Prakash Lakda’s son Kuldeep, wife Jermena and daughter Shubhra outside their family home in Jurmu village, Gumla, Jharkhand. Lakda, Christian tribal, died after being set upon by a Hindu mob that accused him and others of slaughtering an ox they were skinning.
Mumbai: Four Christian tribals carving a dead ox were lynched by a Hindu mob in western Jharkhand on April 10, 2019, and forced to chant “Jai Shree Ram”, as they were stabbed, beaten, force-fed urine, according to eyewitnesses and the police.
One of the tribals died, and based on complaints from some in the mob, the police first filed cases of cow slaughter against survivors and the murdered man, who lay outside the Dumri police station for three hours, the survivors told a “fact-finding mission” of lawyers and activists.
Two of seven alleged attackers were arrested a day later, including the main suspect–a man accused of two murders and out on bail–and several unidentified attackers are mentioned in the first information report (FIR).
“We are inquiring into the charges of police negligence and have instructed Gumla police to arrest the other absconding accused immediately,” additional Director-General ML Meena told Factchecker.The local police said the survivors made no complaints of bias or ill-treatment against them.
The attack in Gumla district was the fourth cow-related hate crime and seventh motivated by religious bias reported in India in 2019, according to Hate Crime Watch, a FactChecker database that tracks such crimes.
Since 2009, Jharkhand has reported 16 hate crimes motivated by religion and 13 deaths–the second-deadliest state after Uttar Pradesh (23 dead)–all reported after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won general and state elections in 2014, according to our database.
Nationwide, over a decade to 2019, 91% of 286 hate crimes motivated by religious bias– claiming 102 lives–were reported after 2014, according to Hate Crime Watch.
Christians, who form 2% of India’s population, account for 15% of victims in religious-bias motivated hate crimes, according to Hate Crime Watch; Muslims, 14% of the population, account for 58% of victims. In more than half these crimes or 57%, the perpetrators are Hindu, the database shows.
The latest attack, in the village of Jurmu bordering Chhattisgarh, came suddenly, said eyewitnesses, when over 30 tribals were carving up the dead ox, as per tribal custom, at the request of its owner, Jakheria Kujur (50), also known as Adhiya. The mob of about 40, brandishing sticks, iron rods and daggers, came from a neighbouring, predominantly Hindu village of Jairagi.
The mob believed the tribals had killed the ox to eat it. Cow slaughter has been banned since 2005 in the eastern state under the Jharkhand Bovine Animal Prohibition of Slaughter Act; eating beef is also a crime under this law. Cow slaughter is a cognisable crime (meaning a police officer can make an arrest without permission from a judge) and bailable offence, punishable with a fine of Rs 10,000 or up to 10 years imprisonment.
“A few people from Jairagi village saw an animal being skinned, so they went back and informed others of the village–that’s how the mob formed,” Gumla superintendent of police (SP) Anjani Kumar Jha told Factchecker.
While most villagers fled, four men–Prakash Lakda (58), Peter Kerketta (50), Janerius Minj (42), and Belesius Tirkey (60)–were caught by the mob.
Lakda pleaded with the attackers to stop, insisting that the ox was long dead.
“He told the mob–if you think we have committed a crime, hand us over to the police station,” Suraj Koli (40), his son-in-law told Factchecker. The mob did that–but not before beating him with rods and daggers and force-feeding urine when he asked for water, Koli alleged.
“They forced the victims to chant slogans like “Jai Shree Ram” and “Jai Bajrang Bali’,” said Koli. Three of the four who survived the lynching made the same assertion to the fact-finding mission that visited Jurmu village on April 14 and 15, 2019.
After four hours of violence against the four tribals, the mob took them in a bus and dumped them on a road outside Dumri police station, 19 km away. There they lay–writhing in pain–waiting for police and medical attention.
Three hours later, at 3 am, the police transported the victims to a health centre. The doctors declared Lakda “dead on arrival”, noting he died an hour before. Kerketta, Minj, and Tirkey are currently being treated at Ranchi’s Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences.
