Twenty-one days ago, a day after Dussehra, the air in a Muslim-majority locality of Bihar’s Sitamarhi was tense with fear of retribution. Stone throwers had damaged a Durga idol being taken for immersion.
But 82-year-old Zainul Ansari, cycling his way home 7 km away after visiting his sister, brushed aside warnings from locals that a mob is out there. “No one will harm an old man,” he told one of them. Hours later, on October 20, Ansari’s body was found – burnt, with both arms and legs charred. His family says Ansari was caught by a frenzied mob and killed.
The administration moved quickly to prevent further violence in Sitamarhi, 170 km away from Patna: Internet was shut down and the body was sent to SKM College and Hospital in Muzaffarpur, some 70 km away from this town. Days later video clips and pictures of a body aflame on a road went viral on social media with unanswered questions of who, why and where.
The police still haven’t made any arrest in Zainul’s death, which the post-mortem attributes to “shock due to antemortem burn injury”.
“Zainul Ansari could have been attacked when he was returning. a sudden sporadic momentary emotional outburst. He was beaten up and died. We will look into how his body was charred. Though we have not lodged a separate case in Zainul’s death, we have filed a case of serious rioting in which murder section is also added for recovery of a body against unknown accused,” said Sitamarhi Superintendent of Police Vikas Barman.
Sitamarhi police have filed overall six FIRs for Dussehra violence and also arrested 38 people but none specifically for Ansari murder. “We have not yet identified anyone, nor have we found involvement of any kind of group,” said the officer.
The clips finally reached the youngest of Zainul’s two sons in Delhi two days later and he rushed to Sitamarhi. Mohammed Ashraf told The Indian Express: “Though most parts of the body being shown in the footage looked charred, I could still identify my father through his half-burnt face.”
“I accompanied my elder brother to SP and DM (district magistrate) to show video footages and confirmed that it was their father’s body. The police denied credentials of the footages. By that time, we had lodged a missing complaint report at Riga police station under which my village comes,” said the younger Ashraf who like his elder brother Mohammed Akhlaq Ansari in Surat earns his living as a tailor.
Elder Akhlaq said there was no way to confirm the death of his father as the Internet was suspended.
“My aunt Shaleema Khatoon, whom my father had visited at Rajopatti, also confirmed that my father had left home at around 12 noon on October 20, which coincided with the timing of violence. We met the town police station officers but got no confirmation. It was only on October 23 we learnt that the post-mortem was being conducted at Sadar Hospital of Sitamarhi. But we soon learnt that the body was sent to SKM College and Hospital, Muzaffarpur, some 70 km away from this town”, said Akhlaq.
The younger Ashraf, sitting in front of his brick house, said: “The district administration arranged two buses for us to reach Muzaffarpur but with clear instruction to conduct the burial at Muzaffarpur. They feared a communal backlash, and we agreed to their order”.
“The police are now telling us they have been studying video footages to identify the accused. They had been dismissive of similar footages earlier. But we want them to arrested immediately. We have not named anyone but they have to be punished,” he said.
Ashraf and Akhlaq said their immediate worry is to make a correction in the post-mortem report which mentions the age of the “unidentified body as 35”. “I have asked for a correction. They have promised to correct it,” says Akhlaq.
The post-mortem, conducted by Sadar Hospital doctors on October 23, confirms burn injuries: “…internal injuries and charred burn were found. Antemortem charred burn and deep burn were present all over the body. Lower jaw was completely charred and part of bone that is skull were absent. Both lower limbs were completely charred and bone below knee joint were exposed. Both arms were completely burnt…. The deceased died due to shock of antemortem burn injury. The injuries were caused due to flame of fire”.
SP Barman said: “Since we found an unidentified body, the age and identity of the victim are not mentioned in the post-mortem report. But we will request the doctors who conducted the post-mortem to give their opinion on the age of the body. We have also sent the victim’s body sample for DNA report. Once the report comes, the identity of the victim would be mentioned.”
At Goushala Chowk where Zainul Ansari was found dead, several shopkeepers recall how things spun out of control. “Maharani Sthan (goddess Durga temple) at Muralia Chowk is like a border between the two communities. As the Durga procession faced a sudden attack of brickbats, several were injured. Even policemen looked for cover. We closed down shops and learnt only in the evening of 20th that a charred body was found”.
Harinarayan Rai, who works at community cow shelter, said: “A body was found. We do not know who did what. We had to save our lives”.
At Ansari’s village at Bhodaha, his cousin Allarakha Ansari said Zainul had quit his buffalo trade in the mid-1990s and began living off the earning from their sons’ vegetable farm spread across eight katha land (about 11,000 sq ft). Allarakha said that the last time Sitamarhi saw communal violence was in 1992-93.