Bisada, Dadri/ Akhlaq case
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The incident of Sept 28, 2015
Bisada was retiring for the day. Nothing seemed amiss, except there was a power cut, which is usual in these parts. Then, something happened that would scar the village forever, put it at the centre of an intolerance debate that still rages. A man was battered to death in his house by a lynch mob on the suspicion that he had eaten beef. Food politics espoused by an increasingly radical right wing had claimed its first victim
A year has passed since Mohammad Akhlaq was battered to death by a lynch mob that suspected he was eating beef. Eighteen people have, during this time, been arrested, all residents of Akhlaq's village Bisada. Police have filed a 177-page case diary along with a 4-page charge sheet that contains the eyewitness account of Akhlaq's wife Ikraman in court. Yet, nine months and several hearings later, charges are yet to be framed against the suspects.
For Akhlaq's family , it's been a frustrating wait for the process of justice to begin. In the meantime, families of the suspects banded together, turned up pressure on police and the government by threatening a mahapanchayat and succeeded in starting a parallel case of cow slaughter against Akhlaq's family . The forensic report of the meat sample seized by police -first said to be mutton by the Greater Noida veterinary hospital and then beef by UP's forensic laboratory in Mathura -muddied the waters further.
What started off as a black and white case of mob murder has, a year on, thanks to a complicated investigative and judicial process, acquired multiple shades of grey . The battle for justice looks like a long and difficult one for the family of the murdered man.
Yusuf Saifi, the lawyer for Akhlaq's family, said framing of charges has been repeatedly pushed back because the defence lawyers have either sought more time, or insisted on one case paper or another and copies of the forensic report of the meat sample collected by police. In the meantime, some of the arrested suspects gave moved the Allahabad high court for bail.
“Police had not given us the forensic report of the meat sample. We moved an application in court that delayed the process by some time,“ said Sheeshpal Singh, a defence lawyer. “But then we got the report, which said it was cow meat. Police also filed the injury report of the two victims (Akhlaq and his younger son Danish) very late,“ he added.
The defence also moved an application demanding an FIR against Akhlaq's family for alleged cow slaughter based on the forensic report of the meat sample, which police say was collected from outside Akhlaq's house, from the road under a transformer at a nearby trijunction. This also delayed the process of framing charges. “All documents have now been received and we hope framing of charges will take place soon,“ Singh said.
The judge hearing the case has changed too after additional district judge Virendra Kumar Singh was promoted as special judge. Since August, additional district judge Shivani Jaiswal has taken over.
Akhlaq was murdered last September 28. Police filed the charge sheet on December 22. The suspects gave been charged for rioting (sections 147 and 148, IPC), unlawful assembly (section 149), voluntarily causing hurt (section 323), murder (section 302), attempt to murder (section 307), breach of peace (section 504), criminal intimidation (section 506), mischief (section 427) and trespassing (section 458).
Three of the suspects are minors and have received bail. Last week, Akhlaq's daughter Shaista, in a complaint to the Gautam Budh Nagar police chief, challenged the age of one of the minor suspects, alleging he was her classmate in Rana Sangram Singh Inter College in Class 10 and had reduced his age by four years to escape being tried as an adult.
The meat: where found, its weight
It all started with rumours that Akhlaq had beef at home. But even a year later, there are still some unanswered questions around the meat sample that police recovered.
Police initially failed to confirm the exact place where they found the meat. While it was widely reported that meat was recovered from a refrigerator in Akhlaq's house, police records tell a different story . Police claimed no meat was found in Akhlaq's house.
According to the seizure report, station officer of the local Jarcha police station, SK Singh, along with head constable Amreesh and constable Rajeshwar Singh, seized meat pieces from near a transformer at the tri-section about 500 metres from Akhlaq's house in Bisada. The seizure report was prepared around 1 am on September 29, 2015, a few hours after Akhlaq's house was attacked.
