A police team of just 15 managed to hold off a mob of around 1,000 people for around two hours before reinforcements from a CRPF camp nearby arrived to rescue a 60-year-old dairy farmer, who was attacked after the carcass of a cow was found outside his house at Barwabad village in Jharkhand’s Giridih district.
According to eyewitnesses and police, the mob also set fire to a portion of the house on Tuesday afternoon and wanted to throw the victim, Mohammad Usman, into the flames before police dragged him into their jeep and prevented attackers from pulling him out, twice.
“We were only 15 personnel. The crowd, which was there for the weekly bazaar, had swelled to a thousand. Our first aim was to take Usman in our custody. We managed that but were not able to take him out of the village. Then, we got information that his family members were holed up inside the house. We managed to enter the house through a staircase in the back and rescue them. By that time, Usman had been beaten up badly and was unconscious,” said Prabhat Ranjan Barwar, the sub-divisional police officer, who headed the team from Deori that reached the spot first.
Barwar’s version was corroborated by at least three eyewitnesses that The Indian Express spoke to at the village: Jawed Ansari, a watchman from Khasgodi village nearby; Nizamuddin, another watchman; and Manzoor Alam, pradhan of Barwabad village.
On Wednesday, these three were among a handful of men present in the village, which wore a deserted look — by evening, only a few shops had opened. Usman and his family were in Dhanbad, where he is under treatment at the BCCL central hospital.
“The bazaar was in full swing. I was getting a shave when I heard about a stampede-like situation. I rushed to the spot on my motorcycle because I needed to know what was happening before calling police. When I reached, I saw that Usman had already been cornered by the mob,” said Ansari, the watchman, who first alerted police.
“In this village, he is the only one rearing cows. He had eight cows and the family would supply milk in Barwabad and the neighbouring Mandro village. Usman was first asked by the mob whether the cow belonged to him, which he admitted. They took him to the exact spot where the carcass lay and made him swear that he did not kill it. Usman did that, too. We heard that some people wanted to throw him in the fire,” said Alam, the pradhan.
“The situation was highly intense. We somehow managed to stave them off. It was after the Deputy Commissioner arrived with additional forces that the mob could be dispersed,” said Barwar.
Giridih Deputy Commissioner, Uma Shankar Singh, who arrived with CRPF reinforcements, said: “The situation escalated suddenly. The initial presence of police, although outnumbered, helped us save lives. The injured is completely out of danger. We are probing the case from all angles.”
Speaking to The Indian Express at the Deori police station, Usman’s wife Amna Khatun said the cow had been ailing for a while and that she had called a local veterinarian to treat the animal before it died.
“The mob asked me the same questions they asked my husband. How could we deny that it was our cow? We told them that we did not slaughter her. But they were not ready to listen,” she said.
“The cow died on Saturday night. We could not get the body disposed of on Sunday because those who were to do this were busy handling another carcass in another village. Then, I told my son that the body would start rotting. On Sunday night, we dragged the carcass to an empty place. On Monday, I noticed some marks on the body and felt that it could be done by stray dogs,” she said.
“We were thinking about how to dispose it when the mob had reached our house and set on fire a small ration shop opened in the front portion by our son Saleem,” said Amna.
According to Ansari, the watchman, he along with police managed to enter the rear portion of the house using a staircase. “I opened the rear door that had been bolted from outside, and we rescued Amna, her sons Saleem and Alam, and Saleem’s wife,” he said.
Police said they were in the process of identifying the culprits and registering an FIR based on Amna’s complaint. A suspected member of the mob, Krishna Pandit, who sustained injuries as police fired in the air to disperse the mob, was out of danger, they said.
“It has come to light that the cow died of some illness. Whether somebody was involved in dismembering the body is being investigated. Around a dozen persons have been taken into custody and will be put under arrest after their involvement becomes clear,” said Singh, the Giridih DC.
Giridih SP Akhilesh B Verrior said, “This area has never been considered sensitive for such issues. A communal incident occurred some five years ago but we have not heard of any such case in Deori in the recent past. This will require a detailed probe. The carcass has been sent for post-mortem.”
ADG (Operations) and Jharkhand Police spokesperson R K Mullik said, “When officers at the headquarters got this news around 5 pm, we were conducting our daily crime meeting with the DGP. We immediately got in touch with the Ministry of Home Affairs to get permission for moving CRPF personnel based in Chatro, which is closer to the spot, to the troubled village.”
Under rules, the CRPF cannot engage in local law-and-order duty, unless express permission is taken — in this case, permission was given, with the DC accompanying around 100 Rapid Action Force personnel to the spot.
“It was a combination of immediate support from the top and ground officials taking pro-active action that turned the situation in our favour. Till then, our men had fought bravely but were hugely outnumbered,” said SP Verrior.