When celebrations were still underway across the world, New Year’s Eve brought a brutal death to Vinod Chaudhary in Jharkhand. The 32-year-old Chaudhary, a resident of Simariya village in Giridih district, was lynched by an irate mob of villagers of Sadi Gawanro for allegedly stealing a goat.
However, Chaudhary was not the only victim of mob justice in Jharkhand. In fact, the state has been witness to a spate of such brutal killings where mobs take the law in their hands to dispense instance ‘justice’ on bare suspicion of a criminal act. According to the All Muslim Youth Association (AMYA), there have been 58 lynchings in the state in a span of six years, between March 17, 2016 and December 4, 2022, in which 35 people were killed and 23 seriously injured. The victims comprise of 16 Muslims, 11 Hindus, five Christians and four Sarna Adivasis. Thirteen Christians, four Sarna Adivasis, three Muslims and two Hindus were among the wounded. Disagreeing, however, the Jharkhand government puts the number of mob lynching incidents during this period at 46.
What is most appalling is the approach of the administration, including the state police, which borders on apathy while dealing with such killings and their aftermaths. A case in point is the killing of Babar Ansari, which makes it amply clear how both the police and the state administration turn a Nelson’s eye to such killings and leave the families of such victims high and dry.
Ansari, 56, was killed by a mob on the suspicion of theft in March 2021 in Naro village of Nagri Block, 20 km from the capital city of Ranchi. A case was registered under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including murder, against four persons and others involved in his killing. Almost two years after his killing, Ansari’s family alleges that they have not received either justice or any compensation. To add insult to injury, two of the accused involved in his killing have been released on bail. According to Ansari’s daughter-in-law Aarti Devi, he worked as a kabadi, a scrap collector. The rest of the time, he used to load paddy sacks onto trucks. On March 26, 2021, after having dinner at 9 pm, he left, saying that he was going to the rice mill in the neighbouring village to load paddy. At 2 am, her brother-in-law received a call from a PCR van telling him that Ansari had met with an accident. They immediately rushed to the Nagri hospital, where they saw him lying unattended outside the hospital, writhing and crying in pain. “He was asking for water. The police had not even got him admitted to the hospital. We took him to the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) at Ranchi. But he passed away as soon as we reached the RIMS at 3.30 am. His post-mortem report revealed 33 internal injuries,” recalls Devi.
Ansari’s was the fourth death due to mob lynching in Jharkhand in March 2021. On March 10, 2021, Sachin Kumar Verma was beaten to death by a crowd for allegedly stealing a truck. Three days later, Mubarak Khan was lynched over suspicion of stealing a motorbike and on March 19, Ramchandra Oraon was also killed by another lynch mob.
Chief Minister Hemant Soren, back when he was in the Opposition, had often raised this issue and pressurised the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. In a campaign meeting in September 2019, Soren accused the BJP government of turning Jharkhand into a ‘mob lynching pad’. His party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), had made an electoral promise to bring a law against mob lynching. Later, the JMM, the Congress and the RJD formed a coalition government in the state in December 2019. However, it took his government two years to bring a legislation called the Prevention of Mob Violence and Mob Lynching Bill, 2021, in the state Assembly. The bill classifies violence by a mob based on religion, race, caste, gender or any other basis as ‘lynching.’ If the violence is carried out by two or more people, it can be declared a mob lynching, with the culprits liable to sentences up to rigorous life imprisonment and fines of up to Rs 25 lakh.
It may by recalled that the bill was promulgated on the lines of the Supreme Court order of 2018, which had mandated that all state governments enact a law to stop lynching. However, when the bill was sent to the governor for his assent, he sent it back to the government seeking some amendments. Neither did the government bother to amend the bill nor did it resend it to the governor for his approval. If only the bill had been sent, the governor would not have had a choice but to approve it.
Questioning the intent of the JMM government, AMYA president S. Ali says, “In 2018, the Supreme Court ordered all states to establish laws to prevent mob lynching and implement them strictly. At the time, the BJP-led Jharkhand government did not bring a law. Later, the new government passed a bill in the assembly in December 2021. But after the governor sent it back to the house for amendment, the present government failed to amend and send it back to the governor. It has been almost a year, but the bill has not been made into a law.”
Ali says that the lack of a law has resulted in lynchings going on unbated in the state. Had there been a law, the victims’ families may have gotten relief and the culprits would have been punished under its provisions, he argues.
Shailesh Poddar, an advocate at the Jharkhand High Court, says that the government’s lukewarm approach is behind the law not
being framed, let alone implemented. He explains, “See, this is a state law. As per Article 200 of the Constitution, if a law is sent back to the governor for the second time, he does not have the right to reject it. Second, the government is not bound to follow the governor’s advice. If the government had sent the bill back after amendments, or even without them, the governor would have had no other choice but to approve it. So, it is the state government which is not being serious about seeing the bill pass muster.”
Jharkhand is the fourth state to promulgate a law against mob lynching, after Manipur, Rajasthan and West Bengal. However, on the question of not being sent to the governor after making amendments required, or without them, Congress MLA and Legislative Affairs Minister, Alamgir Alam, in the JMM government says, “It is true that the mob lynching law has still not been implemented in the state and that it has been delayed. But it will be processed very soon. By this March, we will send the bill back to the governor for approval. Once it comes back from there, we will present it in the assembly and move towards its implementation.”
Though Alam acknowledges lynchings to have taken place in the state after the bill was passed, he insists that the occurrence is much lower than under the previous government. The reality on the ground belies his claim, however. The mob in Jharkhand is so fearless that a month after the anti-mob lynching bill was passed, two lynching incidents were recorded in the state. A young man was hung upside down and beaten over a love affair in the Lesliganj area of Palamu district. Another man in Simdega district was beaten up and burnt to death over allegedly stealing wood.
(This appeared in the print edition as "Hatred In A HERD")
Md. Asghar Khan is a Jharkhand-based independent journalist