Jharkhand lynchings: Muslims fear backlash, Hindus dread arrest in Sobhapur
The house of Mohammad Murtaza is under lock and key. His neighbour, Abdul Hakim, has also left with his family for a place known to none.
A little ahead in the lane at Sobhapur village in Jharkhand’s Seraikela-Kharsawan district, three more houses were also found locked and the families traceless.
An uneasy calm prevails in the village, with around 130 houses, 80 of them Muslims, that witnessed grisly scenes of violence as an agitated mob lynched four men, all Muslims, on suspicion of being child lifters on May 18. Investigations later revealed that they were planned murders, and alleged cattle theft and smuggling — not child lifting — was the actual cause of the lynching.
During the lynching, the berserk mob had also attacked and vandalised few houses. Those families were the first ones to flee.
Villagers after much persuasion revealed that the families have migrated days after the lynching incident. “More families are planning to shift to safer places,” they said.
Around one and half months after the gruesome incident, in Sobhapur and neighbouring Muslim-dominated Haldipokhar from where the victims hailed, the local populace has undergone a lot of social, political, and behavioural changes.
Muslims and Hindus, who peacefully coexisted and lived in harmony for decades, look at each other with suspicion. Muslims in Sobhapur — the only village under Rajnagar police station area, around 170 km from capital Ranchi, with a sizeable Muslim population — are feeling insecure and migrating gradually to safer places.
A Hindustan Times team traced Murtaza in Haldipokhar, a semi-urban Muslim colony housing at least 1200 families, eight kilometres from his village, where he has built a small asbestos roofed house on the outskirts.
“I feel safe here,” he said, putting up a plastic sheet outside his house to cover few household articles from the rain.
“It was painful migrating from the village where I was born and my forefathers lived but there is nothing else we could have done. The fear of reprisal after massive police crackdown against those involved in the lynching loom large on the Muslim families,” Murtaza rued.
A farmer, he occasionally visits his farms in Sobhapur for a couple of hours during the day but returns before sunset just like other villagers who have stopped stepping out of the house in the night.
“We are living in constant fear. The only solace is the newly set up police outpost in our village. Their presence is giving us strength,” said Md Zakir, who hasn’t migrated yet.
At Hata Chowk, the local market, Muslims shut their shops early.
“Nowadays, we shut our shops as early as 6pm. Women back home get worried if we do not reach home after sunset,” said Sheikh Salim, the elder brother of Sheikh Halim, who was killed along with his other business partners on that ill-fated day.
Several Hindu families from Sobhapur and adjoining villages such as Kamalpur, Adarhatu, and Gopinath are also missing due to fear of being arrested.
A couple of local Hindu and Muslim leaders confided that the four men who were lynched paid a price for their wrongdoings.
“They were making huge money by lifting cattle from streets, villages in their SUVs, mini trucks and selling them to slaughterhouses. Sometimes, they would butcher the cattle in their vehicles to accommodate more,” said a Muslim Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader requesting not to be named.
Police said they have arrested 19 accused so far and that a search is on to arrest others involved in the crime. The government had suspended the local police station in-charge, circle inspector, deputy commissioner and police superintendent, holding them responsible for the lynching.
A completely new set of administrative and police officials are leaving no stone unturned to ensure justice prevails and normalcy returns.
“We need to verify the allegations. But for the time being, our priority is to ensure normalcy returns to the villages and we have succeeded much in that direction,” superintendent of police Chandan Kumar Sinha said.
“The government showed resolve and took the harshest action against the callous authorities and accused. Things are back to normal,” local BJP leader Ramesh Hansda stressed.