On 19 October, 2018, 82 year old Zainul Ansari was lynched and burnt alive in broad daylight in Sitamarhi’s Gaushala Chowk by a Hindu crowd after he found himself trapped in a Durga Puja procession. Sitamarhi has been the location of communal violence in the past and the administration had taken pre-emptive action by fixing the route of the religious procession to ensure it did not travel through the congested lanes of Muslim majority areas.
The first halt of the Karwan team was in Sitamarhi, at the home of 82 year old Zainul Ansari. We offered solidarity to his sons Akhlaq and Ashraf Ansari and their wives and children.
Both sons are tailors who were working in garment factories in Ludhiana and Delhi. They were visibly in deep anguish because of the cruelty with which their father was killed by a mob in a busy marketplace. The daughters-in-law spoke about how he was a fine and gentle man, like a father to them. The men are now unable to return to work because the only senior male member of their family in the village has been killed with immense brutality. But there are no job opportunities here. The grandchildren of Ansari are anxious and traumatized, and the family is frightened to send them to school.
On that day, there were rumours that the arm of the idol of the goddess had been damaged and the Puja committee deliberately fanned tensions by taking the procession through a Muslim colony and raising anti-Muslim slogans.
People in Ansari’s village report that the situation had already become communally charged but the police took no action to stop the sloganeering or prevent violence. There is no evidence of damage to the idol.
Zainul Ansari was returning from his sister’s home and found himself in the middle of an emotionally charged crowd. A visibly Muslim man, he had a white beard and was wearing a skull cap and a blue tehmat. Photographs of the incident that were circulated on WhatsApp show that Ansari was hit on his head with pipes used as weapons by a crowd of mostly young men. Some were also armed with daggers and knives. In one photo he is lying on the ground with a pool of blood under his head. A local woman in seen in the background wielding a pipe like a weapon. In another, a pre-teen boy is standing, also with a pipe in his hand. A third photo shows Ansari being carried to the side of the road by two very young men who are holding his arms and ankles. In a fourth photo, sacks and other incendiary material is stacked on top of him and he has been set on fire.
The post-mortem report reveal that some of the burn injuries were ante-mortem, and therefore that Ansari was still alive when he suffered the first burn wounds. Finally his body was charred beyond recognition.
The Karwan found that the local police have made little effort to investigate the crime and the post-mortem was inordinately delayed. Anywhere between 30 and 38 persons were arrested for violence, but today each one is out on bail. The police have filed a charge-sheet. But the family is convinced that there has not been adequate effort to catch those who planned or participated in the violence, including those whose faces appear in the pictures. They find themselves helpless and with no recourse to justice, and also in fear. The Karwan has promised them legal support.
Village Bahilpur, Muzaffarpur
Bhartendu Kumar's mother’s wails pierced through the air as she embraced members of the Karwan e Mohabbat who arrived in her home to offer solidary and help fight for justice for her son, who was killed in January 2015. Villagers say that Bhartendu was killed by his friend Vicky alias Sadakat Ali because he suspected him of having an affair with his sister in a case of inter-religious love.
The second family that the Karwan visited in Bahilpur village was of Zahida and Shabnam Khatoon who were attacked in counter-violence perpetrated by a mob of villagers seeking revenge for the murder of Bhartendu. The mob surrounded the men of Muslim families who lived on the main road and killed 4 men, injuring many more and setting fire to homes, as they turned against a community in their thirst for mindless revenge.
The 4 victims of mob violence are Mohd. Altaf, Akhtar Ali, Shamsul Mustafa and Ghulam Gilani.
Again, the apathy of the state and police to investigate the case fully is apparent, as the survivors of the Muslim victims have had to leave their homes and continue to live in fear as refugees in other places. The women shared that they are particularly pained by their social and economic isolation and wish they had the support and solidarity of their neighbours and other villagers.
There is pressure from the Panchayat to settle the cases by not providing evidence and backing off from the pursuit of justice. The women survivors of this communal violence spoke eloquently about their search for justice and peace for the remaining members of their family. The Karwan team offered to provide legal support to the family.
While we appreciate the efforts to find a solution to end the animosity and the hatred between the two religious groups in the village, we strongly feel that any attempt to force peace or 'compromise' without justice will only lead to marginalisation of the claIms for justice of the affected Muslim families, forcing them to accept peace offered on the terms set by the more powerful members from the majority community who is also aided by the administration.
Adeeb Raza, Sultan and 2 others
Araria town, Araria
The Karwan team next visited the families of 4 young men whose lives have been disrupted by the circulation of a doctored video that shows visuals of them celebrating the electoral victory of their MP, Sarfaraz Alam, while the audio of the video has been edited to include anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans. The audio and the video does not match at all, yet the video clip went viral on social media and was also played on mainstream TV channels. Alt News at that time had shown that the video was doctored, but the Director General of Police went on record that he found the video authentic. The similarities with the dispute of students raising anti-national slogans based on doctored videos in JNU, Delhi is striking and disturbing.
Based on these videos, the boys were branded anti-nationals and arrested. After 3 months in prison, the 4 boys have now returned home but the cases continue and so does the trauma of the boys who struggle with anxiety and fear.
Adeeb Raza’s mother, Arshi Parveen is an elected Councillor and all the parents of the accused men reiterated many times that they have chosen to live in India and belong to this land. This kind of targeting by the state hurts them at multiple levels, but their resolve to recover their shattered lives remains strong.
The Karwan found this to be a classic case of the forced conflation between Muslim identity and anti-India sentiment. The criminalisation of the three boys and the intimidation of the families and the Muslim community in Araria is of deep concern. The boys booked on a flimsy case based on a doctored video continue to live in fear and their psychosocial well-being is harmed. The boys in their late teens deserve to lead normal happy, carefree lives but are forced into seclusion, and into enduring the stigma of being unpatriotic.
Rani Katta Village, Araria
On 27 February, the Karwan e Mohabbat visited Rani Katta village on the Indo-Nepal border in north Araria district to meet the family of Mohammad Kabul who was lynched in a neighbouring village on 29 December 2018.
The victim’s brother and daughter shared that he may have been drunk and lost his way back home after a night at a Qawwali programme. A group of men in Seemanmuni village accused him of being a thief and lynched him to death, while also filming the violent spectacle.
The police are following up on the case based on the evidence collected through the video clip of the lynching.
This case where a mob turned against a lone individual is yet another example of how when a permissive culture of violence permeates through society and when perpetrators go unpunished, mobs enjoy impunity and the state is unmotivated to protect victims.
In this journey, the Karwan found that for the large Muslim population in Bihar, an environment of fear, hate and stigma has been manufactured by the current government. Throughout our journey, people contrasted the safety they experienced during the first alliance which ruled the state, when communal organizations which tried to foster communal distrust were kept more firmly in check. But after the current alliance between the JD (U) and BJP has assumed power, communal organizations have felt emboldened and supported to deliberately create hate, communal demonization and communal violence. The sharp contrast between the two phases only underlines that communal hatred between Hindus and Muslims is not spontaneous, and thrives only in an environment of tacit or open encouragement by the ruling establishment.