In June, Kharsawan, a nondescript Jharkhand town about 60 km west of Jamshedpur, hit the national headlines, and notoriety, when a man named Tabrez Ansari was reportedly tied to a pole, beaten and forced to say Jai Shri Ram. Ansari, caught for an alleged act of theft, succumbed to head injuries four days later.
The incident sparked widespread criticism of the state government’s ostensible administrative lapses, with many political leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, condemning the incident.
Six months on, as Kharsawan Assembly constituency gets ready to vote in the Vidhan Sabha elections on Saturday, there is no mention of Ansari by any candidate, including incumbent Dasrath Ghagrai of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and his main opponent, BJP’s Jawahar Lal Banra.
The BJP is seeking votes on the promise of double-engine growth – with governments in both the state and at the Centre – and the JMM’s main plank is the ruling party’s “anti-tribal decisions and five years of misrule”.
After Ansari’s death, his wife Sahista Parween, 19, has moved to her mother’s home on the outskirts of Kharsawan. As campaigning ended on Saturday, Sahista told The Indian Express, “Many political leaders come up to the end of the colony, seeking votes; no one comes to us. They probably fear that they would lose votes.”
Muslim votes are not a deciding factor in Kharsawan, and the family believes political parties don’t want to be seen as sympathisers of one community.
After the crime, JMM leader Hemant Soren had said that the incident signified a “complete breakdown of law and order” in the state and demanded compensation for Ansari’s family. The JMM, or its candidate, does not mention the incident any longer.
Sahista’s mother Shehnaz Begum said, “Many people said they would help us. We received money from some people, which is being used for Sahista’s treatment. But she needs a job to sustain herself.”
Aam Aadmi Party leader Amanatullah Khan had met the family to give Sahista a cheque and offer her a job at Delhi Waqf Board, but Sahista said she cannot move to Delhi.
Less than 10 km away in Dhatkidih village, where Ansari was assaulted, there is palpable anger against the police and the media.
A shopkeeper (name withheld on request) said two of his family members are in jail as accused in the case. “The lower court rejected bail. We will move the High Court,” he said. On his voting preference, he said, “Various organisations supporting the BJP helped us with ration. No one else looked after us.”
The police had initially arrested 11 accused and charged them with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, among others, stating that the mob’s intent was not to murder Ansari, and that the postmortem report was not conclusive.
After media reports on the incident, the police filed a supplementary chargesheet and charged 13 accused with murder.
This has irked villagers. While The Indian Express was speaking with the shop owner, angry villagers refused to let him speak. One of them said, “We don’t want to talk about anything. We have 797 votes and we will see whom to vote for.”
Nishant Kumar, in-charge of Kolhan Range of Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha, youth wing of BJP, had visited the village after the incident and later wrote on Facebook how innocent villagers were being made to live in fear and that the morcha was with them in their “sorrow and happiness”.
Among others campaigning for BJP candidate Banra is Union Minister Arjun Munda’s wife Meera Munda.