of voters will read the manifesto, so how do they expect this move to be effective?" said Shibu Albert Horro, a social activist in Khunti district. The fact that most of the accused — the self-appointed gau rakshaks — belong to the General or OBC category is one of the reasons that even the Opposition is quiet about these killings, a few activists claimed. "They are afraid of damaging their vote base among influential communities," one of the activists said.
Firstpost travelled to three villages in the Garhwa, Gumla, and Khunti districts of Jharkhand, where locals are still coming to terms with the violence that seemingly erupted out of nowhere in August 2017, April 2019, and September 2019, respectively.
Wrong place at the wrong time
In all three cases, a few details emerged as a pattern:
- The victims were blindsided by the attackers, picked at random among a crowd of locals belonging to the Munda and Oraon tribes, because they were unable to escape fast enough;
- They were abused and made to chant slogans like 'Jai Shri Ram', failing which, they were severely punished;
- All the victims insisted the meat over which the vigilantism occurred was from cattle, mostly of an ox (bail), that was already dead;
- All had pending cases of cow slaughter against them under the Jharkhand Bovine Animal Prohibition of Slaughter Act, 2005, and the wait for justice against the perpetrators was endless.
What changed from case to case and family to family was the level of hope they have harboured in the Assembly election, the first time the ruling BJP is likely to be held accountable for their lack of action on the issue.
"I've given up. I fought as long as I could and now I don't have the money, health, or time to continue running from pillar to post for justice," said Anita Minj, sitting outside her half-constructed home under the Centre's Awas Yojana in Bargad block's Tengari village.
Her husband, Ramesh, was beaten by a mob in the neighbouring Barkol village on the night of 19 August 2017. He succumbed to his injuries in the Garhwa jail on 21 August. For two days, he was allegedly detained by the local police in various facilities without any medical attention.
Ironically, Ramesh was not even part of the group of men that had bought the beef from a local seller. He was passing through a field nearby after meeting his brother-in-law.
"I had called him in the evening to ask about his whereabouts and he said that he was returning home immediately. After that, his phone was switched off, and the next call I got is from the police telling me that he has been detained in connection to a case of gau hatya," Minj recalled.
"Maybe they beat him also because he must have spoken too much."
Anita minces no words in accusing the government and the police in being "complicit" to the crime. "If the officials truly wanted to help him, why was he denied medical treatment for more than 12 hours after the incident? A lot of them had serious injuries — fractures, ruptured veins — so why were they kept in the police thana overnight?" she demanded to know.
Stating that there was no investigation or follow-up to prove the veracity of cow slaughter claim, Anita added that the incident was "planned" to intimidate the Adivasi population of the area. "I'm not talking about what it looks like, it's what is evident. And it's evident that there was negligence in giving adequate care to those beaten up. Additionally, I was told by a clerk at the Garhwa civil court that I had not received the promised compensation because officials higher up were blocking the case," she said.
Anita, who was visited by government officials only when they came to "deliver the body", said that welfare measures like funds for the education of the four children and a means of employment are still pending.
The indifference towards political leaders across parties was evident from her tone when she spoke about the election. "I have lost faith in all government machinery and all political parties over the last two years. No matter who wins, no one is present in time of need," she said.
The reason for the mob's anger was a group of men in Barkol, a few kilometres away from Tengari, who got back home after buying beef. Among them, were Jamuna Oraon and Anit Gidh.
Their families said that the mob broke into their houses in the night and beat up the men and the women when they protested. "They didn't give any reason, didn't say anything, just barged in and started beating us up," Manita Lakda, the widow of 50-year-old Jamuna, said.
While Gidh recovered from his injuries, 50-year-old Jamuna passed away a few months after getting out of jail on bail. All of those who were beaten up were kept in jail for three months after the incident, and were granted bail after six months.
Gidh said that he considered withholding his vote because of the lack of acknowledgement and action from parties. "The incident has affected my livelihood, because of the fractures in my wrist and shoulder bone. I am not able to undertake strenuous farm labour, but I am also unable to migrate as a labourer," he said.
The locals alleged that Anita's husband Ramesh's death was made to look like he died during treatment in the hospital, but in reality "he died in jail".
