Latehar lynching: Jharkhand Police lets murderers get away
Despite eyewitness accounts, a positive post-mortem report, confessional statements and corroborative evidence, Jharkhand police is unable to prosecute people who hanged two cattle traders
An international collective of 11 organisations (among them Alliance for Justice and Accountability, New York, Citizens for Justice and Peace, Mumbai, Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association, New Delhi and Rihai Manch, Lucknow), released a report in the national capital this month, indicting Jharkhand Police for ‘sabotaging’ an open and shut case of murder.
Two cattle traders, Mazloom Ansari (32) and Imtiaz Khan (12), were abducted in Latehar in March, 2016, beaten mercilessly and strung from a tree when they fell unconscious. The victims were waylaid when they were walking eight oxen to sell at a cattle fair.
The report notes, “Though Gau Rakshaks’ attacks had already shot up since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in May 2014, this killing was the first to meet the classic definition of a “lynching”—hanged by a mob—originating in the racist history of the U.S. where for centuries White supremacists lynched thousands of Africans, Latinos and even native Americans.”
Neither the Government of India and nor the Government of Jharkhand has condemned the hangings and the Gau Rakshaks. No compensation has yet been made to the victims’ families.
As with most lynchings by gau rakshaks across India, this ghastly incident, too, is backed by eyewitness accounts and other testimonies. These clearly establish the following:
- At least three people saw the crime being committed;
- The eyewitnesses knew at least some of the murderers by face and name;
- The murderers had previously threatened to kill the victims unless they stopped trading in cattle Yet, not only did the police not fully investigate the crime, based on these eyewitness accounts and testimonies, but also failed to press appropriate charges against the accused. This has considerably weakened the case, as a consequence of which every one of the accused was able to secure bail from the Jharkhand High Court.
The three eyewitnesses of the crime are Manowar Ansari, the younger brother of Mazloom; Azad Khan, the father of Imtiaz Khan; and Mohammad Nizamuddin, a business partner of Mazloom’s and Azad’s.
Nizamuddin had been accompanying Mazloom and Imtiaz on his motorcycle but had fallen behind by a few minutes before the abduction. Similarly, Azad Khan had left home on his motorcycle to follow his son who had left half an hour earlier with the oxen.
Nizamuddin and Azad separately reached the spot after Mazloom and Imtiaz had already been abducted and their oxen stolen. Nizamuddin fled the scene and phoned Manowar, who was home. He, too, rushed to the spot. Manowar and Azad Khan hid nearby and watched in horror as Mazloom and Imtiaz were beaten and strung by a rope to a tree. Nizamuddin returned shortly and joined Manowar and Azad, also hiding at a distance.
Imtiaz’s father, Azad, had suffered a fracture in a leg two-and-a-half years previously. He had therefore drafted his son, Imtiaz, to help him walk the cattle to and from the fairs. On that fateful morning at about 2.30 a.m., as his son and Mazloom began a long walk with eight oxen, two of them Azad’s, for the cattle fair, Azad, too, left on his motorcycle a while later.
In his deposition at the court in January 2017 Azad detailed his eyewitness account. Azad told the court that upon reaching a certain place on his motorcycle he found the eight oxen grazing on the side but Mazloom and Imtiaz were missing. Shortly, he heard his son’s screams for help and, as he followed the voice, he saw a group of people armed with pistols, abusing and assaulting Mazloom and Imtiaz. “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 from the tree.”
Unequivocal Autopsy Report
Besides the powerful eyewitness accounts and other testimonies of the family members, the other substantial piece of evidence that should help adequately establish 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. S. K. 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 during 3.30-6 a.m., the police registered the First Information Report (FIR) nearly 17 hours late, at 10.47 p.m. Incredibly, even the autopsies had been carried out 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 negligent. Nizamuddin had in his statement to the police identified Vinod Prajapati, a prominent BJP leader in Latehar, as one of the perpetrators of the attack.
No doubt because of Nizamuddin’s statement, the FIR names Prajapati as an accused. In fact, he is the only accused named in the FIR, even though Manowar and Azad Khan had named other attackers, too, in their statements to the police. And yet, two years after the crime, the police are yet to even question Prajapati, leave alone arrest him for his role in it.
In fact, Prajapati isn’t even standing trial even though the other eight men, not named in the FIR, are.
The charge-sheet 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 collective demanded that police should record statements of the accused before a magistrate, arrest Vinod Prajapati and move the Supreme Court for cancellation of bail granted to the eight accused.