Jharkhand violence, beginning of a Jungle Raj?

Source : SIFY
By : Varun Sukumar
Last Updated: Tue, May 23, 2017 09:43 hrs

Amid rumors that a few outsiders infiltrated into their villages to abduct children, tribals along the borders of Seraikela-Kharsawan, East Singhbhum and West Singhbhum districts picked up traditional weapons and attacked strangers. As a result, seven people have been lynched in two separate incidents and at least six people had escaped with injuries.

The seven people included four Muslims and three Hindus from the neighboring areas. JMM leader Babar Khan said in a statement “The four men lynched were cattle traders, who often frequented Sobhapur where their relatives live. Hence, they cannot be called strangers. There is certainly a different cause for the murder, which police should probe.”

Police say rumors of child-lifting had been swirling in the region. Speaking to NDTV, the IG Operations of Jharkhand Ashish Batra said that messages on WhatsApp, claiming that children could be kidnapped by a gang and their body parts are sold, went viral in these villages.

In the aftermath of the violence, a single image captured the entire episode; a man identified as Mohammed Naeem as reported in the Hindustan Times, pleading to a group of villagers for his innocence. The same report from HT stated that the family declined to accept a compensation of Rs 2 lakh offered by the district administration.

The Hindustan Times reported that the message circulated in Hindi read in part “…Suspected child lifters are carrying sedatives, injections, and spray, cotton and small towels. They speak Hindi, Bangla and Malyali. If you happen to see any stranger near your house immediately inform local police as he could be a member of the child lifting gang,”

Sohaib Daniyal writes in part for the Scroll –

“This is a picture that will haunt India for years to come. A man is on his knees, his body bloodied, begging for forgiveness from a mob. The mob does not relent, beating him and three of his co-workers to death.”

“The sordid incident is a snapshot of India today. The social media rumors represent a complete failure of the state. For decades now, adivasi communities in Jharkhand have been subject to the worst forms of exploitation. While the current round of rumors remains to be verified, the state does have a horrific child trafficking problem. In particular young girls are kidnapped and sold outside the state, often into sexual slavery.”

The Congress Vice President, Rahul Gandhi called on Narendra Modi to address the incidents.

The elder brother of one of the victims suffered injuries in the attacks. He spoke from a hospital in Jamshedpur to The Indian Express saying “They were standing on the road with swords and other arms. When police arrived, my brother got into the police jeep. But the mob dragged him out and killed him in front of my eyes. Our 80-year-old grandmother, who was with us, was made to watch, too. The police just stood there and did nothing.”

For the Scroll, author Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar in the wake of the lynching’s, writes on the incident that took place in his ancestral village, through the words of his father stating –

“He proceeded to tell me how it was a norm among Santhals and other low-caste Hindus to utilize the remains of a dead cow for food and other purposes. So many minors must being kidnapped, forced to do things that no human being aspiring to live a life of dignity should ever do. Why is there no outrage? Why does a stray rumor of a kidnapping make a mob in a mofussil town lynch some men ruthlessly while the entire nation is quite blind to the reality of Adivasi women and children being trafficked day in and day out?”

No fresh incidents of violence were reported on Sunday though reports stated that anger and anxiety were palpable in certain areas of the town. In a statement to The Hindu, the District Collector East Singhbhum said “Prohibitory orders under Section 144 were imposed from 10 p.m. on Saturday night to 6 a.m. on Sunday. Now the orders have been lifted. The situation is under control and there is adequate deployment of security forces,”

Speaking to Times Now, Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das on Sunday said that an enquiry team has been set up to probe the lynching incident.

A Times of India Editorial blog states a 2012 incident involving social media rumors of violence stating -

“Remember how in 2012 social media rumors of violence targeting them had spread panic among the people from the northeast living in Bengaluru, crowding them into the Guwahati Express to return home. But in the current case of Jharkhand, it is evident that the administration and police ignored several warning signs; by acting in an appropriate and timely manner, proactively squelching the rumor, they could have stopped it from boiling over into violence.”

The editorial further goes on to the state the role of the police and the state government going forward –

“Police should have gone on the alert at least 10 days ago. That’s when two persons were first beaten to death on suspicion of being child kidnappers. Instead, tribal leaders report that their plaints to police for help before the situation went out of control were ignored. With four of those having been lynched on Thursday being Muslim, a communal clash is threatened now. Chief Minister Raghubar Das must take control and show that Jharkhand is not in the grip of jungle raj.”

A report in the New Indian Express cites a police official saying there was no communal angle to the violence. “Investigations have found no communal angle. The incidents were caused due to rumors about child-abduction gangs circulating in these areas for the past few days. We have started a massive awareness drive,” said East Singhbhum SSP Anup T Mathew.

As fallout of the violence, Ruben Banerjee opines in the Hindustan Times about the selective outrage –

“Jharkhand is more than a thousand kilometers away from Delhi and as expected, we haven’t been shaken much by what the eastern state witnessed this week.”

He goes on to hypothesize if the incident took place in a metro writing –

“But imagine if seven innocent men were beaten to death in any of India’s big cities and the possible impact? Or worse, if the victims belonged to a particular religion or caste, or the crime was connected to cows?”

“Our response to a tragedy can be measured by the distance between India and Bharat. Both the perpetrators of the crime and the victims were presumably poor, illiterate and marginalized. But as we don’t consider ourselves to be like them, the incident was of little consequence to us, the people sitting in the comforts of major metros.”