A day after two Muslim cattle traders, one a minor, were found hanging from a tree in a Jharkhand village, police arrested five men including one with links to a local gau raksha samiti (an outfit for protection of cows). Police said they were looking for three others, one of whom was involved in a dispute with the elder of the victims.
The bodies of Mohammad Majloom (35) and Inayatullah Khan (12) were found hanging from a tree early Friday morning in Jhabar village under Balumath police station area of Latehar district.
According to police, the arrested men claimed they killed Majloom and Inayatullah after they resisted their attempts to steal cattle being taken to a fair for sale. Police said they were looking at “all possible angles” since one of the arrested men was linked to a gau raksha outfit. The men also told police that the boy was killed because they feared he would identify them.
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Latehar Superintendent of Police Anoop Birtharay said: “Five persons have been arrested. One of them is linked to a local gau raksha outfit. But neither the complainant nor the family members of the dead have blamed any particular organisation. We are probing the case from all possible angles. Prima facie it appears to have been a case of a gang attempting to loot cattle.”
Birtharay said the role of a man named in the FIR had not been established. Those arrested have been identified as Mithilesh Prasad Sahu (associated with the gau raksha samiti), Pramod Kumar Sahu, Manoj Kumar Sahu, Manoj Sahu — all residents of Jhabar village; and Awadhesh Sao, a resident of Ichak village.
“Awadhesh spotted Majloom and Inayat walking with the cattle at night. He was returning from a marriage ceremony. He tipped off the others. They came on motorcycles and intercepted the two,” the SP said.
According to Birtharay, the men planned to steal the cattle and began assaulting Majloom and Inayatullah. “One of the absconding accused, whose name we cannot reveal, had some old issues with Majloom. The victims were first beaten with sticks and then strangled. Their bodies were later hanged,” he said.
The arrested men told police they hid the cattle at two places in the forest. “We are trying to recover the cattle,” the SP said. He said cattle traders are often targeted. “There are those who intend to loot the cattle and sell them in the market. Others pose as ‘protectors of cows’ and threaten traders with police action to extort money. But there are some who are driven by ideology. In this case, prima facie, we have reasons to believe that the gang intended to loot the cattle. But we are probing other angles as well,” he said.
The man named in the FIR by complainant Mohammad Nizamuddin too was a cattle trader and there was a business dispute between them. Nizamuddin told The Sunday Express that Majloom and he were partners. They bought six oxen from a fair in Latehar three days ago. Another person, Mohammad Azad Khan, who lives in Arahara village, also bought two oxen. Together, they were supposed to sell eight oxen at a cattle fair in Tutilawa in Hazaribagh — it starts the day after Holi.
“We travel on foot with our cattle and that is why we take three-four days to move from one fair to another. On Thursday, Azad Khan’s son Inayatullah joined Majloom at Dumartand (where Majloom lives with his father-in-law). They set out around 3 am for Tutilawa. I asked Majloom to take the cattle up to Balumath, from where I would have taken charge,” Nizamuddin said.
It was not yet dawn when Nizamuddin reached Jhabar which is on the way. “I spotted my cattle. Majloom was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, I heard cries of some persons. They shouted ‘yahi to hai asli vyapaari, pakdo isko’ (he is the real trader, catch him). I was on a motorcycle, so I sped away. I stopped only after I reached Balumath (nearly 14 km from Jhabar). I then began calling his family members to find out about Majloom,” he said.
At his house in Arahara, Azad Khan said: “I sent my son since I had injured my leg. I would have gone to the fair later. He walked to Majloom’s house and left with him early Friday. When I last spoke to Majloom on phone, he told me he was crossing Jhabar. The call got disconnected and the phone was switched off later. I learnt about the incident later.”
Azad said his son was killed because the assailants feared he would identify them. Munnavar Ansari, one of the younger brothers of Majloom, was the first family member to reach the spot where the bodies were found.
“My brother and the boy were hanged with nylon cords which are used to rein in cattle. His mobile phone was missing and I also spotted a broken SIM at the place. The faces of both were covered with gamchhas (towels),” said Munnavar who runs a mobile phone repair shop in his village.
Majloom and Inayatullah were stopped on the road from Jhabar to Balumath. They were then taken to a place nearly 3 km away. It’s across a rivulet also called Jhabar, along a dirt track seldom used by villagers. Only cattle are taken there for grazing.
While police maintained that the incident appeared to be a case of loot-gone-wrong, Majloom’s family members alleged that residents of Jhabar and other adjoining villages had threatened them in the past for dealing in cattle.
His father, Mohammad Ibrahim, said: “I don’t seek revenge. I only want justice for my son.”