For more than a week now, the Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand state has been on a boil. This is after a Hindu boy - a minor as per his family - was lynched by a Muslim mob when he was on his way for a religious ritual.
The boy, Rupesh Pandey, was the only child of his parents after death of his elder brother some years ago due to snake bite.
The incident took place on 6 February. Rupesh’s family has called it a case of mob-lynching and named 27 men as suspects, all belonging to the Muslim community.
Besides these, the police have booked many unknown suspects for the fatal attack on Rupesh.
The police have made only five arrests so far.
The first information report in the case (number 59/2022) was registered at Barhi police station of Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand on 8 February, on the statement by Rupesh’s uncle Anil Kumar Pandey. Anil Kumar is younger brother of Rupesh’s father.
The statement by Anil Kumar in the FIR says:
On Sunday, 6 February around 5 in the evening, Rupesh’s friends Divakar Kumar Choudhary and Himanshu Kumar asked him to go with them to the Dulmaha Saraswati visarjan. Rupesh agreed and left his workplace in Kariyatpur. The two friend met him on the way to Dulmaha. Before they could reach their destination, they were stopped by a large crowd. Muhammad Aslam Ansari aka Pappu Miyan led the crowd and instigated them to attack Rupesh and his friends.
Aslam, along with Anees and others, brutally attacked Rupesh. The mob included Muslim women. As Rupesh screamed, some people from nearby, including Upendra and Mukesh Pandey, came for help. As more locals joined in, the mob dispersed.
Rupesh was taken to the sub-divisional hospital in Barhi. However, doctors declared him dead on arrival.
In his statement, Anil Kumar has further said that he suspects that people from “a special religious group” conspired this attack to kill Rupesh. Anil Kumar specifically called it a case of ‘mob lynching” in his statement.
The police booked the named and unnamed accused under IPC sections 302 (murder), 120-B (criminal conspiracy to commit an offence), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon), 149 (common intention), 341 (wrongful restraint), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 109 (bribing public servant).
The case has caused significant outrage on the ground in Jharkhand as well as on social media.
This correspondent called Anil Kumar on 11 February for more details.
He said that Rupesh was a Class 12 student, but worked part-time at a mobile phones store to support his family. Rupesh’s brother died five years ago due to snake bite.
After this tragedy, Rupesh was the only child left of his parents. His father lost his job as a driver during the last lockdown. For several months, the family was solely dependent on Rupesh’s salary.
About the 6 February incident, Anil Kumar said that Rupesh did not have any prior enmity with his killers. “Rupesh was not that kind of a boy. He was a very innocent, decent boy. Even before his father lost his job, Rupesh would work odd-job to supplement the family income,” said Anil Kumar.
Rupesh, he said, stayed and studied in Hazaribagh city. However, as schools are closed these days, he was in living with parents, in their village.
“He was quite good at studies too. He was different than boys of his generation,” he said.
Anil Kumar said that the mob attempted to kill all three boys, but the two managed to escape while Rupesh couldn’t.
Asked if Rupesh was associated with any political group, Anil Kumar said Rupesh worked with a “Hindu group”.
Asked about the name of the group, he said, “Anyone who is Hindu can support Hindu ideas and culture, right? There is no need to join a group for that.”
Anil Kumar said he has five brothers, while Rupesh’s father is the eldest. Like his brother, Anil too works as a car driver. He said no one in his family had any enmity with those who killed Rupesh.
He said he is clueless why the mob attacked his nephew. He said that he wanted the “strictest punishment for my child’s murder” but complained that the accused would eventually get bail from the high court.
This correspondent talked to Ankit Kumar, a resident of Hazaribagh who runs a Facebook page that is popular in the area. Ankit said he has visited Rupesh’s house thrice since the incident.
“Rupesh was friends with some Hindu activists. But he was not quite active on social media. Aslam Ansari, the one who led the mob, had had a heated argument with Rupesh a few months ago. He warned Rupesh that ‘I will see you in my area’. That day [6 February] Rupesh was in Aslam’s locality. The two had a heated argument over something. It turned violent and Aslam gathered his goons,” said Ankit.
“They targeted Rupesh’s private parts too,” he said.
Ankit said that some locals have spread a rumour that Rupesh was in a relationship with a Muslim girl. “They are saying the attack was a punishment to him. But that is not true,” he said.
When asked, Anil Kumar too rejected this theory.
Barhi police station in-charge Manoj Ratan Chauthe told this correspondent over the phone on 14 February that so far, five accused have been arrested. He said the investigation is still on and whoever is found guilty, would be arrested.
“Prima facie, the incident looks like one of personal enmity,” he said. The officer further said that the police have found that key accused Aslam Ansari and Rupesh had had an ugly spat before the attack.
On 10 February, the Twitter account of Hazaribagh police posted that they had identified 15 people who were found involved in spreading “misleading” information regarding the incident.
The post read (as translated from Hindi by Swarajya), “Action has been taken against 15 people found creating enmity between groups by sharing false and misleading posts. Action will also be taken against those sharing old, edited videos as related to Hazaribagh incident.”
Leaders from the key opposition party in the state - the Bharatiya Janata Party - have paid visits to Rupesh’s family.
Sanjay Seth, who is member of parliament from Ranchi, has raised this issue in the Lok Sabha and demanded an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation. He said that the cases of mob lynching cases are rising in the state of Jharkhand.
Notably, the Jharkhand state legislative assembly passed a bill on 21 December 2021 against mob-lynching. The bill, named ‘Prevention of Mob Violence and Mob Lynching Bill’ was passed from the assembly but is still in the process to be enacted as law.
As per the bill, the accused found convicted under this law can get a punishment ranging between three years and life-imprisonment along with a fine of Rs 25 lakh.
Anil Kumar said that after the outrage triggered by his nephew’s murder, the local administration announced a monetary compensation in the media. However, no amount has been given to the family yet, he said.
“One day, an officer came and gave me 20,000 rupees. I did not want to take it, but he left it with me by force and left,” he said.
Journalists have shared videos of Rupesh’s mother, who looked inconsolable and weak.
In the videos, she can be seen saying, “I want my son back. Either bring him or bring those who killed him. I will kill them myself.”
Anil Kumar said that the area Rupesh’s and his family live in, has about 40 percent Muslim population while the rest are Hindus.
“There are only 150 houses of Muslims, but still they dominate Hindus,” he said.
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