Gul Bahar Bibi, wife of Mohammad Afrazul, the labourer from Malda, West Bengal, who was lynched in Rajasthan in 2017, is still to come to terms with the fact that her husband’s killer has not been punished yet — and is, in fact, being treated like a “jamai (son-in-law)” in jail.
“It is more than a year now. The entire world saw how he killed my husband, and yet the government there is doing nothing to bring him to justice,” Gul Bahar says, sitting in the family’s two-storey house at Saidpur village, in Malda’s Jalalpur area.
The incident, and what they call is delayed action in the case, has also put plans on hold for people from the area to venture out to other states in search of work. According to local residents, eight out of 10 families in Saidpur have men who work outside Bengal — like Afrazul did — and send money home.
Aminul Sheikh, 35, who has been sitting jobless in the village since January, says: “About 80 per cent men from this village are migrant workers. A large number of them lost jobs after demonetisation (in November 2016), and then such hate crimes forced them to stay back (at home). I was working in Delhi but left in January since I stopped getting wages.”
Having worked as a labourer outside Bengal since 2006, Aminul says he never experienced “such a situation…of threat before”.
Sitting by Gul Bahar on the floor at their home, Rezina Khatun, 22, one of her three daughters, says politicians come here only before elections. “We were given a compensation, and I got a sweeper’s job at Kaliachak BDO office. I earn only Rs 6,000 per month. No leader from any political party has come here since. This time we want a government that will punish my father’s killer, and stop such hate crimes,” she says.
Afrazul, who worked as a labourer in Rajasthan, was hacked and burnt alive by a man named Shambhulal Regar over an alleged affair at Rajsamand district of the western state in December 2017. The crime was filmed, and the video clip was circulated online. Regar is in Jodhpur jail at present.
Earlier, Afrazul’s family had protested after the Uttar Pradesh Navnirman Sena announced Regar’s name as its candidate from one of the Lok Sabha seats in the state.
Ali Hussain, who has returned home “to cast my vote”, says: “We don’t want a government that fails to punish offenders. We want a speedy trial and punishment for those who commit such heinous hate crimes — we will vote for a change.”
Not sure whether he will return to Haryana to work after the polls, Hussain says labourers like him get around Rs 300 now, down from pre-demonetisaion daily wage of Rs 400. “There is no point going outside to work for only Rs 9,000 per month,” he says.
Jamalpur is part of Sujapur Assembly constituency, and under Maldaha Dakshin (Malda South) Lok Sabha seat. Abu Hasem Khan Chowdhury, sitting MP and brother of late Congress stalwart from Malda A B A Ghani Khan Chowdhury, is seeking reelection.
Although he had finished fourth in 2014 – behind the Congress, BJP and CPI(M) candidates, TMC’s Moazzem Hossain has emerged as a strong contender with his promise to address concerns of migrant labourers.
“Our state government was the first to provide compensation to the affected family. Our party chief, Mamata Banerjee, has been vocal against such hate crimes in BJP-ruled states. It shows how serious we are to stand by these people,” Hossain says.
TMC leaders say the state government addressed issues such as atrocities on migrant labourers and their apathy due to the demonetisation exercise, which have gone well with voters in a district that sends the second highest number of migrant labourers to other states after Murshidabad.
The Congress, meanwhile, is pitching itself as the party that has taken the lead in the fight against the BJP to woo the significant minority vote in the constituency. Local Congress leader Rabiul Islam says, “(Congress president) Rahul Gandhi was the first to raise his voice against atrocities on minorities. He is the only leader continuously fighting against the autocratic NDA government. The Malda district Congress committee tried to force the then BJP government in Rajasthan to provide a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to Afrazul’s family.”