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Hate in the hearts in Bisada: Ikhlaq’s murder over cow exposes fault line

In Part 1 of HT series Let’s Talk About Hate, we revisit a Bisada divided by Mohammad Ikhlaq’s brutal killing.

india Updated: Jul 25, 2017 13:17 IST
Niha Masih
Niha Masih
Hindustan Times

Opposite the main temple in Bisada lies a memorial of a male cow found dead on the spot. No one knows how it died, but the injuries suggested it had been killed. The villagers pooled in money to commemorate the bovine. That was in the mid-eighties.

Thirty years later in September 2015, an announcement about an alleged cow slaughter -- from the same spot -- would transform the people of this small village into a murderous mob.

That night, 55-year-old Mohammad Ikhlaq was lynched by angry villagers; he was first assaulted with fists, sticks and bricks, had his daughter’s sewing machine smashed on his head and then dragged through narrow lanes onto the main road. He did not survive the attack. His 20-year-old son, Danish, was also severely injured and spent 10 days in coma.

The brutality of cow-related mob violence since the BJP-led government came to power in 2014 was brought into sharp focus by Ikhlaq’s murder. It sparked shock, horror and a national debate on rising intolerance in the country. But the outrage did not stop a spate of hate crimes against Muslims in the name of the cow. More than 600 days since the incident, the communal faultlines in Bisada remain; generations of harmony between Hindus and Muslims in this Uttar Pradesh village swallowed by hatred and prejudice.

Read Part 2 | Let’s Talk About Hate: For Dalits of Mirchpur, escaping caste oppression meant leaving home

In the aftermath of the murder, Bisada claimed innocence of its men. But with time, the bravado of the tumultuous September night has returned. Today, the families of the accused have no qualms about admitting to the motivation behind the crime.

Family members of Ravi Sisodia, one of the 18 accused of Ikhlaq’s murder, take pride in his actions. Ravi died in October last year, allegedly due to illness. But family members claim he died of assault by jail authorities.

“Our son died for gau raksha, not for theft or (any other) crime. He is a martyr. It was right to kill Ikhlaq as he had slaughtered a cow,” his mother Nirmala says.

Nirmala (left), mother of accused Ravi Sisodia who died in prison, takes pride in her son’s action while his wife Pooja (right) blames Ikhlaq’s family for accusing Ravi of the crime. (Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)

When Ravi’s body returned from the hospital, it was draped in the national flag -- an honour generally reserved for soldiers. His 20-year-old wife, Pooja, sobs in a corner of the house, blaming Ikhlaq’s family.

“I begged them, fell at their feet to not blame Ravi but they did not relent,” she says. Ikhlaq had attended her wedding three years ago, she told us.

But there was a time in Bisada when Hindus and Muslims lived as one. Om Mahesh, father of one of the accused, Vinay, says the land for the mosque in Bisada was gifted by Hindus.

All that has long been forgotten.

When Hindustan Times met the family of Arun Sisodia, an accused out on bail, his brother shouted that Hindus can no longer follow Mahatma Gandhi’s dictum of offering the other cheek to those who want to destroy the country – an apparent swipe at the Muslim community.

Read | A year after Ikhlaq’s lynching, Bisada sitting on a communal tinderbox

Arun, 35, tries to calm him down, but the lid over simmering hatred had been taken off. “Why don’t our Muslim brothers eat pig? What is so special about the cow? Pigs are cheaper,” Arun says.

Initially hesitant to talk about the incident, Arun opens up slowly. “Feelings were incited. Does the Quran say anywhere that cow should be eaten?”

Ikhlaq’s house is just behind Arun’s and he too, albeit grudgingly, admits to friendship between the families. Ikhlaq and his brother’s were the only two Muslim families who lived among Hindus. All other Muslim families -- about 30 -- live in a separate enclave.

Left: The lane outside Ikhlaq’s house, through which his body was dragged by the mob. Right: Ikhlaq’s empty house. (Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)

The kacha lane outside Ikhlaq’s house, through which his body was dragged, has since been relaid with concrete -- as if it were possible to bury the ghosts of the past. No one lives in the houses of Ikhlaq and his brother’s now, both families moved out of the village 10 days after the murder.

The door to one of the rooms that remain unlocked creaks open. A red curtain hangs limply, a charpoy sits on one corner of the sparse room -- it seems as if the residents stepped out hurriedly and will return any moment.

But Ikhlaq’s family says they can never return to Bisada. His wife, Ikraman, daughter Shaista and son Danish -- live in Delhi with the eldest son, Sartaj -- a corporal in the air force.

“Mara bhi hum ko aur case bhi hum par. Yeh kahan ka insaaf hai?” (They killed my father and yet the case is filed against us. What sort of justice is that?), Shaista asks.

Read | Dadri lynching: Meat found in Ikhlaq’s fridge was beef, says lab

Nine months after the incident, a villager filed a cow slaughter case against Ikhlaq’s family. Jaan Mohammed, Ikhlaq’s younger brother and the main accused in the case, says it is just a diversionary ploy by the villagers.

“When (Union minister) Kiren Rijiju says he eats beef, no one says anything to him. Why was Pehlu Khan killed? Why was Ikhlaq killed for no reason? There are different standards for different people. There is no rule of law for cow vigilantes who do what they want,” he adds.

Ikhlaq’s mother Asghari Begum(left) and brother Jan Mohammad are still waiting for justice. (Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)

The BJP and Sangh Parivar groups sought to delink the communal angle in the murder.

Mahesh Sharma, BJP parliamentarian from Noida, called it an “accident” while Nawab Singh Nagar, Dadri’s former BJP MLA, blamed Ikhlaq’s family. The main accused in the case, Vishal, is the son of a local BJP member.

There is no law to monitor religious hate crimes making it hard to gauge the extent of the problem.

The closest is section 153A of the Indian Penal Code which pertains to promoting enmity on the basis of “religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community”. In Ikhlaq’s case, this section has not been invoked.

Senior advocate, Rebecca John, says it is not enough to say that Ikhlaq was murdered. “It is problematic because you don’t refer to the crime contextually. You don’t bring out the elements of hate crime and it allows the accused an exit. What is the resistance in invoking 153A along with 302 (murder). The answer is political,” she adds.

Despite being assigned to a fast track court, the trial in Ikhlaq’s death is yet to begin.

Jaan Mohammed, however, has a different take. “Other family members may want to see the accused getting convicted but personally I want the venom in society to finish. The distances that political parties have created should be removed. The accused can get any punishment but that will not bring back Ikhlaq,” he says.

Watch | In Dadri, families torn apart by Ikhlaq’s brutal killing come to terms with grief and anger

This is Part 1 of Let’s Talk About Hate, an HT series that looks at the different complexions of hate crimes such as race, religion, identity. Follow us at @httweets for updates or send your suggestions at hatetracker@hindustantimes.com.

First Published: Jul 24, 2017 07:32 IST