Jharkhand Lynchings: Read PUCL’s Fact-Finding Report

FACT-FINDING REPORT BY PUCL JAMSHEDPUR

The incident and initial Reports

Four cattle traders—Sheikh Sajjad, Sheikh Siraj, Sheikh Halim of Haldipokhar Panchayat of Potka Bloc of East Singhbhum and Sheikh Naim of Ghatsila Bloc—were lynched by an irate, intoxicated and savaging crowd on the morning of May 18, 2017. On the same day, in the evening, three Hindu youths—Vikas Verma, Gautam Verma both siblings and one Ganesh Gupta—were also killed in a similar fashion in Nagadih village, approximately 20 kilometers from Rajnagar and hardly 3 kilometers from Tatanagar Station by another mob. Another brother of Vermas one Uttam Verma somehow managed to escape.

Initial reports suggested that those seven deceased were killed by villagers who had formed vigilante groups because of rumours about widespread child-lifting in the area by child stealing gang operating in the village area of Jharkhand. The reports further suggested that the villagers had suspected that these seven people were part of a child-lifting gang operating in the region though they had no connection whatsoever with such gangs nor there were any reports or FIRs against such purported gang or missing child anywhere in Jharkhand.

Further, investigation by reporters and several agencies however, revealed that at Rajnagar area there was a running feud between the Muslim cattle traders, led by Sheikh Naeem, and some Brahmin cattle traders led by one Bhagirath Jyotishi of the adjoining Kamalpur village. It is further revealed that Naeemm and his associates were able to run away from the mob after the first confrontation when their Indica vehicle was stoned, but were tracked down and lynched in Shobhapur village almost 500 meters away from the stone pelting incident after the Kamalpur killer gang organized and convinced the vigilante group of villagers who gullibly believed in the false rumours of child lifting gang operating to attack Sheikh Naeem and his associates who had taken shelter in the house of an elderly villager and relative of one of the deceased Sheikh Halim, Mr. Murtaza. Sheikh Naeem was killed on the spot however, the three others were able to escape from the Shobhapur village. The search and lynch strategy reveals a planned move led by some ulterior motive than the result of any spontaneous and collective rage of the mob without any apparent motive of gain or loss.

At Nagadih, Jamshedpur on the other hand the reports suggested that the killer gang organized the lynching of three Hindu youths out of some business rivalry or some money disputes, organized the vigilante group of villagers from Nagadih and another two adjoining villages to surround them (the deceased) and lynch them in the most brutal manner.

“The wild rumour that child-lifting gangs had entered Jharkhand from West Bengal and Odisha had spread like wildfire through WhatsApp over the past one month, fuelling a tense environment across villages in the region.” This was one of the headlines of a news portal on the report of Shobhapur, Rajnagar and Nagadih, Jamshedpur lynching incidents on 18th and 19th of May, 2017 respectively. However, the fact remains that come every summer and the Jharkhand villages have heard such rumours of child lifting gang operating in “every village area” and also acted and witnessed the ill consequence of such illogical and irrational rumours.

Our investigation

PUCL comprised a team to investigate the most horrifying incident of the decade that shocked the conscience of Jamshedpur town completely, namely, I A Johar, Arvind Anjum, Nishant Akhilesh, Shah Alam, Mohammed Sarfraz, Sunil Vimal, Sujit Kumar, Ashok Ahir, Nasr Fidosi, Salim Akhter, Bhim Mardi, Raju Besra, Hareshwar Singh, Rahat Hussain, Ankit, M A Makki, Ibrahim Nawab along with others.

We went first to Rajnagar Police Station and had a discussion with the Ps Incharge and others some of whom were also present at Shobhapur at the time of incident and had a first-hand information of the happenings on the spot. We then proceeded to Shobhapur and met the people of Shobhapur and inquired about the incident and also the reports appearing through them in different newspapers, channels and portals. The residents of Shobhapur were agitated as the victims were of their religion and one of them was also related to one of the respected senior resident of the village Mr. Murtaza. We also spoke to the policemen stationed there. One of the ASI was also present in the village on the fateful day during the operation of lynching. We also went to Kamalpur which was calm and quite and it was difficult to get any input from the residents of that village given their complicity in the crime.

