Bisara (Dadri, Uttar Pradesh): A year ago, Mohammad Akhlaq was dragged out of his home and beaten by an angry mob following rumours of cow slaughter and beef consumption. Akhlaq was lynched, allegedly by a horde of aggressive villagers, while his younger son, Mohammad Danish, suffered serious head injuries. Even a year after the incident, “Danish is yet to fully recover”, says Jaan Mohammad, Akhlaq’s brother.
In the weeks that followed the brutal attack, 19 young men from the village were taken into custody after an FIR was lodged on the basis of a complaint filed by Akhlaq’s family. The charges against the accused are yet to be framed in the local court. Family members of the accused are placing the blame on alleged police inaction and a larger political ploy aimed at favouring ‘a certain religious section of the population’, i.e. Muslims, so that they vote for the ruling Samajwadi Party.
Kiran Rana’s oldest son, Vishal Rana, and nephew Shivam Rana are the prime accused in the case. According to the police, the two of them allegedly made an announcement from a local temple in Bisara around 9 pm on September 28, 2015 asking the residents to assemble near the transformer since “a cow had been slaughtered in the village”. Another Bisara resident, Om Mahesh whose son, Vinay, is a UP Home Guards constable and one of the accused in the case, believes that the state government and media are biased towards the victim’s family.
Rupendra, yet another accused, was one of the first few to be picked up for questioning and later arrested. His mother, Mamta, is threatening to “set herself ablaze”. The prevailing understanding among a section of the villagers is that their children are “innocent” and “cow slaughterers should be given severe punishment”.
Almost a year since the incident, Akhlaq’s family members are not just waiting for justice but are themselves, ironically, facing charges under sections 3 and 8 of the Uttar Pradesh Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act and sections 3 and 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960). On June 15, 2016, a local court directed the Jharcha police to lodge an FIR against the deceased Akhlaq and six of his family members for the crime of having slaughtered a calf.
More than anger, it is the sadness and bitterness that comes through when they speak.
Translation of Jaan Mohammad’s words: Time heals all wounds. It takes time to get over death of a dear one. But it will take time for us because my mother is unwell. Her son was murdered in front of her, in front of all of us. We can never forget that, especially my mother. I did not even go to the village on Eid, and I have been living in Dadri for the last 10-12 years. Even then they got a fake report filed against me. Everyone knows the truth. We had never imagined in our wildest dreams that something like this would ever happen to us especially by those who we considered to be our brothers. What is our fault? At first there were rumours that Akhlaq had prepared beef but now they are after me…who was not even in the village. I had fever that day and hence could not go to the village.
As police investigations are underway, a police source reveals that Jaan Mohammad was not in the vicinity of the crime scene. “Through tracking of phone locations it is clear that [he] was not present in Bisara around the time of the incident”, a police source said. Moreover, no evidence of cow slaughter has been found from Akhlaq’s house till now.
Responding to queries about the status of the investigation and the possibility of further arrests, the Gautam Budh Nagar Senior Superintendent of Police, Dharmendra Singh said:
Of the 19 men that were arrested, 3 were juveniles who are currently out on bail. Two of them recount the incident and deny any involvement in it. While one states that he “was asleep during the incident” and “did not leave his house”, another maintains that though he “was present at the crime scene, it was too dark to identify people who comprised the mob”. This leads the juvenile to believe that “no one will be able to identify and hence, punish the person who killed Akhlaq”.
As the three juveniles are currently back in the village, Akhlaq’s family’s legal counsel, Yusuf Saifi, is preparing a case to challenge the juvenility of one of them. Saifi argued that one of the juveniles “had produced false documents to prove that he is under 18 years of age”. The accused was Akhlaq’s daughter, Shaista’s classmate at Rana Sangram Singh Inter College but the school mark sheets he presented to the court were of Dayanand Inter College, Bambawad with a different year of birth.
The lawyer representing the juvenile was not available for comments.
While villagers concur that Bisara has never been communally sensitive, their hesitation to speak about the incident stating that they “do not wish to take sides” and the understated Bakr Eid celebrations hint towards a simmering tension between the two communities. Rayeemuddin, a daily wage labourer, talks about the fear surrounding the festival and life in the village for Muslims since Akhlaq was lynched:
Acknowledging the change in the attitude of the two communities in the village, SSP Dharmendra Singh denies possibilities of a communal divide, stating that the area has never been on their list of “communal hotspots”.
As the police continues to search for evidence, as the court sets yet another date and those accused of murder struggle to prove their innocence, Jaan Mohammad trusts that justice will be meted: