Team members: Bonojit Hussain(New Socialist Initiative), Deepti Sharma (Saheli), Kiran Shaheen (writer and activist), Naveen Chander (New Socialist Initiative), Sanjay Kumar (People's Alliance for Democracy and Secularism and New Socialist Initiative) and Sanjeev Kumar (Delhi Solidarity Group)
On the night of 28 September, in a heinous instance of hate crime Mdohammad Akhlaq a resident of Bisara village of Dadri in western Uttar Pradesh was lynched to death and his son Danish brutally assaulted by a mob of villager over a rumour that Mr. Akhlaq and his family had slaughtered a calf and consumed its meat. Just before the lynching, an announcement was made from the local temple to spread the rumour, within moments a mob constituted itself and attacked Mr. Akhlaq resulting in his lynching. Mr. Akhlaq's son Danish has been in hospital since that night and despite undergoing two brain surgeries his condition is still said to be critical.
We, a six member team of activists, went to Bisara village in Dadri on 03 October 2015, the day when there were news reports that a thousand women have been mobilized to prevent the media from entering the village. The women pelted stones at media personnel and OB vans because of the alleged'disrepute' they were bringing to the village and for disrupting 'normal' life.
We arrived in the afternoon and encountered some media OB vans on the road leading up to the village. As we proceeded towards the village, the visibility of police presence kept increasing. At one point we stopped to talk to the police about the situation in the village and we were told very clearly that the villagers were very angry about outsiders coming in and they can't really tell us what kind of reactions we might face from the villagers. The police strongly advised us to not go in to the village and also told us that if something were to happen then it would not be their responsibility.
We managed to proceed to the village after speaking on the phone to the village Pradhan,Sanjeev Rana, who sent someone to 'safely' escort usto his house, where we met him and some other men from the village. After that, we visited Mohammad Akhlaq's house and met his family. We also briefly attended a meeting of village elders called by the District Magistratewho upon figuring out that we are not from the village requested us to leave saying they are trying to resolve issues internally. In addition, there was some interaction with men who were around.
1. Some Facts about Bisara Village
Bisara is a large villagein Western UP. It has an inter-college, a market and the presence of many industrial plants in the surrounding areas. A canal runs close to the village. The village appeared to have a thriving agricultural economy. However, we were told that a substantial number of men also work outside the village. The area has recently been re-categorized from rural to an urban zone. It now comes underGreater Noida urban administrative zone, due to which it is not going to have village panchayat elections again.
The numbers for the total population we got varied from 15000 to 18000 people. 300 were reported to be Muslim. Rajputs (who mainly use the Rana surname) are the dominant caste, owning most of the land. We were told that there are also over 100 Jatav families, and approximately similar numbers of Valmiki families. Muslims appear to belargely landless artisans.
Mohammad Akhlaq owned a shop in front of the village inter-college where he repaired iron implements. Three Muslim households live in the main part of the village, in a narrow lane behind village pradhan's house. Akhlaq's house is one of these. All other Muslim families live in another part of the village. The village apparently has an old mosque (approximately 70-80 years old) and an Idgah. It is possible that before 1947 it was home to a substantial number of Muslim Rajputs, who migrated out to Pakistan. We were told that the Muslims now living there are Saifis (a caste of Muslim ironsmiths or Lohars).
2. Narratives in the Village
(a) The three village youth we talked to outside the village near the canal told us in hushed voices that the meat in the Akhlaq's fridge indeed was beef ("Large hoofs, ears and white skin, it could only be cow!" was their refrain). They all said they had heard it from others who had seen these. They had little remorse over the murder.
These three village youth were Class XI/XII students in the village inter-college. When we asked how and what happened. Their first reaction was what happened was both "good and bad". Bad because somebody lost his life and good because by slaughtering a cow Akhlaq betrayed the goodwill of the Hindus. The Mosque and the Idgah stands on Hindu land, despite the benevolence of the majority community what Akhlaq did can be captured by the saying "jis thali main khaya, usi main ched kiya". These youths also strongly asserted that "Akhlaq's family will get new house and compensation from theGovernment, what else do they want?"
(b) A man on a motorbike with milk cans argued vociferously against media induced disruption of ordinary life. His refrain was 'our children are unable to go to school and college' and 'an internal matter of the village has been unnecessarily made into this big issue'. However, we did later see two 7-8 year old girls in uniform with big school bags, though perhaps they were coming from one of the private schools, or tuition. The village has a Sarawati Shishu Mandir school, with a large new board, close to the inter college on the main village road.