We went to Nagadih at around 12 noon. Nagadih is a Santhal-dominated tribal hamlet though also accommodating non-tribal in the village like people from Orissa surrounded by localities of non-tribal of almost all major linguistic races found in India like Bengalis, Biharis, Punjabis, Tamils, Telugus, Keralites, Maharashtrians etc, located merely 3 kilometers away from Tatanagar Station, Jamshedpur, wore a deserted look. Around the Nagadih some development work was also going on. Some newly constructed concrete houses were also visible obviously not belonging to the tribal people. We found some females coming out of the adjoining village located 100 meters away on the small hill from the place of occurrence. We tried to engage them in conversation. They were very circumspect muttered few words without disclosing anything about the fateful incident happened on the evening of 18th May, 2017.

A majority of houses were locked as most villagers have fled. We spoke to a young boy from the village and he revealed that his friends who play cricket had informed them that the deceased were also part of their cricket team of the area sometime back. The information was vital and contradicted the general belief that the victims were done to death mistaking them as child lifters by an irate mob already engulfed by the false rumour spread almost in the entire Jharkhand village areas of child lifter gang operating at night.
Several videos were also circulated on social media displaying that the brutal violence committed as four to five policemen tried their best to prevent the incident and save the innocents.

We spoke to some people outside village/ hamlet who were involved in the lynching, eye witnesses, police personnel who spoke to our team on condition of anonymity. One of the person involved regretted having been part of gang who beat the innocent victims of lynching. He admitted that he was intoxicated at that time and was grossly mislead by people who organized that killings. He also admitted to have known them but on that fateful night while attacking them could not identify them.

After analysis of the situation which arose on the fateful day, presence of number of people, number of police personnel on the spot, the discretion applied by the policemen on the spot and also before they set their foot to reach the spot we are prima facie convinced that the police personnel did their job and we rule out any dereliction of their duties. However, the same yardstick can’t be applied to the higher officials of Police. The entire episode took around more than 2 hours but district police failed to send additional force in time despite the place of occurrence being 3 Kilometers away from Tatanagar Railway Station. There was also a CRPF camp nearby which could have reached the spot in 15 minutes. Obviously, the district police have lot to answer.

It is no more a secret that the group which organized those killing were known to the victims for long and they had some rivalry in business other a purported dispute on land which the victims had negotiated for their business purpose. It is also clear that those killed were Hindus and the people gathered there who beat them and finally lynched them were tribal people organized by the criminal gang who were unfortunately also tribal and associated with political parties. The role of Village head and Mukhia of the area also came in scanner in the episode and some people of the area were of the view that had both Mukhia and village head exercised their authorities on people both moral and jural the unfortunate situation could have been avoided. We are of the opinion that those who organized those killings are bigger criminals than those who actually beat them up and finally lynched.

In a separate incident the same morning, another mob of around 1 to 2 thousand surrounded four men all Muslims in Shobhapur village of Rajnagar Bloc around 35 kms away from Jamshedpur, and lynched them in similar fashion on the same set of rumour of child lifting.

Genesis

It is reported that that one Sourabh Kumar of Gadugoda spread this remour of child lifting group operating in the area. Then three others one S Agarwal, S Gupta and another one B Keshri played their roles in spreading this non-existent rumour. Some of them have been arrested by police and they are under legal custody. However, it is difficult impute any motive straightaway to these people in the absence of any solid evidence against them but then it is also baffling that why non-tribal of this are who normally don’t believe in such rumour indulge into such tricks without any motive of mala fide.

There have been incidents of merciless beating and lynching in different parts of Kolhan regioin in May, 2017 in which innocent person from almost all community including tribal have been the victims. On 11th May one person named Md. Asim was killed by irate mob believing him to be a child. IT is informed that the deceased Asim had come from Murshidabad area along with a group of people for work in that area and it is also informed that the entire public toilet work in the area under the Swachh Bahrat Abhiyan had been done by these people. For sometime people continued to seek their residences and the Mukhiya kept telling them that ehy were from the same area. However, once it was lknown to the people that they were from West Bengal one of them were lynched.

