In an incident reminiscent of the Dadri lynching, two Muslim men herding eight buffaloes on their way to a Friday market were beaten up and hanged to death from a tree by suspected cattle-protection vigilantes in Balumath forests in Latehar district, 100km from the state capital, early on Friday.
The deceased, Muhammad Majloom, 35, and Azad Khan Alias Ibrahim, 15, were cattle traders and related to each other. Their bodies were strung up with their hands tied behind their backs and their mouths stuffed with cloth.
“The manner of their hanging showed that the assailants were led by extreme hatred,” said Latehar SP Anoop Birthary.
Local MLA from the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) Prakash Ram claimed that Hindu radicals were behind the killings. Reports said villagers who protested the deaths claimed the victims were targeted as they were cattle traders.
Birthary, however, did not identify the assailants. “We are gathering leads to verify whether personal or business enmity led to the murder or it was due to some other motive. The buffaloes were freed. It is yet to be known if the buffaloes were taken away by the assailants or they strayed into the forest,” Birthary said.
The hanging sparked protests by people in Jhabbar village that turned violent when police tried to take down the bodies. The situation poses a serious political and law and order challenge for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Jharkhand. In the case of Dadri case when a Muslim man was killed over rumours of beef eating, BJP had said law and order was under the SP government.
But in the Jharkhand incident, the buck stops with the state and central leadership. Sub Divisional Officer (SDO) Kamleshwar Narayan and six cops were injured when villagers threw stones at officials who arrived in the morning to manage the situation and ensure that it did not take a communal turn. Injuries to senior officials forced police to fire in the air and lathi charge the villagers.
Sources said protesting villagers have periodically claimed that assailants have targeted them in the past because they are engaged in the cattle trade. “Four months ago, a group of men tried to kill a cattle trader in Gomia village of Balumath. The man managed to escape,” Latehar Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Prakash Ram said.
Local MLA Prakash Ram from the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) party led by former BJP member Babulal Marandi alleged a group of Hindu radicals was responsible for the attack on the cattle traders. “They are supported by the police who do not act against them,” Ram said.
The MLA’s claims appeared to tally with statements of villagers who blocked Latehar-Chatra National Highway after the killings. An FIR was lodged against unknown persons for the murder and another FIR was lodged against unknown persons.