The Uttar Pradesh Police on Monday gave clean chit to a key accused in the lynching of a Muslim man over rumours that he butchered a cow and ate its meat last year, an incident that sparked communal tensions and a debate on tolerance.
All charges were dropped against Sonu Sisodia after videos and witness statements proved he was not present in Bisada village when a crowd broke into Mohammed Ikhlaq’s house, beat him to death and dragged his body into the street.
Since the BJP took power at the Centre two years ago, several states have tightened rules to protect the cow, an animal considered sacred by many Hindus. The country has also been hit by a spate of vigilante attacks on people suspected of slaughtering or smuggling cattle.
“CCTV footage and statements of his (Sisodia’s) co-workers confirmed that he was in a mall at the time. The court was informed about this,” said deputy superintendent of police Anurag Singh. “The process of his release has been initiated.”
The killing set off a political row with hardline Hindu groups justifying the attack while the BJP’s rivals and minority groups termed it a sign of rising religious intolerance in multi-faith India.
A forensic test showed Ikhlaq had goat meat in his refrigerator while his family said the mob beat him and his son with bricks and a sewing machine. Ikhlaq died in hospital and his son had fractured his skull. The number of accused arrested in the case is now 18 years old.
Police said Sisodia was arrested based on the statement of Ikhlaq’s daughter, Shaista, who accused him of attacking her father and brother.
Authorities also filed a chargesheet naming three other accused, including a minor, in a fast-track court last week.
“We will seek a re-investigation of Sisodia’s involvement in the case,” said lawyer Yusuf Saifi who is representing Ikhlaq’s family.