Farmer Prakash Lakda, 58, would go to the neighbouring Hindu-dominated Jairagi village–home to the mob that lynched him– once every week to work at a chicken shop, his main source of income.
With 12 attacks since 2010, Jharkhand–India’s 14th-most populous state where tribals form 26.2% of the population–occupies third spot, alongside Karnataka, by cow-related attacks, all recorded after 2014. From 2010 to-date, 127 such crimes have been recorded across India, claiming 47 lives, according to a Factchecker database that tracks this violence. Heading for an assembly election later in 2019, Jharkhand ranks second by cow-related hate-crime murders with seven dead, after UP (19 deaths).
Police inaction led to lynching: Family, eyewitnesses
The survivors and the dead man’s family alleged that Lakda died because of police apathy.
“We are very clear about this–had he [Lakda] been given medical treatment immediately, his life could have been saved,” Koli, Lakda’s son-in-law, told Factchecker.
The police refused to intervene and stop the lynching after they were informed of it, survivors Kerketta, Minj, and Tirkey alleged in their testimonies to the fact-finding mission.
While the mob beat and stabbed the victims, two attackers–including the main accused Sanjay Sahu–visited the police station to complain about the cattle slaughter, the survivors alleged.
“The victims told us that the cops refused to come to the spot and, instead, asked the attackers to make arrangements to bring the victims to the thana [police station],” said Siraj Dutta, an activist who was a part of the fact-finding mission.
The attackers transported the victims in a bus to the police station, and dropped them on the road outside and then walked in to meet police officials, the victims alleged.
“One chowkidar in the thana [police station] came out and offered us a blanket–we still have the blanket,” Kerketta, one of the victims, said in a video seen by Factchecker.
Rohan Khalko, a doctor at the local community health centre, where the victims were first taken, has alleged to the fact-finding mission that local police forced him and his colleagues to admit Lakda and record him as being alive when he was brought in. They refused.
The district police admitted that they had read local media reports alleging a delay in treatment but denied reports that the local police had refused to intervene in lynching.
“The victims’ initial testimonies do not mention any of these alleged lapses, and we have yet to receive a formal complaint about it,” said Gumla SP Jha. “Nonetheless, we will be investigating them.”
No previous communal tension
On the evening of April 10, Jakheria Kujur came to Lakda’s house and asked if he could skin an ox that had just died.
“His ox was frail and old, so as per the customs of the tribals for when cattle die, he asked the villagers to carve it up and consume the meat,” said Koli, his son-in-law.
Lakda, a subsistence farmer, lived with his wife Jermena (50) and earned Rs 1,000 a month working at a chicken shop at a weekly bazaar in Jairagi village. Carving the ox meant two full meals and money saved.
“That was his sole, consistent source of income,” said Koli. “His livelihood depended on Jairagi village.”
Kujur’s relative, Birjinia, confirmed he had met and requested Lakda and other villagers to carve-up the dead ox, the fact-finding mission reported after meeting Kujur’s family.
“This was common practice in the village—even the Hindu community of Jumru would ask the tribal community to carve their dead cattle up, consume the meat and use the skin for making drums,” said Afzal Anees, member of the fact-finding mission.
The villagers of Jurmu and Jairagi depended on each other, said Lakda’s family, as many from Jurmu would work for farms and small businesses in Jairagi.
That is why most in and around Jurmu cannot come to terms with the incident, said Saroj Hembrom, a local Gumla activist who was part of the fact-finding mission. “This region has no history of communal tensions,” he said. “The main accused, Sanjay Sahu, however, has links with Hindu right-wing groups, and a criminal background.”
Gumla police confirmed that Sahu was currently on bail, facing trial in a double murder. They denied allegations about his political links.
Lakda’s family has lost faith in police investigations, said Koli, Lakda’s son-in-law. Lakda’s family has now demanded a compensation of Rs 25 lakh and a government job for his wife.
Correction: 102 Indians have died in hate crimes not 101, as we reported. We regret the error.
(Purohit is an independent journalist, writing on politics, gender, development, migration and the intersections between them. He is an alumnus of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.)
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