Days after Jharkhand resident Tabrez Ansari succumbed to injuries, sustained from hours-long assault by a mob in Dhatkidih village of Jharkhand’s Seraikela-Kharsawan district, no one denies that the 22-year-old was beaten up. After all, they argue, he had “committed theft”.
Equally, not one of the several local residents The Indian Express spoke with are willing to blame the 11 accused arrested, or condemn the incident. After all, they argued, what will be an alternative reaction to theft.
A video had emerged that shows the crowd had tied Ansari to a pole in the village and purportedly asked him to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman” after he was caught for an alleged theft.
On Wednesday, when The Indian Express went there, village pradhan Subhash Mahto said, “People started beating the thief after he was caught. We tried calling police but could not get them on phone. So whoever came to know of the thief was beating Ansari.” On June 18, Ansari was beaten for hours before the police arrived around 6 am the following day and took him to hospital. He succumbed four days later. Two police personnel were suspended for dereliction of duty. On allegations of demands to mouth religious slogans, Mahto said he was not part of the melee and cannot say for sure.
Another villager, Pradeep Singh Deo, said, “People had asked for his name repeatedly, but I did not hear slogans.” He added, “Chor hai to marenge nahin (shouldn’t we beat a thief)? People have been arrested and sentiments are in favour of a thief from a particular community. It is shocking.”
Another villager said Ansari was asked to say Jai Shri Ram “on the spur of the moment”.
Many local residents said they were taken aback with the enormity of the backlash.
Over the last two days, many people came to Dhatkidih to sympathise with families of those arrested. When The Indian Express was there, a few men arrived, said “Jai Shri Ram bol ke rahenge (we will say the slogan)”, and condemned the arrests.
Nishant Kumar, in-charge of Kolhan range of BJYM, the BJP’s youth wing, posted on Facebook, “Innocent villagers are being made to live in fear after a thief was beaten up; it is being called lynching. We have assured villagers that the BJP family is with them…if someone tries to defame Hindus or Hindutva out of conspiracy, we will not allow that (translated from Hindi post).” Kumar could not be contacted for a comment. BJP spokesperson Pratul Shahdeo said the “crime” is “regrettable”. On Kumar’s post, he said, “There seems to be a conspiracy to communalise slogan-chanting as shown in the video. It has been sent for forensic test; its veracity needs to be ascertained.”
The police are investigating the source of the video and looking for the phone on which it was recorded. But, an officer said, “Villagers don’t want to give their phones since they will become part of evidence and seized.”
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