On 10th May one Rifil Tudu was said to be lynched. It is said that inquired about the address of station and he was beaten to death. One 2nd May one John Anthony was beaten mistaking him to be a child lifter near Jadugoda UCIL Barraz. On 12 May one non-tribal was beaten in Basida village of Ghatsila PS area. Same day another unknown man was beaten at Ghutia village of Badakurshi Panchayat at Galudih. On 13th May one disabled Bhola Gope was beaten in Bhatin village of Jadugoda. The same day one Salman Mia was beaten in Kashida of Gahtsila PS. The same day another insane lady was beaten mistaking her as a child lifter. The same day another incident happened at Khukradih at Sundarnagar. On 15th May another insane Satyapal Singh was beaten at Murgaghutu at Narwa Pahad. Another insane one Ravidas of Booti Mod, Ranchi was beaten on 16th May at Kitadih at Gahtsila bloc. On 17th May another insane was beaten at Jadugora PS and the same day another youth was beaten and handed over to the police at Bagbera PS of Jaggannathpur.

We have not registered the entire incidents but it is reported to us that there have more than 100 such incident sin only Jaugoda are in the month of May itself.

However, we wish to make it very clear that the incidents at Shobhapur and Nagadih can very well be differentiated from the rest of the incidents in different parts of the area.

The mob attack at Shobhapur

The four deceased Muslim men belonged to Haldipokhar, a Muslim-dominated village around 12 km from Shobhapur, where they were murdered. According to information the 35-year-old Sheikh Naeem was a prosperous cattle trader, received a call from someone saying that one of the cows which had gone missing from his brother-in-law’s house was being smuggled in a truck and taken to Odisha. Naeem, a resident of Ghatsila, had been stopping by his brother-in-law’s place on his way back from a cattle market hosted weekly at some place at Rourkela, Odisha as a matter of routine. Naeem had purchased a buffalo which was to be transported to Ghatsila in a week. The three other men accompanying him had worked for many years as plumbers in the same firm in Dubai and had recently returned to start their own businesses.

Since his brother-in-law had been ill for sometime, Naeem asked his friends, Sheikh Halim and Sheikh Sajjad to accompany him. It is claimed that the truck with the stolen cow had apparently been spotted at Dandu, a village near Shobhapur. While looking for the truck, however, they were accosted by a group of villagers near Dandu. The villagers enquired about their identities and suspected them of being child kidnappers. As a section of the group started to throw stones at their car. Sensing trouble Naeem and his friends quickly drove to Halim’s brother-in-law’s house at Shobhapur in the wee hours.

Halim’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Murtaza Ansari, told the team that the victims one of them his relative were traumatized as they were stoned however, he was able to convince them that there was nothing to fear as all of them (the villagers) knew him. Mr. Murtaza thereafter went for his daily prayers at the Mosque in front of his house in the village.
Initially a group of people came inquiring about them to the resident of Mr. Murtaza however, when Murtaza informed them that they were not child lifters rather one of them was his relative the group left the scene. However, at about 4 am on May 18, a huge mob started surrounding Ansari’s house and kept increasing in number as the day progressed.
Murtaza calrified that media reports that blamed the adivasis of the village for the horrific murders were wrong and it was the Brahmins from Kamalpur, the neighbouring village who led the mob that lynched the deceased. He named Bhagirath Jyotishi, Kanhu Jyotishi, Konda Jyotishi and Mithun Rajak leading the irate mob and carrying sword, iron rod, axe etc in their hands.

There is no doubt that those Brahmins and Mithun Rajan mislead the vigilante group against the rumour of child lifting comprising tribal people to kill the deceased. They accused Murtaza of harbouring with child lifters and sheltering them.

Mr. Mutaza Ansari further entightened the team that one of the deceased Naeem knew some people in the crowd and prayed not to kill him and they knew that he was not a child lifter. But the mob, which had come prepared to kill, dragged him outside and lynched him in the most brutal way. The mob later also destroyed Murtaza’s house and property. Much of his house was laid in ruins when the team visited along with two charred vehicles one the fateful Indica carrying the deceased and other a Police vehicle. Police Vehicle was set on fire on the road.

According to him Naeem’s three friends managed to escape when the crowd was lynching Naeem from the back door of his house however, they were caught – one by one in next few hours – by the same mob which divided themselves in three groups to follow them. All of them were finally hacked to death.

Naeem was killed before the presence of PS In-charge and one ASI. Sajjad and Siraj were killed at Padnamsai village 10 Kilometers away from Shobhapur and Sheikh Halim, his relative was killed in the nearby hill.

