While two persons were lynched in a village in Nagaon district in central Assam on Sunday for allegedly trying to steal cows from the local grazing reserve, a section of the media has projected it as the “first case” of Muslims being killed following cow vigilantism launched by the Sangh Parivar. However, another lynching of an alleged cattle-lifter had taken place in Golaghat district in July 2015 and in the past 15 to 20 years there have been a number of such incidents across the entire state.
On Sunday, a villager of Kasomari village on the outskirts of Nagaon town was returning after tying two of his cows in the village grazing reserve when he reportedly saw two persons in a truck taking his cows away. As he raised the alarm, fellow villagers chased the two men, caught them and thrashed them so badly that the two succumbed to their injuries even as they were shifted to the nearest hospital.
“It was only much later that the identity of the two alleged cattle-lifters who were killed as a result of the mob frenzy could be established,” said Nagaon SP Debaraj Upadhyaya. The two victims were identified as Abu Hanifa and Riazuddin Ali of Naromari Jamtola village, about two kilometres away in the same district, he said. On Monday, two persons had been picked up by the police on suspicion that they were part of the mob that had lynched the men.
While SP Upadhyaya has said that a couple of such incidents of cattle theft had taken place in Nagaon district in recent months, the local media has numerous reports on such incidents from across the state in the past few years.
In July 2016, local people caught two persons who had reportedly picked up a few cows and put them on a truck in a tea estate in Golaghat district, and one of them succumbed to the injuries after the people beat them up. The victim was later identified as one Jonti Ali.
“It is wrong to ascribe the Nagaon incident to the RSS or any of its wings. To be frank, forget about the RSS, there is not even one active BJP member in Kasomari village,” claimed Ranjib Sharma, RSS state spokesperson.
Similar incidents of alleged lynching of cattle-lifters have also occurred in neighbouring Tripura, where the Left ruled for more than two decades. In 2014, six alleged Bangladeshi cattle-lifters were done to death by villagers in two separate incidents in Tripura. While three were killed in Gopalpur village on the Indo-Bangladesh border in Khowai district, three others were killed by villagers in Gourinagar village. In December 2016, another Bangladeshi, identified as a cattle smuggler, was killed when BSF troops opened fire in Balerdepha village in Sipahijala district.
In March this year, three persons including a woman – all belonging to a tribal community – were killed in South Tripura district when BSF troops opened fire on a mob that attacked them as they were trying to apprehend a group of people which was reportedly attempting to smuggle a herd of cattle out to Bangladesh.
“Cattle theft is not new in Assam, and nor is lynching of thieves,” said a former Assam Police director-general who did not want to be named. “Smuggling of cattle into Bangladesh across the porous border is one reason why such incidents occur in Assam. But the fact remains that several ULFA and other militants have also been lynched across Assam by villagers in the past,” added the former DGP.
In November 2002, villagers laid a trap and beat to death two alleged ULFA militants in Bongaigaon district. In May 2007, students of Kailashpur High School in Kakopathar in Tinsukia district, lynched one ULFA militant after he had shot a teacher inside the school compound. The ULFA militant was later identified as Buddha Dhadumia. Kakopathar is still a stronghold of the ULFA.
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