Questions have also been raised on the quantity of meat recovered. In his recent petition to the additional director general (ADG) law and order Daljeet Chaudhary in Lucknow, Akhlaq's son Sartaj has pointed out discrepancies in the seizure report and what the veterinary hospital, where the sample was sent first for tests, said.
The police seizure report states around 2kg of meat pieces -four legs (from below the knees) along with the skin of the skull and chest -were found. However, the report prepared by the deputy chief veterinary officer of the state veterinary hospital at Dadri in Gautum Budh Nagar states that the meat sample received weighed about 5kg.
“How can the weight of the meat sample seized by police change within a few hours?“ asked Akhlaq's son Danish. He too was badly injured in the mob attack. “The discrepancy is on record and police will have to explain this,“ said Farmaan Naqvi, a lawyer who had argued the case on behalf of Akhlaq's family before the Allahabad high court.
Then there was confusion on what had been recovered. After initial examination, the state veterinary hospital at Dadri suggested that “prima facie“ the samples seem to be that of the goat progeny . The deputy chief veterinary officer, in his report dated September 29, 2015 recommended that final and confirmatory tests of the meat pieces be conducted at the Forensic Investigation Laboratory , UP University of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry , Mathura.The Mathura lab, in its report dated October 3, 2015, however, found the meat to be that of the cow progeny . The latest report was issued by the office of the joint director of the Mathura lab. It was on the basis of this report that families of those accused in the murder of Akhlaq moved court, seeking an FIR against Akhlaq's family members under the UP Cow Protection Act, 1955.
Bisada, the village
At the end of an unkempt lane overrun with weeds and scrubs are two locked doors and a closed gate.On the door painted blue and scarlet hangs a lock that's turned rusty .Clearly , the door hasn't been opened for months. The other lock, dangling from an aging green wooden door, is wrapped in a cloth and sealed by authorities. The other gate is a flashier blue, but that's closed too. Nobody lives in these three homes anymore.
The story behind the locked doors is a dark blot on India's democratic register. Exactly a year ago, Mohammed Akhlaq was lynched by a mob for allegedly storing beef in his fridge.His son, Danish, was thrashed too, but he survived after spending several days in hospital. The homes belong to Akhlaq and his brothers, Jan Mohammed and Afzal.
Now, as the case that shocked and outraged India takes twists and turns in court, Bisada is the scene of surface calm and subterranean anxieties. A sprawling Thakur-majority village near Dadri town in Greater Noida, Bisada is roughly 60km from Delhi. A statue of Rana Pratap, the famous 16th century Rajput king, crowns the welcome gate that leads to the village.
The Friday prayers are just over.A group of Muslims sitting inside the mosque near the primary school are open to a conversation on the subject but not willing to be named.Some sense the lynching and the subsequent events caused a deep rift between the two communities. “You could feel warmth in our interactions in the past. That has changed.Now when we wish them, they look away . Tum gaali bhale hi na do, par nigahein sab bata deti hain (You may not abuse me, but your looks reveal it all),“ says Kamran Ali (name changed on request).
On one occasion, though, the cracks could be seen. During the month of Ramzan, some Muslims went for a dip in a canal that runs through the village, one of them recalls. They were asked to leave.“Hamare to aadmi jail mein pade hain aur tum nahar mein naha rahe ho (Our guys are in jail and you are hav ing a bath in the canal),“ they were told.
Bisada doesn't have a history of communal tension. Freedom fighter and retired school teacher Ratan Singh remembers that the village was witness to an agitation by Congress volunteers against the British in 1942. “Even after Independence, Hindu-Muslims lived in conviviality. I recall my father helping a needy Muslim during a marriage,“ recalls 90-year-old Singh.
The Muslims in Bisada are mostly poor. Some are carpenters, barbers and washermen. Many are daily wagers who work in the fields. “Mohammed Akhlaq's was a rare educated family among us. His son Sartaj works for the Indian Air Force,“ says Imran Ali (name changed).
