There seems to be little effort to squarely place the blame on those responsible for Mohammed Akhlaq’s death among the villagers of Bisada, where he was beaten to death over beef eating rumours alongwith his young son, who is lying in a critical condition in a Noida hospital. Villagers, including Akhlaq’s immediate neighbours rue the violent attack, but also accuse the family “of angering the village’s dominant Thakur community by slaughtering and storing cow meat in their home”.
The forensic report on the meat sample collected from Akhlaq’s home is yet to be made public.
“Nobody among the locals, even our immediate neighbours, has come to show solidarity with us. Even when the mob attacked my family members, hardly anyone from the neighbourhood tried to stop the attackers,” said Sartaj, Akhlaq’s eldest son.
Sartaj, a technician with the Indian Air Force posted in Chennai, has come home after hearing about his father’s death. His younger brother Danish and other family members were also attacked on Monday.
Akhlaq’s immediate neighbour Seema Sisodiya and her mother-in-law Vidisha said that they heard the temple urging the villagers to mobilise and take action against the Akhlaq family. They also witnessed the attack on the family but did not dare to even scream to stop the mob as it was an overwhelming crowd. “It was a huge gathering of mostly young boys from the village and neighbouring areas who came like locusts and entered their house. Then we only heard some screams for help and then the father and son were dragged outside and left there bleeding. We did not dare to step out of our home to stop the mob as it was very scary then. Later, we saw the village pradhan coming with the police to take the bodies to the hospital,” they said.
They said that they did not even go to Akhlaq’s house to register their condolences. “Why should we go to their house? They are alleged to have indulged in cow slaughter,” they said.
Interestingly, Akhlaq’s neighbours remember his family as a decent and educated lot, who used to distribute sweets on Eid and were never reported to have sacrificed a cow on Eid ul Adha before.
“They were nice and good to talk to. Akhlaq’s children were educated and well behaved, but they were accused of this crime this time,” said Sardar Singh, another neighbour.
Ten youth from Akhlaq’s neighbourhood have been named in the police FIR; seven of them have been arrested. The sister of one of the arrested youth, Vishal Rana, said that she was sad that Akhlaq’s family was getting financial assistance and media attention despite the fact they were accused of some crime (cow slaughter), while her brother and the other youth were being treated as murderers. “There was some truth in the allegation that the remains of a cow were found from stuff that was thrown from Akhlaq’s house. Only then a mob gathered. My brother was only a witness to the commotion but he has been picked up by the police,” said Vandana Rana.
Similarly, the cadre of Samadhan Sena and Pratap Sena, local outfits active in the villages of Dadri, have declared their support for those arrested for Akhlaq’s murder. The local unit of the BJP has announced that they would hold a mahapanchayat of the villagers of Dadri to press for justice to the arrested youth of Bisada and for the overall protection of cows in the state.
“The police and the district administration have been lopsided in managing the aftermath of the Dadri killing. Innocents are being framed for the murder of Akhlaq. Plus, overall the UP police has been lax towards those involved in cow slaughter and even FIRs of missing cows are not registered easily. We will present these demands before the state government after our mahapanchayat on 11 October,” said Vichitra Tomar, a local BJP leader. Similarly, Nawab Singh Nagar, former BJP MLA of Dadri, who attended the meeting, repeated his remark that the youth were instigated after finding “stuff like cow remains” near Akhlaq’s house and that those arrested were not all involved in the killing.
But Mahesh Sharma, MP from the area and Union Minister for Culture, said that communal tension would not be allowed to escalate and communities would be brought closer through efforts on the ground. Politicians from other parties like the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party accuse communal outfits and the BJP of exacerbating the polarised atmosphere of the area. “While communal outfits like the Samadhan Sena are busy poisoning the minds of impressionable youth, the BJP is providing political patronage to such groups. The UP government delays action against such elements especially when such tensions surface before any election,” alleged Satvir Gujjar, Dadri’s BSP MLA. Gujjar claimed that after the 2012 Assembly polls in UP, elections such as the 2014 Lok Sabha election and 2014 Assembly bypolls have taken place in a communal atmosphere. “This tension is preceding zila panchayat and village panchayat elections which will take place from the second week of October,” Gujjar said.
As rumours of Muslim families planning to migrate started spreading on Thursday, District Magistrate N.P. Singh approached these families and tried to convince them that they would be protected. “I have been posted in Naxal-affected areas and I have seen much more tense situations. I assure communal harmony will again prevail here and as we finish our investigation into all aspects of the incident, appropriate action will be taken against culprits,” he said.
Amid the widespread tension, this correspondent was told by Muslim villagers that the local mosque and the Eidgah in the village were constructed by a Thakur family. “This is actually a symbol of two communities living together in harmony. We hope it stays this way and the bitterness evaporates soon,” said Rahimuddin, the custodian of the mosque.