ATUL CHANDRA Basu, 40, pointed at a thin wire, warning not to touch it. Most households in his village — Durgapur, in West Bengal’s North Dinajpur district bordering Bangladesh — have put up locally assembled electric fencing around their cowsheds to ward off cattle thieves. Besides, groups of village youths take turns to keep vigil at night, Basu said.
It was near his house that three Muslim youths — Md Nasiruddin, Nasirul Haq and Md Samiruddin — were lynched on Thursday night on suspicion of cattle theft. Basu’s sons Asit (28) and Ashim (27) are among the three people arrested for the killings, the third being Krishna Poddar (24).
Showing copies of nearly two dozen police complaints of cow thefts, residents of Durgapur claimed that the police asked them to take care of such “petty matters” themselves.
“If you go around the village, it is difficult to find a house from where cattle has not been stolen. We went to the police (the village is under jurisdiction of Chopra police station) many a times and lodged complaints. More than two dozen complaints have been lodged only from this village; the number crosses 50 if you count those lodged from adjoining villages. But the police told us not to brother them with such petty affairs and asked us to handle them ourselves,” Basu said.
“So we handled it ourselves,” he emphasised. “We caught the thieves and killed them. If cow thieves come again, we will catch them and beat them up again.”
According to villagers, “night guards” — village youths who keep vigil — spotted three men near Basu’s house around 1 am Thursday. They appeared to be checking something with torches, said Sanjay, brother of Krishna Poddar, who has been arrested.
He said, “We caught them as they were passing through the village. As word spread, nearly a thousand people gathered, some of them from adjoining villages. They were beaten up, and they died.”
Krishnapada Sikdar, 80, who has a family of seven to feed, said, “One Jersey cow costs around Rs 30,000; a desi one costs around Rs 15,000. Two of my cows were stolen. Now I have only a calf. How can people tolerate this? There was pent up anger among the villagers, and it found a release on Thursday night.”
While North Dinajpur has a large Muslim population — according to 2011 Census, Muslims make up 49.92 per cent of the population, and Hindus account for 49.31 per cent — Durgapur and adjoining villages are part of a Hindu-dominated area, which saw communal tension during Eid and Rath Yatra last year.
Durgapur is populated by around 150 families and is only 5 km from the India-Bangladesh border.
Local leaders of the TMC and the BJP blamed police inaction for the killings. Makhan Sarkar of ruling TMC said, “I called police when the thieves were caught, but they arrived after four hours and said they had lost the way. Everything was over by then. Had they acted on the complaints (earlier), people would not have taken the law into their hands.”
Subodh Chandra Sarkar, BJP general secretary of Chopra block unit, said, “There is a lot of discrimination. Police do not listen to complaints by Hindus. They should have arrested the cattle thieves earlier. Now they have arrested innocent Hindu villagers.”
North Dinajpur SP Amitkumar Bharat Rathod said, “We have arrested three people and investigation is on. (Additional) policemen have been deployed in the area.”