(c) The village pradhan and others emphasized on how the Hindus have always cared for Muslims in the village. The pradhan said that he had given Rs. 40,000/- from his own pocketfor the renovation of village mosque because the Muslimcommunity did not have the resources to renovate it by themselves. He said that other Rajputs of the village too had contributed. To further illustrate this goodwill amongst communities in the village, he narrated an incident of last year when the Rajputs from the village had sat on a dharna in Dadri, after a Muslim woman (from the village, but married outside) was killed in a road accident. Apparently, men from the village were still facing a court case because of that protest.
When asked about what according to him transpired on the night of the murder, the pradhan told us that he was in his farm house that night, which is two kilometres away from the village. He claims that he became aware in the incident only after the announcement from the village temple had been made and the mob had already proceeded towards Akhlaq's house, and by the time he managed to reach the village Mr. Akhlaq's was already dead. According to him, only young men were 'involved' and elders came to know about it after the murder.
(d) Relatives/ family friends of Mr. Akhlaq thought he was targeted because theirs' was a relatively well-off Muslim family.Mr. Akhlaq's elder brother in the meeting of village elders called by the DM said that lumpenisation, everydayness of ruckus after drinking, and petty crimes were on rise in the village for some time. But villagers had not taken any action.
The DM in the meeting with village elders was trying to impress upon them to disclose the identity of the culprits. His refrain was those (young men) involved in the crime will tomorrow attack their own villagers and families. He had allowed the media in the village these past days because he did not want to create the impression that the administration was trying to hide something. From next day, only those with the clearance of the Commanding Officer (of the police), and whom Akhlaq's family wanted to meet would be allowed in the village. On some of us standing on the side, he asked us to leave as this was an 'internal' meeting.
The estimates of how many constituted the mob varied. While the Pradhan said it was anywhere near 2000-2500 people; in the DM's meeting two different estimates emerged. One elderly Hindu man put the numbers at around 500 people, the DM himself referred to it as mob of somewhere between 500 to 1500 men.
(e) At a rather superficial level, most people we talked to said that killing of Akhlaq is sad. But there was no visible sense of remorse in the village. While they claimed it was an unfortunate event, in the same breath people pointed out that it had been turned into a big issue by the media that has brought shame and bad name to this supposedly "peaceful" 800 years old village.
(f) Leave aside any lack of remorse, the major reason people were agitated is that the "media has only been focusing on Akhlaq's death and his family. It is not even mentioning the concerns of the "other side" (the Hindus), ie; "Hindu youth being picked up randomly by the police".
3. Our Observations
(a) The narrow lane leading to MohammadAkhlaq's house is barely four feet wide. It cannot accommodate more than twenty people at a time. It is unlikely that the mob which attacked could be a thousand strong. The heinous crime may actually be the handiwork of a much smaller number of people. In fact, the talk of a large mob may be a ruse to 'normalize' the crime, and show it somehow enjoying a popular support. By all indications it appears that while there were a large number of young men who were part of his mob, there was a small group of men who actually murdered Mr. Akhlaq. The claim of a very large mob is also often a ruse to prevent identification of individuals involved under the obfuscated identity of thousands of people.
(b) The houses are so cluttered and close to each other that it is impossible for Akhlaq to have butchered a calf in his house without the neighbours noticing it. If he butchered it outside his house, then it is very surprising that while he could secretly kill the calf, but was foolish enough to be found with ears and hoofs, as said in the narrative of the village young men we talked to. There is now a clever shift in the dominant narrative. It has moved from butchering the cow to beef found in his house.
(c) A spontaneous mobs is not usually selective in their attack,in this case Akhlaq's brothers' house right next to his and was not even touched; in all likelihood the crime was not the result of a spontaneous mob fury. The crime was the result of a criminal conspiracy, known to a few people, but who were very sure that the people at large will not oppose them. The immediate aim of the investigation should be to isolate these people, and give them speedy punishment.
Media has reported the existence of Hindutva organizations active in the area in the name of 'cow protection'. Their role in the crime should be investigated.
In fact, on our way out of the village, we noticed a Scorpio vehicle parked outside the village road on the arterial road, which had a flex banner on the rear windshield, which read "Hindu Gau Raksha Dal" (Hindu Cow Protection Party).
