People hold protests outside the hospital mortuary where the body of Zafar Khan, the social activist beaten to death, was kept.(HT Photo)
People hold protests outside the hospital mortuary where the body of Zafar Khan, the social activist beaten to death, was kept.(HT Photo)

Rajasthan officials ‘photograph women defecating in public’, lynch man who objected

A case of murder has been filed against five employees of the municipal council, including its commissioner.
By HT Correspondent | Hindustan Times, Jaipur
UPDATED ON JUN 17, 2017 01:03 PM IST

A group of government officials allegedly lynched a 55-year-old Muslim man for trying to stop them from photographing women defecating in public in a Rajasthan town on Friday.

Five municipal council officials – including the commissioner – allegedly kicked, punched and beat social worker Zaffar Hussein with a stick in Pratapgarh town, said a police complaint filed by his brother. The officials were out on a morning round in a slum to photograph people defecating in the open when Zaffar objected, local residents said.

Police said they registered a case of murder against the five officials. “We are investigating the case and no arrests have been made so far,” said Pratapgarh station house office Mangilal Bishnoi. The Pratapgarh assembly seat is held by the BJP.

Ashok Jain, the Pratapgarh municipal council commissioner, told HT he had no idea how Khan died, saying the man was in “perfect health” when he left the area.

“We went to the slum to spread awareness about the adverse effects of open defecation. This man, Zaffar Hussein, arrived there and started abusing us and later also assaulted one of our sanitation staff. Following that, he left the place and returned to his home. At that time he was perfectly healthy,” said Jain.

“We met the people and heard their grievances before writing their feedback. When we left we assured them that toilets will be built. We went to the police station later to lodge a case...for assaulting our team but learnt that he has died.” He denied his team tried to shame people going for open defecation.

The incident in Pratapgarh – around 400 kilometres from state capital Jaipur – is the latest in a string of cases of lynching across India. In April, a Muslim dairy farmer was killed by alleged cow protection vigilantes while legally transporting cattle.

Two years ago, Mohammad Ikhlaq was lynched in Greater Noida’s Bisada village on suspicions that he had slaughtered a calf and consumed beef. Last month, seven people were murdered in 24 hours by frenzied tribal mobs in Jharkhand.

Hussein’s killing ratcheted up tensions in the area as people blocked the highway for hours and Muslim community leaders claimed that the assault was communally targeted. Protesters, including Hussein’s family, demanded compensation and the arrest of the municipal council commissioner, and blocked the funeral till 3pm.

“The administration is trying to hush it up but the Pratapgarh incident is a communal lynching,” said Dr M Iqbal Siddiqui, media secretary of Muslim advocacy group, Jamat-e-Islam-e-Hind.

The policy of naming and shaming people – a common practice in impoverished and backward areas because of lack of functional toilets – was introduced by the government last year as part of the Swachh Bharat mission to eradicate open defecation that causes several diseases and hurts public hygiene.

Many states have announced stiff fines for people caught defecating in public, others – such as Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh -- have decided to publish the names of perpetrators or put photographs up on social media to shame people. But critics say the tactics are futile because functional toilets are scarce and funding inadequate.

Hussein’s nephew Qayoom said there are no toilets in the slum where he was killed. “He had been demanding construction of toilets in the area from the district administration for many days,” Qayoom added.

Official statistics released earlier this year put Rajasthan in the top spot in building toilets in rural areas, but showed that the state had a long way to go to completely stop open defecation by 2019, the target set under Swachh Bharat, as nearly 22% households still didn’t have access to toilets. A Swachh Bharat survey ranked Pratapgarh as 447 among 679 districts surveyed on household toilet coverage.

Mass open defecation has been linked to the spread of infectious diseases, poor health among children, and even deaths. According to World Bank estimates, losses from poor sanitation shave off about 6% of India’s GDP. A government study last year found 52% of rural population still defecated in the open and an almost equal said they preferred open defecation because it was “pleasurable, comfortable or convenient”.

(with agency inputs)

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