Three Years On, Remember the ‘Dadri Lynching’
28 September 2018 12:41 pm
On the night of 28 September 2015, in a village in Gautam Budh Nagar district, Uttar Pradesh, a mob barged into 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq’s house with sticks and swords. They assaulted Akhlaq, hitting him with sticks, bricks and even a nearby sewing machine. He was dragged out of his house and beaten to death. His 22-year-old son, Danish, was grievously injured as he tried to save his father from the mob. According to the accounts recorded in the First Information Report (FIR), a provocative speech was made at the temple in the village, which incited the mob to attack Akhlaq based on rumors that he and his family had killed and eaten a cow.
This incident shook the nation. Since the lynching, there have been a series of similar incidents where mobs or self-styled ‘gau rakshaks’ (cow protection groups) have killed and attacked people on mere suspicion of cow slaughter. From September 2015 till June 2018, Amnesty International India recorded 34 reported incidents of people killed in cow-related violence.
Soon after the incident, Akhlaq’s family moved from their ancestral home in the village to New Delhi. In interviews, the family said that they no longer felt welcome in the village and had to leave, as they feared for their lives. According to some civil society organizations, when the incident took place, the village elders approached Akhlaq’s family and tried to dissuade them from filing a case against the accused. When the family did not obey, the elders allegedly told them that they would make their life in the village difficult.
Sartaj, Akhlaq’s elder son, who is a corporal in the Indian Air Force, and the rest of the family are working tirelessly with the local lawyers to ensure that justice is delivered in Akhlaq’s case. However, the family has been facing many hurdles in the fight to achieve justice. Almost immediately, Akhlaq’s case was transferred to a fast track court. Despite this, in the three years since the incident, the wheels of justice have continued to turn at a snail’s pace. After the incident, the police had made 18 arrests, but all of the accused are currently out on bail. Moreover, considerable doubts have been raised regarding the origin, authenticity and relevance of the meat samples that the authorities claim is cow meat. Although charges have been filed against the accused, at present the case seems to be at a standstill.
It has been reported that Jaan Mohammad, Akhlaq’s brother who continues to live in the same village, has received many offers to settle the case from the accused and villagers acting on behalf of the accused. Mohammad and the rest of Akhlaq’s family have received many threats to their life for refusing to withdraw their case.
Some people from the village filed a FIR against Akhlaq’s family for alleged cow slaughter. When the family was asked whether the case against them has been pursued, they said that no police officer has recorded any statements, no enquiry has been conducted and so far, nothing has happened. However, the family fears that this ‘counter’ FIR, of sorts, might be used to blackmail them and weaken their case. This is yet another hurdle in the family’s path to justice. In spite of facing these obstacles, the family are optimistic that they will secure justice for Akhlaq’s death. The family believes that the truth will come out eventually.
On 17 July 2018, the Supreme Court took a strong stance on the increasing incidents of ‘lynching’ across the country and urged the legislature to take cognizance of the matter by passing a new law to criminalize these acts. The court released broad guidelines, which provide for better methods of identifying, monitoring and recording such acts. This move by the Supreme Court gives a ray of hope to families like Akhlaq’s family who hope that justice will eventually prevail. It shows that the country is finally taking note of these incidents and urging for change.
It has been three years since the killing of Akhlaq. Over this period, India has witnessed a rise in ‘hate crimes’ – criminal acts against people based on their identity, and widespread impunity for such crimes. It was recently announced that Rupendra Rana, one of the accused in Akhlaq’s case is set to contest the general elections in India in 2019. As Akhlaq’s family and many other families of victims of hate crimes continue to struggle to access justice, authorities must be held to account. Victims and their families should not have to wait for years for justice, like Akhlaq’s family.
Harshita Shroff is an intern with Amnesty International India