It wasn’t just a mob that witnessed the lynching of four men in a Jharkhand village, nearly for five hours on May 18, on suspicion that the men were child lifters. Present at the spot were also a Deputy Superintendent of Police, a Circle Inspector, two Assistant Sub-Inspectors and at least 30 policemen, including those from the local station in Rajnagar.
According to a report in The Indian Express, it tracked down two of the policemen who were seen speaking to the mob in videos of the incident and spoke to several eyewitnesses to piece together the sequence of events that ended with the deaths in Shobhapur of Naim (35), Sheikh Sajju (25), Sheikh Siraj (26) and Sheikh Halim (28).
It is not a story of policemen looking the other way. Instead, they were watching the lynching unfold in front of their eyes.
On May 17 night, Naim, Sajju, Siraj and Halim, all residents of Haldipokhar, reached Shobhapur to visit Halim’s brother-in-law Sheikh Murtaza. At 5 am on May 18, they called their relatives in Haldipokhar to tell them that they were surrounded by a mob and feared for their lives.
According to the report, one of the victim’s (Halim) brother said that he had told him that the mob would kill them and that they should rescue them. Following the phone call, Halim’s brother gathered a few people from his village and left for the spot on motorbikes wearing helmets to conceal our identities. After reaching they saw that hundreds of people were beating them, and fearing for their lives, Halim’s brother and others fled.
At 6 am, some villagers informed the policemen at the Rajnagar station about the assault and 30 minutes later, TP Kushwaha, the officer in-charge, two ASIs and five constables reached Shobhapur.
“We saw people beating up a youth, alleging that he was a child-lifter. For the next 45 minutes, we spoke to some members of the mob, trying to pacify them. But what can you do if the rest of them go on a rampage? There were so many people and more kept pouring in. There was so much commotion. I had never faced such a situation in my career,” Kushwaha reportedly said.
“Please, I beg you. Don’t talk to me, I am just a small officer. I was there but I cannot talk to you. Please contact my superiors,” said Sashibhusan Gope, the ASI on duty.
At around 7:30 am, reinforcements, including a DSP, CI Rajiv Niraj and 20 policemen, arrived at the spot from the Seraikela district headquarters, 14 km away.
The report suggests that Rakesh Bansal, SP, claimed that there has never been such an incident in Seraikela. He said that it is easy to say things sitting in an office, but the ground reality is different. Till 11.30 am, the police thought that there was only one victim, they did not know that there were others.
“There was a huge crowd and some people were instigating the mob. When we first received information about the incident, we thought it was a local fight. Later, we found out it was a different case,” said Bansal.
Sajju, Siraj and Halim had managed to flee the spot and take refuge in Padnamsai village nearby. But in Shobhapur, the policemen looked on as the mob beat Naim with rods and lathis. Naim begged for mercy until he collapsed. At around 11 am, police dragged a critically injured and unconscious Naim to Seraikela hospital, where he died within minutes.
At around 1 pm, police picked up the bodies of Sajju and Siraj from the main road at Padnamsai, Jharkhand. The mob had tracked them down. The victims’ family members claim they had informed police officers about the location but they ignored their phone calls. The policemen allegedly didn’t even go to Padnamsai until late in the afternoon to collect the bodies.
On May 22, Jharkhand Home Secretary SKG Rahate announced the suspension of Kushwaha. Further probe is on.