A Jharkhand court on Friday convicted 11 self-styled ‘Gau Rakshaks’ (cow vigilantes), including a ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader – Nityanand Mahto, for murdering Alimuddin Ansari alias Asghar Ali at Bazartand in Ramgarh town on June 29, 2017 for allegedly carrying beef. The trial court held all of them guilty under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). While Nityanand Mahto is associated with the BJP, another convict Kapil Thakur is an activist of the local unit of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarathi Parishad (ABVP).
Three of them were convicted under Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC, which apparently means that the attack was pre-planned. The sentencing will be announced on March 20. This is the first ever conviction in the lynching cases which have increased in the past three years across the country.
Ansari’s counsels welcomed the verdict and said the argument that it was a planned murder has been accepted by the court. “We welcome the verdict. The prosecution was swift and the police investigated the case professionally. Finally, the truth prevailed. The honourable court accepted that the deceased was pulled out of his car and beaten to death by frenzied mob comprising BJP and Bajrang Dal activists,” Advocate Shadab Ansari told Newsclick.
While the prosecution had presented 19 witness to support its allegation against the accused, the defence presented only one. As many as 59 documentary and 20 material evidence were presented by the prosecution to the court.
Asked about the quantum of punishment, he said, “We will appeal for life-imprisonment as the victim’s mother does not want anyone to be killed or hanged.”
Defence lawyer B M Tripathi said he is disappointed and will appeal in the High Court against the conviction.
Ansari was allegedly carrying meat in his Maruti van when he was attacked. His car was also set on fire. He succumbed to his injuries during treatment.
The incident took place hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned cow vigilantes against taking the law into their own hands and condemned violence perpetrated in the name of protecting the bovine considered holy by many Hindus.
The Jharkhand High Court last year constituted a special fast track court presided over by Additional District Judge Om Prakash to try the case on day-to-day basis.
Jharkhand, which is being ruled by the BJP, has witnessed a series of lynching of Muslim cattle traders in the months of May and June.
The issue also rocked Parliament with several opposition leaders questioning the government’s seriousness in taming the frenetic mobs.
Facing criticism from all corners, Chief Minister Raghubar Das had warned officer-in-charge of police stations that they would lose their jobs if any case of mob lynching was reported from their area.
The case had hit headlines when wife of an eyewitness was killed in a road accident on October 12 after she left the court to bring some documents required for hearing. Alimuddin’s son, who was taking the woman to her house on his motorbike, also suffered injuries in the accident.
Eye witness Jalil Ansari was to depose before the court. He was allegedly getting threats from right-wing fringe groups who want him not to appear in the court as a witness in the case. “I forgot to bring my identity card. Therefore, I sent my wife with Alimuddin’s son Shahzad Ansari to bring it. Bajrang Dal activists threatened us in the court premises with dire consequences if I deposed before the court in the case,” Jalil had said in his police complaint.
When the two (Jalil’s wife and Alimuddin’s son) left the court to bring the identification document, their bike was hit by a vehicle allegedly in a “planned manner” that led to her death. Alimuddin’s son Shahzad is injured and undergoing treatment at a hospital.