The Hindu residents of Kamalpur, however, in their defense claimed that the murders happened because the deceased were suspected to be child thieves, however, they contradicted their previous statement by stating that the Muslim men were actually cow smugglers. Why would they be out at the wee hour of the night? They defended. They suspected they were butchers who were looking for cows in the area to steal and sell them to town area for profit.

The statements made by the Kamalpur villagers were more with a strategy to create some defense to save their men than anything to do with reality. It’s a fact that both sides knew each other and the Muslim were killed with a view to eliminate the rivalry. Its apparent that had they claimed the Muslims as beef sellers or eaters the tribal mob could not have killed them on this very allegation as tribal themselves eat beef.

At Haldipokhar, however, the families of the dead are hell shocked. Sajjad as told was married only two months ago. The victims’ family members say that compensation is not enough for what they are going through at the moment. It’s true that some people of their area decided to take revenge after the fateful incidents however, the elders prevailed and another spate of violence was averted.

The second mob attack at Nagadih

Before the people of the district come out of their shock and disbelief by the Shobhapur lynching of four Muslim men, three other men, all of them Hindus, were killed in a similar fashion the same evening at Nagadih.

In May month itself residents in Nagadih and adjoining villages believing the rumour of frequent child lifting in the area constituted a vigilante group to protect the children of the village like in other parts of the Jharkhand village area. The group vigil the village at night.

As reported initially that on the fateful evening of May 18, the vigilantes caught hold of two brothers from the Jugsalai locality of Jamshedpur, Vikas Verma and Uttam Verma who were into the business of sanitation and were planning to expand their business given the opportunity under Bharat Swachh Abhiyan were visiting the area to inspect a piece of land in the village. After the duo were tied up and surrounded by irate mob they called for help. However, despite their 75-year-old mother arrived on the scene with her third son and a friend with their identity cards, the crowd attacked all of them and didn’t spare even their 75 year old grand ma. The two brothers Vikas and Pawan were killed along with Ganesh Gupta. Uttam managed to sneak out of the areas somehow. The mob purportedly acted on the mistaken belief that the group was part of the much-rumoured child-lifting gang, lynched Vikas, Pawan and their friend Ganesh Gupta in front of a few policemen who had rushed to the spot after receiving an anonymous call but remained a hapless spectator.

Verma’s family runs a scrap business. In the past two months, the brothers were contemplating a new business – printing banners and constructing cheap toilets under the Union government’s Swaccha Bharat Abhiyan.

Vermas’ 75-year-old grandmother is still fighting for her life at a hospital.

Further investigation however, revealed a different story altogether. The deceased were done to death by reason of business rivalry and/ or some money dispute with some men belonging to tribal community who used the opportunity to get them lynched by the insane mob mobilized by the nonsensical rumour of child lifting gang operating in the area. It also appears that the main accused the Mukhia Rajaram Hansda tried to placate the rampaging by slapping one of the victims however, soon thereafter the crowd went out of control. The village head and the Mukhia left the scene immediately thereafter. People close to them confided that had they dared and convince the people of the area the unfortunate killings could have been avoided and precious lives saved.

The police published in news reports on 09.06.2017 through three arrestees in Nagadih incident Rango Purti, Parshuram Bhumij and Rajan Mardi who were later sent to jail that they were instigated to lynch those innocents by Rajaram Hansda, the Mukhia and Village head Bhism Sradar. It is to be noted that through an FIR lodged by the surviving brother of Vermas Uttam Verma, Rajaram Hansda, Bhism Sradar, Babau Sardar, Dara Mandal, Ganesh Mandal, Jipa Hansda, Gopal Hansda, Surendra Mardi, Sunil Sradar, Subhash Hansda, Doctor Mardi, Gulab Sradar, LEdra Murmu, Rajesh Tudi, Jagat Mardi, Rahul Sardar and other three unnamed villagers have been named as the accused.

Rajaram Hansda has been a well-known activist of Jharkhand movement and have been respected by activists of entire political and social organizations for his integrity so far however, this incident has tarnished his clean image. Even his close associates are not able to reconcile with the allegation against him.
On the other side, the women who have been left alone in their homes in Nagadih are currently struggling to make ends meet. The school is shut, the anganwadi is not functioning and the government has stopped providing rations to the only government facility available in the village.

We understand that what happened was wrong, but the police should catch the culprits and stop victimising everyone in the village. They come and abuse us, say we will not be spared. We are living under the constant threat of more mob action on similar lines against us. These have been commonly echoed.