In contrast, the families of the four tribal Christian men lynched by a mob on 9 April 2019 in the Jurmu village of the Dumri block spoke animatedly about the incident and against the BJP. Leading the discussion was Bertila Tirkey, who didn't need more of a prompt than 'election' to launch into a monologue praising former JVM leader and the candidate for the Jharkhand Party from the Gumla Assembly constituency, Saroj Lakra.
"We were helpless after the incident happened, but Saroj visited everyday and helped us with contacts for the lawyer to fight our case and has stuck by us despite receiving death threats from the perpetrators," Bertila said.
"Whether she wins or loses the election, she has our support," she added.
Four men — Prakash Lakda, Janvarius Minj, Bilasyus Tirkey, and Peter Kerketta — were beaten up by a mob that descended on locals when they were distributing portions of meat from a dead ox at the banks of a stream in the vicinity.
Armed with swords, sticks, and guns, the mob, from neighbouring Jairagi village, dragged the four men at least three kilometres, while beating and abusing them. "They made us drink urine when we asked for water," 60-year-old Bilasyus said.
Of the four, Prakash succumbed to his injuries outside the Jairagi police station after enduring the assault for at least four hours, and the three suvivors alleged that the Jairagi station officer incited the crowd to continue assaulting them for the "wrong-doing" of cow slaughter.
While Peter was in and out of consciousness throughout the assault, Bilasyus said his vision was affected from the attack. "I couldn't see, but I recognised the perpetrators from their voices," he said. This claim is seconded by Janvarius' fervent recital of the names of the accused and the weapons they held during the assault. "Those who had guns had covered their faces."
In the Jurmu case too, treatment for the surviving three was delayed by two days. They were taken to Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in Ranchi on 11 April.
They said that Prakash was alive on the way to the Jairagi police station. "He was telling us that they (the mob) will take us to the police station and once we reach, we will be given treatment and we will feel better," Janvarius said.
Despite visits from several block-level officers after the incident caught the attention of the media ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, Prakash's widow Jermina was yet to receive any of the welfare measures promised: a social security pension for widows, a house through the Awas Yojana, and compensation.
"Of this, I have received Rs 50,000 but I don't even know if this is part of the compensation," she said. The other three were also told that they will get a compensation of Rs 2.5 lakh, but only Janvarius said that he had received money last month.
However, despite vast media coverage and efforts from social activists like convenor of Jharkhand NREGA Watch, James Herenj, the locals said that they still faced threats from the perpetrators, who have also received bail.
"This is the main issue in our village, we have all decided to vote based on this. We will not even consider any of the political parties because they only remember us when they need votes," Bertila said.
The 6 November 2019 death of Kalantus Barla, a specially-abled man who was visiting his sister in the Suwari Jaltanda village in the Karra block is an incident that is still fresh for the locals who will cast their vote on 7 December. Most refused to comment on the issue, fearing police action.
Activist Shibu, with the Adivasi Bahudesia Uthan Sarkari Samiti in Khunti, said that the mob had caught Barla because he was unable to run away.
There are conflicting reports about the exact event that was taking place on the banks of a frequently-used stream in the village when the violence broke out.
While media reports quoted locals as saying that a traditional puja of the Adivasi community, which involves animal sacrifice, was underway, Shibu said that the ox had died and had been brought by the owner to the stream to distribute among other residents.
"When such incidents happen, they (police or government officials) come to our village and force us to sign documents and give testimonies, and we are illiterate so we are unaware of the repercussions. That's why all the men had left the village after it happened," a local, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said and added that there was general mistrust towards outsiders.
This incident of violence was also planned, claimed Shibu, with the perpetrators who gathered at a particular spot after travelling from a bunch of villages (8-10 kilometres away). "Some of them were part of the BJP's Hindutva network," he added.
Incumbent BJP MLA and state minister Nilkanth Singh Munda is seeking re-election from the Scheduled Tribe-reserved seat. Khunti, a Naxal-affected constituency, is also the epicentre of the widespread Pathalgadhi movement on which the government has cracked down.
Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.
Updated Date: Dec 01, 2019 15:40:17 IST