Twelve-year-old Imtiaz Khan and his father’s business partner Mazloom Ansari, 32, were lynched by self-proclaimed cow vigilantes in Jharkhand on March 18, 2016. And hanged to death from a tree.
Khan and Ansari had left their houses to sell eight oxen at a cattle fair in the state’s Latehar district. They were allegedly intercepted by the group of vigilantes, thrashed and finally killed.
In May that year, the Jharkhand Police filed a chargesheet in which eight persons – all members of a “gau rakshak” group – were made accused. Two years later, the case has failed to reach a conclusion.
The only accused named in the first information report, Vinod Prajapati, is yet to be questioned by the police, let alone be arrested. He is said to be a local BJP leader.
In a more recent case, meanwhile, a Ramgarh court awarded life-term sentences to 11 accused, including one BJP leader, in the daylight lynching of one Alimuddin Ansari on June 29, 2017. The case was fast-tracked, under the Jharkhand High Court’s watch, and judgment was passed on March 21 this year, in less than nine months.
A report based on an independent investigation by minority rights’ activist Ajit Sahi was released on Monday, and pointed to how the Jharkhand Police sabotaged the probe in the lynching case of 2016. The approach of the police has been in contrast to their probe in the Ramgarh lynching case – which was under the HC’s observation. Sahi’s report has been endorsed by 11 organisations.
According to Sahi’s report, the “sabotage” started with the filing of the FIR itself. The testimonies of three witnesses – Manowar Ansari, younger brother of Mazloom; Azad Khan, father of Imtiaz; and Mohammad Nizamuddin, a business partner of Mazloom and Azad – said the crime took place between 3.30 am and 6 am. But the police filed an FIR nearly 17 hours later. Significantly, even the autopsies of the bodies were over by the time the FIR was filed.
The report says that despite witnesses narrating the entire incident to the police, they “didn’t write down anything” – a claim that Manowar reiterated in his deposition before the court in November 2017.
Manowar also named in court and recognised five of the eight accused – Arun Saw, Mithilesh alias Bunty Sahu, Manoj Sahu, Avdesh Saw and Vishal Tiwari.
The other witness Azad told the court: “I immediately hid in the bushes. I saw Arun Saw had climbed a tree and was fixing a rope. The others were on the ground trying to push Mazloom and Imtiaz up to hang them.”
Azad was in a state of shock as he stood witness to the assault and murder of his 12-year-old son by cow vigilantes. “I didn’t have the courage to confront them, they had trishuls, swords and other weapons. I was in a state of shock. When they hung my son and Mazloom – I couldn’t move,” he told this correspondent.
Shockingly, the third witness in the case, Nizamuddin, had clearly named BJP leader Vinod Prajapati as involved in the brutal killings but the police have not even questioned him. Nizamuddin told Newslaundry: “The entire crime happened in front of my eyes. I couldn’t do anything out of fear. When they saw me, Prajapati asked his men to catch me, but I ran for 5-6 km away and alerted Manowar.”
Though Prajapati was the only person named in the FIR, his name is missing from the chargesheet even 20 months after the crime was committed. According to Sahi’s report, the police said in the chargesheet that “as yet, the investigation has not found evidence of primary accused Vinod Prajapati’s involvement in the crime” and therefore “investigation (in his possible role) was still continuing”.
Another glaring error on the part of the police, as pointed out in the report, raises more questions about its conduct. The accused had confessed to the crime in detail and this was registered in the chargesheet. But the police didn’t get the confessions registered under IPC Section 164 – in front of the magistrate.
The confessions could have meant death for the accused. For instance, prime accused Arun Saw stated to the police that he tied Mazloom’s hands and drove him to the forest, where the group assaulted him. “I then strangled Mazloom, who then died,” Saw told the police.
Senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan pointed to how the police weakened the case. “The police recorded the confession under Section 161 but not under Section 164, despite knowing that statements under Section 161 are not valid in court. By doing so they have weakened the case,” he said during the release of Sahi’s report.
Similarly, the report says that the accused’s confessions establish that the crime was premeditated. Yet, the police did not register the case under Section 120 B – criminal conspiracy. This section was added in the Ramgarh lynching case since that too was premeditated.
Mazloom’s wife Saira Bibi had told the police in her statement that Arun Saw and his associates had threatened Mazloom and asked him to stop cattle trade. “Arun Saw, Bunty Saw and five-six others had come to my house and threatened my husband. When I asked what the matter was, Saw said ‘gau ka vyapaar mat karo, aur kiya to hum log marenge (stop cattle trading else we will kill you)’,” she said. Breaking into tears, she added: “My husband was killed within 15 days of this threat. Whom should I blame?”
As the duo was first abducted and then taken to another place and thrashed, the police could have added charges of abduction, assault, and causing injury by dangerous weapons. But the accused were charged only under sections pertaining to murder, disappearance of evidence and crime committed by common intention.
Advocate Mohammad Salam, representing the victims’ families, said that unlike the Ramgarh lynching case, this one was not in the fast-track court – which is what worked in favour of the accused.
“So far statements of only six witnesses have been recorded. All accused are already out on bail,” he said. The accused were arrested in March 2016 and granted bail by Ranchi High Court on November 6, 2016.
The advocate added: “I won’t say the delay is politically motivated, but this case needs to be dealt with in a fast-track court, only then justice will be delivered.”
Saira Bibi’s hopes of justice have, meanwhile, evaporated. “Police se ummeed hoti to yahan (Delhi) kyun aate (why would we come to Delhi if we had faith in the police?)” she asked.
Azad Khan added that the accused are already threatening them, directly or indirectly. “Arun Saw and Bunty Saw have become even more confident after grant of bail. They have personally threatened me.”