Latehar Lynching: A Saga of Cover-up, Political Connections and Police Negligence
Two cattle traders – Mazloom Ansari (32) and Imtiaz Khan (11) – were thrashed and when they fell unconscious, they were hanged from a tree in a nearby forest at Jhabar village in Latehar district of Jharkhand on March 18, 2016. It was the first case of mob lynching in the state in the name of cow.
The victims were waylaid when they were on their way to a cattle fair to sell off their last batch of eight oxen to a cattle fair in Chatra district, and start a new business as they had been reportedly threatened for running the cattle trading business.
The incident took place exactly five months after Mohammad Akhlaq, a resident of Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri, was lynched to death by a murderous mob for allegedly having beef in his house.
Despite eyewitness’ accounts, a positive post-mortem report, confessional statements and corroborative evidence, the Jharkhand police appears to be unable to prosecute people who killed the two in the wee hours on the fateful day. The victims’ families alleged that the cops are “sabotaging” an open and shut case of murder.
At least three people saw the ghastly incident being committed. They are Azad Khan (father of deceased victim Imtiaz), Munauwar Ansari (the younger brother of Mazloom) and Mohammad Nizamuddin.
Azad Khan and Mohammad Nizamuddin were business partners of Mazloom, and were cattle traders dealing in oxen, which are often used to plough the fields.
Both victims’ families claimed that the mob lynching was a pre-planned case and not a spontaneous incident.
“Arun Sao and Bunty Sao (the accused) had come to our house to warn my husband who was bathing at that time. They told him to stop trading cattle else they would kill him,” Mazloom’s wife Saira Bibi told Newsclick.
A devastated Saira further said, “They had threatened him earlier as well. As therefore, my husband and his partners had decided to sell off the oxen purchased from another fair and start some other business.”
Azad, at that time, had suffered a fracture and therefore had asked his 11-year-old son to accompany his partner, Mazloom, to the cattle fair to sell off the oxen they owned. With a herd of cattle, the duo opted for the walk to the fair even before sunrise.
“Soon after they left with the herd, we got informed about the duo being picked by few men, who took both Mazloom and my son to the Chandwa forest. I rushed to the forest area. I spotted the oxen unattended at the main road near Jhabar. I proceeded towards the forest, and heard my son screaming for help. When I went closer, I saw an angry mob mercilessly thrashing Imtiaz and Mazloom. The attackers were so violent that I could not gather the courage to go and at least try to save them. I hid myself in the bushes and the fear that they could also kill me made me helplessly watch my son and Mazloom falling unconscious. They were then hanged from a tree,” narrated Azad in a chocked voice.
He detailed the same in his deposition at the court in January 2017.
After Azad, Nizamuddin separately reached the spot who dialled Munauwar
– Mazloom’s younger brother who was at home. He too rushed to the spot.
The three eyewitnesses filed a first information report (FIR), in which Azad specified one Vinod Prajapati as the prime accused, along with 12 of his associates, who formed the lynch mob. Prajapati is said to be a local BJP leader.
During investigation, the police identified unnamed accused and arrested eight of them who later managed to get bail from the Jharkhand High Court even before the filing of the chargesheet. However, Prajapati – the only named and prime accused in the case – has not even been arrested till date. He, in fact, is not even standing trial even though the other eight men, not named in the FIR, are.
There are allegations that the police did not investigate the ghastly crime professionally, based on the accounts and testimonies of the eyewitness. The cops – said the eyewitnesses – also failed to slap appropriate charges against the accused thereby considerably weakening the case. And as a result, the accused could secure bail.
“The Police never arrested the prime accused Prajapati. And even before filing the chargesheet, the accused managed to get a bail from the Jharkhand High Court,” Abdul Salam, the counsel for Mazloom and Imtiaz, told Newsclick. Significantly, this case, where an 11-year-old had been lynched to death, did not seem enough to have the trial in a fast track court. “I prayed several times before the judges to shift the case to a fast-track court, but they never paid heed to our request,” he added. The bail has further boosted the morale of the accused, and they have allegedly further threatened Azad, one of the prime witnesses in this case.
Besides the powerful eyewitness accounts and other testimonies of the family members, the other substantial piece of evidence that should help in adequately establishing the crime are the post-mortem reports. In both cases, the autopsies clearly suggest the victims were brutally set upon before they were hanged. Indeed, Dr Laxaman Prasad and Dr SK Singh, both government doctors who conducted the autopsies, explicitly wrote in their remarks that “long, hard, rod like, blunt” weapons were used to inflict injuries.
‘Cover-up’ begins with FIR
The failures of the police, deliberate or otherwise, began as soon as the crime ended. It is stunning that though the crime occurred between 3.30 am and 6 am, the police registered the FIR nearly 17 hours later, at 10.47 p.m. Incredibly, even the post-mortem was done before the FIR was registered. Nowhere does the FIR explain this delay.
During the trial that started in August 2016, neither the prosecution nor the presiding judge expressed any concern over this lapse or asked for an explanation. The response of the police to Nizamuddin’s statement is nothing short of negligence.
The chargesheet filed in May 2016 included elaborate confessions from all the eight accused. Not only did they detail the crime, they also detailed their actions hours prior to the murders, establishing that the crime was premeditated. And yet, despite the fact that under the Indian Evidence Act, a confession made to a police officer is not admissible as evidence, the police made no effort to get these confessions recorded before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which would have made them admissible as evidence.
The police reply
Asked how the accused managed to secure bail and why justice is being delayed in the Latehar case, Additional Director General Jharkhand Police RK Mallick, who is also the spokesperson of the state police, told Newsclick, “Bail is a normal process and a right of accused. However, eventually, you will see the accused getting punished. In at least three of the lynching cases (Ramgarh, Bokaro and Jamshedpur) in Jharkhand, the police have ensured justice and the accused have been punished by the trial court.”
When asked why the prime accused is still on the run, he said sometimes it takes time to nab the culprits. “We are determined that no culprit will be let go scot free. We are trying our best and the perpetrators will be caught,” he added.
Justice delayed is justice denied
However, Mazloom’s widow Saira wants the justice to be delivered fast. “With five children to take care of, the court case is consuming too much of her time and energy. I want that we get justice fast. My husband was hanged; I want his killers to be hanged to death,” she said.
But, the way the case has been moving so far, getting justice seems to be a mammoth of a task for the victim’s family. Primarily, because the accused have a strong political connection, reportedly. According Mazloom’s brother Munauwar, “The prime accused had hosted Jharkhand’s Chief Minister Raghubar Das at his residence, just a few days prior to the gruesome mob lynching that he led.”
“Also, Vishal Tiwari, a para-teacher who is accused of being one of the killers, has been initially suspended from his job, but two years later, he is back to work,” said Munauwar adding that “we had written to Deputy Commissioner and education department officials, but they are yet to take notice of our complaint”.
(This is the second story of our series on lynching cases reported from Jharkhand)
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