A Hindu seer associated with a national-level cow protection group, which is under the scanner for the murder of two Muslim herders in Jharkhand, fomented hatred against cattle traders, the victims’ relatives alleged.
Mazlum Ansari, 32, and Imteyaz Khan, 13, were heading to an animal fair with a herd of cattle when they were allegedly lynched and hanged from a tree by a mob in Jharkhand’s Balumath last Friday.
The area has a history of disputes between Hindus and Muslims over cattle trade and eating beef.
Members of the victim’s family, villagers and local political leaders pinned the blame on Archarya Gopal Maniji Maharaj, a katha vachak (preacher) of the Bharatiya Gau Kranti Manch, a group that works for preserving cow population and is opposed to their slaughter.
A member of the same group is among the five suspects arrested by police for the murder.
“In his religious sermons at Latehar, the seer used to be highly vocal against cattle trade and cow slaughter. After his sermons, his followers would paint walls exhorting people to hang beef eaters,” said former Rashtriya Janata Dal legislator from Manika, Ramchander Singh.
Hindustan Times could not independently verify the allegations. The seer could not be reached for comments.
Police said the murder was aimed at looting cash and cattle.
The incident triggered nationwide condemnation and brought back memories of the mob-lynching of Mohammad Ikhlaq in Uttar Pradesh last year over rumours he slaughtered a calf. The murder sparked off a nationwide debate over religious intolerance.
“We have concrete information that a few Bajrang Dal activists from Balumath block had recently gone to Delhi to meet the seer,” said Madan Pal of a prominent human rights group, Jharkhand Jansangram Morcha.
He alleged the saffron activists returned from Delhi on February 28 and carried out the killings.
But the Manch dismissed the allegations and said protecting the cow in a country where it is regarded as mother was no crime.
“Politicians are hell bent on giving a political colour to the cattle traders’ murders. We are against violence and have no hand in any murder,” said Sanjeev Kumar Sinha, state member of the Gau Kranti Manch.
“Last year, we had a Muslim Gau Katha Vachak (cow protection preacher) Faiz Khan addressing Latehar residents on why cow should be protected.”
Cow slaughter is banned in Jharkhand but the state encourages cattle trade. Every year, the state floats tenders for cattle fairs and earns huge revenue.
Many activists say whenever crops fail, villagers sell surplus cattle to meet household expenses or other exigencies.
“Jharkhand BJP government is hitting the villagers where it pains the most by crippling them economically so that people flee homes and they gift the land to the corporate to dig out coal,” said CPI ML leader Sarfaraz Alam.
The murders may be making headlines but families of the two murdered men are unaware of the nationwide attention and struggling to make ends meet.
Khan’s mother lived in Arahara village, deep inside the Maoist violence affected-Balumath block, with no roads or mobile connectivity
Fourth among seven children, Khan was the sole bread earner who joined his father’s cattle trade business to supplement family income, she said. Latehar is reeling under acute draught conditions and fields have gone dry.
“My husband damaged his legs in a road accident and my elder son, Firoz Khan is mentally challenged. Despite being a minor, he used to work to maintain the family’s expenses,” Khan’s mother said.
“For God’s sake, help us get a job and compensation.”