Some Muslims say they were taunted during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots that left 62 dead. “The remarks often had a communal tinge,“ says an elderly gentleman. Some believe that the riots played a role in vitiating the atmosphere here.
Unlike the Muslims, the Hindus that TOI spoke to feel that the village has moved on and it is business as usual now. “In Bisada, we play cricket matches on Tuesdays. These matches are never Hindus versus Muslims.The teams include players from both communities. Even now we play cricket together, even watch cricket matches together,“ says Ravi Kumar (name changed).
But everyone admits that the incident has made Bisada “a badnaam“ village. One of them says that a job offer from an educational institution was cancelled after they learnt his village's name. The police verification of Bisada villagers, they say , was a breeze earlier but it is far more stringent now.
During Bakrid, there was no qurbani of goats in Bisada this year. “We thought it would be better if we don't,“ says Ali. However, Hari Om Singh Rana, husband of village sarpanch Kaushalya Devi, says there was no restriction or pressure on the Muslims.“They did it on their own,“ he says.
Clearly, anxieties and schism remain. Rana denies that the Muslims are taunted. He speaks of development, of living in harmony . “We want to build a boundary wall around the graveyard because we know that it gets flooded in the monsoon,“ he says.
The gesture could help in regaining trust, help in healing.
(Barring Hari Om Singh Rana and Ratan Singh, all other names have been changed on request)
The murder of Mohammad Akhlaq became the trigger for an “award wapsi“ campaign against the Modi government that saw writers, intellectuals and film persons return national awards in protest against what they called a growing culture of intolerance and majoritarianism under the NDA regime.
The movement swiftly assumed political overtones ahead of a bitterly contested election in Bihar that pitted a “secular alliance“ of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, along with Congress, against NDA. When BJP lost the encounter, the result was hailed as a big win for the anti-intolerance movement.
PM Narendra Modi came under fire for not promptly condemning the Akhlaq murder after it became a national issue.BJP's decision to rake up the beef debate in the Bihar election only strengthened suspicions that it was looking to use the emotive issue of cow slaughter to overcome OBC satraps Lalu and Nitish.
Modi did break his silence at an election rally on October 8, expressing his sadness over the event. This did not halt the politics with the Bihar results indicating that BJP had over-estimated the power of the beef debate and its own failure to ensure adequate OBC representation proved crucial.
One year on, while Akhlaq's death may not be in the news, the debate is far from over. Communal polarisation and violence remain a near constant in Uttar Pradesh. The communal cauldron of western UP where Dadri is located saw fresh controversy over the “exodus“ of Hindu families from Kairana, allegedly in the face of communal bullying.
A recent riot in Bijnore over alleged harassment of girls going to school seems a near exact replay of events that led to the widespread riots in Muzaffarnagar in 2013. UP simmers with dozens of communal clashes that keep the social landscape in a state of permanent polarisation.
The Akhlaq or the intolerance debate played in different hues with the controversy over sedition cases against JNU students accused of holding an anti-national event to commemorate the “martyrdom“ of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru set the stage for BJP's “Bharat Mata“ campaign and CongressLeft responded by saying the ruling party was stifling freedom of expression.
The political battle swung BJP's way with a convincing electoral victory in Assam where it assumed office for the first time on the back of a more subtle campaign than the one it had run in Bihar. But gau rakshaks and incidents of violence against Dalits and Muslims brought the Akhlaq debate back into focus.
This time, Modi weighed into the discussion, describing cow vigilantism to be largely the handiwork of anti-socials, prompting a backlash from VHP leader Pravin Togadia.
Politics took a new turn with atrocities against Dalits forcing BJP to take corrective action that included replacing Anandiben Patel as Gujarat CM over mishandling of the assault on Dalits at Una.
The Dadri lynching and the heated communal politics that followed will come to a head in next year's UP election. The result may not settle the debate fully but can deliver a verdict on competing narratives.