The two incidents sent shock waves across Kolhan division, the impact of which was felt in Jamshedpur city soon after. Responding to the daylight lynching of the four Muslim men in Shobhapur, three leaders of the Muslim community – one each from the Congress, the BJP and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) – held a meeting and organized for a march to the deputy commissioner’s office on May 21. The community people along with some relatives of one of the victim gathered at MGM hospital where autopsies were performed on the deceased. This further incensed the people of one community. Some of them organized a condolence meeting at Edgah Maidan at Mango. Some assembled on the Road near Mango PS, stoned and fought a pitched battle with the police shouting slogans against both Central and State Governments ruled by BJP for their troubles.

Soon after the incident there were stone pelting incidents by some miscreants at a Mosque at Munshi Mohhallah. Some youth of Muslim community were also seen pelting stones from the top of the Mosque.

As PUCL has decided to report the incident of Mango separately by another report and as such we conclude this part by the above reference only.
The right wingers were just looking for such a situation to cash in. In response to the reaction of Muslim Community some Hindutva groups started to circulate a provocative message on WhatsApp, saying Muslims were defending cow smugglers and that Hindus must assert themselves by disrupting the march.

Concluding remarks

The right wingers tried to encash the Rajnagar incident by claiming the lynching of those innocent Muslims as part of the nationwide campaign against the Muslim community as that would have pleased the latent hatred of communal and upper caste people of these organization however, the two identical incidents happened simultaneously having contrasting religious colours as to the victims and the organizers and the associated killer groups put them in a fix and probably that saved the Jamshedpur from witnessing another riot between the Hindu and Muslim community. The fringe elements of Muslim community were also at work.

We examined the role of lower cadre of police personnel who faced the situation on the spot of occurrence of incidents. Spoke to them, the people, the eyewitnesses and the neutral observers and are in a position to state with complete seriousness that the police officials did their job reasonably well and they put their lives to risk. At Nagadih it is said that the police party were able to take the victims upto 200 meters before they were whisked and lynched by the rampaging mob. We asked a specific query to the PS in-charge of Bagbera whether the precious lives could have been saved had he fire in air. He detailed the situation which was also corroborated by the eyewitnesses and by analysis the videos available with us we could not challenge the discretion made on the spot by the police party.

However, the same can’t be said about the senior police and administrative officials of the district and it is widely believed that police and administrative authorities especially those sitting at high echelons failed miserably as the circumstances suggest. After the incident the police association had been left with no option but to claim the number of calls made by the police party present on the spot to the police control room and senior police and administrative authorities for assistance given the scary situation however, it is not known as to what failed the senior police and administrative officials to reach late on the spot or send additional assistance. Near Nagadih reserve police battalions were available at a 15 minutes of distance.

Why did the senior officials fail to seek their help? These and other baffling issues require further prove to elicit the truth and fix responsibilities. PUCL team at this juncture could not get to seek more information either from the police officials who risked their lives on the spot or the senior officials as both were tight lipped given the vulnerability. The Stte Government in the meantime suspended the both PS incharge of Rajnagar and Bagbera PS initially and then suspended both DC and SP of West Sighbhum.

The rumour has taken the form of a resentment despite protests against the amendment of CNT Act and issue of land acquisition have continued in the area. A Santhali woman of Matladih close to Nagadih which sent large number of tribal people on the spot of occurrence who participated in the lynching those innocent souls lamented, “The small piece of land that we own is our only support. The outsiders want to occupy our village”.

A new trend though going for quite sometime that a number of Hindu religious sects with names like Amma Bhagwan or Baba Bhagwan have emerged in this region. They preach to the adivasis to renunciate their traditional Sarna faith and adopt new rituals. They condemn the adivasi rituals as superstitious and try to replace them with their own set of superstitions. Many among the adivasis are attracted towards these sects. How much impact these sinister designs of right wing outfits have had is difficult to guage at this moment.

However, PUCL is concerned about the savaging behavior of people especially when they come in mob. The democracy is getting replaced by mobocracy throughout the entire nation not just for the reason of cow vigilante groups and tight wing outfits challenging the democratic and secular fabric of this country but also the latent and inherent discriminatory character of the people of India and their tendencies to differentiate, agitate on irrational grounds leading to lynching which is the worst form of human behavior challenging the very existence of human themselves.