While the mob lynching of 24-year-old Tabrez Ansari in Saraikela on Saturday has become a political debate with the entire nation discussing the rise in hate crimes, Jharkhand has been no alien to such incidents in the past. Incidents of mob justice and death penalty to people accused of petty crimes were quite frequently reported in the State’s hinterland even before the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power here in 2014, say activists and police officials working at the grass root level.
As per records with the State police, from 2016 to 2019, Jharkhand witnessed at least 14 cases of mob lynching. And many of them were sparked by communal disharmony. Out of these 14 incidents, seven were reported in 2017 and five in 2018. The incidents hogged media attention and the accused were convicted in at least two of the cases, one in Latehar and one in Ramgarh. However, much before communal flare ups started resulting in mob lynching here, incidents of rape accused being beaten to death and car lifters tortured to death were common in the interiors of the State.
From 2012 to 2014, the state witnessed at least five such incidents, including two in early 2014, reveal police records. None of these incidents were communally-motivated.
Three men, in their twenties, were lynched by an irate mob in Swaria village of Jharkhand’s Gumla district on February 16, 2013 for allegedly molesting a local girl. By the time the police reached the spot, they were dead.
Similarly, 50-year-old Radha Mohan Munda of Saraikela-Kharsawan district was beaten to death by local villagers after allegedly attempting to rape a 35 year-old woman in the village in August 2014. The bloodstained body of Munda was rushed to the MGM hospital in Jamshedpur, but the doctors declared him “brought dead”.
Although the incidents in Jharkhand never led to any protest, they exposed lawlessness in the interiors of the tribal state, say human rights activists. Activists back then feared that innocent men and petty criminals such as pickpockets and thieves may have to lose their life even before being produced to the court if the trend continued.
“The disturbing trend of mob justice has always been a problem in Jharkhand. Now, growing radicalization is only adding fuel to fire,” said Sunil Kispotta, National Secretary, All India Human Rights Association.
In an incident that had several similarities with Saturday’s mob lynching, a middle-aged man, Sajid Ansari, was beaten to death in Ramgarh district for allegedly stealing a mobile phone battery from a car on March 7, 2014. His death did not lead to any protest or even spark any reaction from political parties. Cut to June 2019, Tabrez Ansari was beaten to death on charges of motorcycle theft. Later, videos surfaced showing that the attackers forced him to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman”, which added a communal angle to it.
“Police have always been doing their best to prevent such incidents. Even in the recent Saraikela case, actions have been taken against the cops who did not follow the police order,” said Additional Director General of Police M L Meena.
In November 2015, 45-year-old, Ritlal Saw was made to parade naked on the streets by a group of villagers in Giridih for allegedly molesting a five-year-old girl. Then Giridih superintendent of police, Kranti Kumar Garhdeshi said lack of awareness, poor education and anger triggers such incidents.
“The villagers feel if a crime has been committed in a particular society, the society has the right to punish the offender,” he said.
The history of lynching incidents in Jharkhand is evident in the large number of cases wherein women were murdered on charges of practicing witchcraft. Jharkhand has been on top when it comes to the number of people killed for practising witchcraft for four consecutive years between 2013 and 2016, in India, according to data available with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). In 2016, 27 such cases were reported in the state and between 2001 and 2016 a total of 523 such cases have been reported. All these women were beaten to death by irate mobs.