Animesh Bisoee

Seven tribal Christians were allegedly beaten, partially tonsured and forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” in a Jharkhand village on the unproven allegation that they had slaughtered a cow.

Although the incident happened on September 16 and a police complaint was lodged the next day, the matter became public only on September 25 when former zilla parishad member and social activist Neel Justin Beck told a local news portal about it.

Police confirmed the incident. Shams Tabrez, the superintendent of police in Simdega district where the attack took place, said four of the nine accused named in the FIR had been arrested and the rest would be picked up soon. The FIR also mentions 10 unnamed accused.

Jharkhand had witnessed the lynching of several tribal people and Muslims on unsubstantiated charges of cow slaughter or beef possession during the tenure of its previous BJP-led government (2014-19). This is the first reported communal attack since the JMM-Congress-RJD-Left alliance came to power last December.

Deepak Kullu, 26, a tribal Christian from Bherikudar in Simdega, about 145km southwest of Ranchi, said a group of more than 25 stick and rod-wielding people had entered the village early on September 16 morning. The men were apparently residents of nearby villages.

Deepak said: “I saw them beating a villager, Raj Singh Kullu, and hurling caste-based expletives at his wife Jacqueline Kullu. When I sought an explanation, they started mouthing caste-based expletives at me too and accused us of slaughtering cows.”

“Raj continued to plead that no one had killed any cows. But the mob showed us what seemed a fake video of an elderly man from a neighbouring village saying he had seen cows being slaughtered in our village.”

Deepak alleged the mob dragged him and six other Christian tribal men from the village to neighbouring Mahato Tola, about half a kilometre away, all the while slapping and beating them with sticks and forcing them to chant “Jai Shri Ram”.

At Mahato Tola, they were made to squat under a tree and had portions of their heads shaved by the mob.

Cow slaughter was banned in Jharkhand by a 2005 law, which the state’s erstwhile BJP-led government began strictly enforcing since 2017.

“The attackers called the local Simdega police station, accusing us of cow slaughter. The police arrived in a few minutes and took us to the police station,” Deepak said.

“The police searched our homes but could not find any trace of cow slaughter and released all of us later in the day. The next day, Jacqueline lodged complaints with Simdega police station and the district SC/ST police station.”

Police officer Tabrez said: “A case has been registered under the SC/ST Act and several Indian Penal Code sections. A special investigation team led by the sub-divisional police officer is conducting raids to arrest the remaining accused.”

Beck, the activist, identified the seven victims as Raj, Deepak, Emmanuel Tete, Sugad Dang, Sulin Barla, Soshan Dang and Sem Kido.

Rabindra Prasad Singh, officer in charge of Simdega police station, said the nine named accused were Nayan Keshri, Sonu Singh, Sonu Nayak, Tulsi Sahu, Shrikant Prasad, Deepak Prasad, Aman Keshri, Rajendra Prasad and Nakul Patar.

]“We have arrested Sonu Singh, Sonu Nayak, Nayan and Rajendra so far,” he said. “We searched every house whose occupants were accused of cow slaughter but found nothing conclusive.”

Rabindra said the victims did not suffer serious injuries in the beating, and none of them needed medical attention.

This story first appeared in the ‘Telegraph’ on September 26, 2020 here