On this day, September 28, three years ago, Mohammad Akhlaq, a resident of the Bisada village in the Dadri area of western Uttar Pradesh, was brutally killed in his own home by a mob of men on the accusation of cow slaughter. His younger son Danish was grievously injured. His mother was also badly hurt. Three years after this horrific killing and violence, charges have not yet been framed by the court, all the 18 main accused in his killing are out on bail, his home is locked up, his family have had to leave the village. Instead of getting justice, his family, including his teen daughter Shaista have to contend with a false case of cow slaughter foisted on them by a an individual linked to the murderers. The complaint which should have been outright rejected by the lower court, was admitted, and a police investigation ordered. This hangs like a sword over them, ever threatening. Even while their grief and trauma was raw and hurting, they had to go through the tense process of getting anticipatory bail.
Akhlaq's murder was the first in the type of lynchings which have become the hallmark of the Modi regime. A report by IndiaSpend has collated data which shows that between 2014 when Modi took office and March 2018, there have been 80 incidents of violent mob attacks in which 45 persons have been killed. There is no official record of cases of hate crime because there is no separate law for it. But the contours of Akhlaq's case are important to know as different dimensions of his murder are being repeated in case after case.
Akhlaq, like most of those who have been similarly lynched after him, lived a life far removed from violence. There is no record of any dispute, leave alone a clash between him and his neighbours, all of whom testify to him being a peace-loving man who lived a quiet life with his family. There was not even a remote connection between the way he lived his life and his terrible violent death. This is true of almost all the victims of crimes committed in the name of the cow. There was nothing in their lives which represented enmity or violence. Even if one went by the grossly erroneous justification that the killing was a reflection of spontaneous anger against cow slaughter, in not a single case has there been actual evidence of such slaughter. The killings are political killings as they have been committed to further a specific political agenda of communal polarization and hate.
The lynchers in Akhlaq's case used the local temple to announce their manufactured lie. According to the statement the priest gave to the police, four young men, whom he identified and named, forced him to make an announcement that a cow had been slaughtered and its remains were lying in a drain near a transformer at the side of the village where Akhlaq's house stood. The call was that every Hindu should come out of their homes to defend thegau mata and their religion. These highly provocative statements were given from a supposed place of worship. Those who claim to be representing the interests of Hindus have no compunction in using centres of worship as centres of crime. There are numerous examples as to how communal violence gets fanned through provocative hate language from places of worship. Yet the law has no provision against such misuse of places of worship.
There was nothing spontaneous about the lynching. Bisada village had escaped any kind of communal violence, even during the violence which rocked the state of Uttar Pradesh after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Akhlaq's family members spoke of the close ties that had developed over the years across religious communities among their neighbours. During festive occasions, including Eid, food was sent from one house to another. Shaista used to go to the local school facing no problems. But things started changing in the period before the 2014 elections, with the aggressive communal campaign of the Sangh Parivar.
At the state level, the government was then run by the Samajwadi Party. In this area of the state, the BJP gave Lok Sabha tickets to known communal elements, including those who were accused in the terrible Muzaffarnagar communal violence. After their victory, they were further emboldened. The first half of 2015 saw highly provocative campaigns. In March, the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha of the RSS had given a call for national campaigns against so-called love jihad and against cow slaughter, and this was implemented with a vengeance in UP. The magazine Frontline reported that "According to senior officials in the Uttar Pradesh administration, there have been close to a hundred minor and major assault cases over alleged cow slaughter."
The planned campaign of the Sangh Parivar to target minorities on the issue of cow slaughter was reflected in the village too. Local BJP leaders led the campaign with provocative slogans and actions. On that terrible day, the ring leaders who committed the crime were known to be linked with the ruling party. The son of a local BJP leader was one of the first to be identified and arrested.
Top BJP leaders made the most offensive statements justifying the crime. The MP of the area and Minister of State in the BJP government termed it "an accident"; another described it as "a mistake committed by children"; the Vice President of the state unit declared that amahapanchayat was being called to protest against the harassment of Hindus; a then Rajya Sabha member tweeted "Why should the responsibility to keep peace be on the Hindu community"? And through all this the Prime Minister did not say a word. It took ten days and only after a strong statement by the then President Pranab Mukherjee for him to criticize the violence - and that too, only obliquely.
The involvement of the Sangh Parivar through gau rakshak committees, and the defence of their criminal activities of harassing, bullying, intimidating and also the killing of Muslims with senior leaders of the BJP directly helping the accused in cases like Akhlaq, have now become commonplace. If Jayant Sinha can garland the killers of Alimuddin Ansari who was lynched in a similar case in Jharkhand, it is because he knows that this is acceptable to the leadership of his party. His ministerial colleague Mahesh Sharma had wrapped the body of one of the accused in the Akhlaq murder case in the national flag after he died of an illness in jail. Political patronage to the alleged killers has been a critical factor in the subversion of justice in the Akhlaq case and all the others that followed.
Just four days ago, the Supreme Court directed the government to implement the slew of orders it passed in July on a Public Interest Litigation or PIL against cow vigilantism. The court had said that people should know that they would invite the "wrath of the law" on themselves after such incidents.
The wrath of the law should first be faced by the Modi Government. It is responsible for non-compliance with the orders of the court. Although the government set up a committee under the Home Ministry to implement the orders, nothing substantial has been done. Most importantly, the court orders to consider a separate law for cases of mob lynching has not been implemented by the committee. Nor has the government made any move to implement the order to set up fast-track courts for all such cases.
Meanwhile, it is the benevolence of the flawed judicial process that is being extended to the killers in mob-lynching incidents.
In not a single case have any of the accused been punished. In the one case of Alimuddin Ansari where the lower court had found the accused guilty and sentenced them, the High Court came to their rescue, acquitting some and allowing bail to the others. In almost every other case, the accused are out on bail. In Akhlaq's case, every trick in the book has been used to ensure that even the charges have not been filed. The lawyer in the Akhlaq case, Yusuf Saifi, has received threats to give up the case. The security protection given to him has been withdrawn by the present Uttar Pradesh government. A key witness, the local priest, has been declared as untraceable by the police. It is a shameful travesty of justice.
Three years after the murder, the family of Akhlaq are without their home; Akhlaq's eldest son, employed in the defence services, is now looking after them along with his own wife and children. Their mother is unwell and is being medically treated, They need help to rebuild their lives, Danish needs a job, Shaista needs assistance to finish her higher secondary exams so that she can follow her wish to study fashion designing. Their spirit remains unbroken. Yesterday the two siblings joined a solidarity dharna organized by the All India Democratic Women's Association at Jantar Mantar. Speaking to the assembled crowd, Shaista said, "They took my Abu from me, but am I expected to remain silent? Should you remain silent? It was my Abu they killed three years ago, tomorrow it could be anyone's. Once humanity is lost, nothing can remain.I believe in justice and that is why I am here to fight for it."
Brave words from a brave daughter. But are we listening?