(d) MohammadAkhlaq's family is terrified and isolated. We met his elder brother, younger sister, daughter-in-law of the older son and few other relatives. Apart from the elder brother, none of them live in the village and had arrived after hearing of the incident. They are worried about the son (Danish) who is in hospital battling injuries from the attack and also for their 82 year old mother who was injured.
We could not meet Mr. Akhlaq's wife or his mother but we briefly spoke to the other two women separately, but in the presence of a womanpolice constable. They expressed shock and horror about how this could have happened in a place where they have been living for generations. They also said that hardly any neighbour or people they knew for long have come to offer any help or condolence. They said they don't want to live in the village anymore and feel scared just by thinking about what will happen when the police presence will not be there.
According to them, the mob seemed large enough in number and many were known/familiar faces. Mr. Akhlaq's sister took us to the first floor of the house where the mob had 'found' him 'hiding'. The bricks that were used to support the double bed were used to attack him and his son. There were splashes of dried blood, broken rods, spilt over rice, a broken sewing machine, an over turned fridge and charpoy; all left intact the way it was. We were told that some people had most likely come to collect some evidence/samples. Mr. Akhlaq's sister told us 'un logon ne usski biwi or maa ki izzat pe haat dalne ki bhi koshish ki…' (the mob tried to sexually attack Mr. Akhlaq's wife and mother). But circumstances and time did not allow us to talk to the women more about it.
(e) Back in the village, the pradhan again brought up the common narrative of peaceful co-existence. It was asserted that even during the partition or Babri Masjid demolition or during the Muzaffarnagar communal riots nothing apparently happened in this village. The strong emphasis on this "history" seems to be ploy to put a question mark to any suspicion/narrative of a planned attack that might arise or have arisen. This emphasis is also a subtle way of putting the cause of the outrage/attack on the alleged slaughter of a cow ie; Akhlaq's house wouldn't have been attacked if he had allegedly (or rumoured) slaughtered a cow.
4) Brief Analysis
(a) The presence of approximately 300 Muslims in a village of approximately 15000 people dominated by Rajputs, in itself doesn't give much scope for Hindu communal mobilization. So a rumour of cow slaughter becomes the most feasible vehicle to mobilize a certain dominant agrarian caste on a Hindu plank against Muslims in general. This is a similar trend of mobilizing a dominant caste against Muslims that was also visible during the riots in Muzaffarnagar in 2013.
(b) This particular incident is also not something that can be seen in isolation just because it happened for the first time in this particular village. There has been a concerted campaign around ban on cow slaughter in India but more specifically in Uttar Pradesh. In a recent event one person (from Sangh Parivar) has been caught red-handed in Azamgarh while he was throwing cow meat in a temple. Similarly such patterns of event and rumours were witnessed in Muzaffarnagar, in Delhi's Bawana and Najafgarh area in 2014. So, the narrative of rather peaceful history might be true on the surface, but it does not suggest that this "first of a kind incident" of this scale could have happened just as an"accident"because of "hot-headedness of youth".
(c) Another fact, also common to other instance (also observed in the Muzaffarnagar fact-findings), was women of the villages coming out very aggressively against the police and media for their alleged "sympathies to Muslim family and biases against the Hindus." While in the meeting with the DM about maintaining peace and identifying the culprits, there were no women present at all. Here it should also be noted that as quoted in The Hindu, the SP (Rural) Dadri confirmed that on Friday night Thakurs/Rajputs held two meetings to strategize how to deal with media and its "one sided coverage".
Even while it is the work of a criminal conspiracy; the context of the crime is purely political in the 'beef ban' politicking of the BJP. ManyBJP ministers, MPs and others have tried to deflect attention away from the enormity of the crime, by calling it as an 'accident' (Mahesh Sharma, Union Minister and BJP MP from NOIDA), or writing that 'lynching on mere suspicion is bad' (Tarun Vijay, spokesperson BJP), indicating that if the suspicion turn out to be true it would have been OK.
Speedy arrest and bringing to book of all the men who participated in the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq.
That Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav ensures the safety of Akhlaq's family and also of other Muslim families in the village.
That the Union Government take serious action against Union Minister Mahesh Sharma and other BJP leaders for attempting to justify this heinous crime and communally inciting the villagers further.
A criminal investigation of the role of Hindutva organizations who have been operating in this area be instituted.
That Prime Minister Modi break his shameful silence on this brutal incident.