Saurabh Sharma | Apr 17, 2019 | 5 min read
Sonbhadra: In yet another incident of alleged hate crime, an elderly Muslim man was beaten to death by a group of Hindu youths, including minors, on the night of March 20.
Mohammad Anwar, 50, was taking a walk after dinner when he saw the group gathered near Imam Chowk, a bone of contention between the two communities since the past few months, in Parsoi village. His wife Kamrun Begum, 47, recalled that Anwar rushed there to find out what the matter was.
“My husband went there on my request. Those people were trying to vandalise Imam Chowk [a white square dais that has religious significance for Muslims]; so when he intervened, someone from the group attacked him with an axe. When he collapsed, they attacked him again to make sure he was dead, before fleeing,” Kamrun said, adding that all her cries for help went unheard as none of the villagers or her neighbours came to her rescue.
She said her younger son then called the police helpline, and cops arrived shortly. “They took Anwar to hospital, but by then, it was too late. He was declared dead on arrival.”
The deceased, who looked after farms, is survived by his wife, seven sons, and a daughter. All his sons have small businesses of their own.
Not a hate crime but a land dispute?
Sonbhadra Superintendent of Police Salmantaj Jafertaj Patil said, “He was attacked with a sharp object when he tried to stop the men from the other community from demolishing the structure. The police reached the spot and took the victim to hospital immediately, but he was declared brought dead.”
In the last six months, disputes between the two communities have arisen thrice, as some Hindus were opposed to the structure. However, according to Patil, discussions had been initiated between both parties, and the matter had been resolved after mediation.
“The police and the administration had successfully sorted out the differences the last two times; this time, unfortunately, a tragedy happened. Additional force and PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary) were deployed in the area for a few days to keep the situation under control,” he added.
The police had initially registered cases against 19 people and two unnamed persons for rioting, unlawful assembly, and murder under sections 147, 148, 149, 295, and 302 of the Indian Penal Code.
Talking about the progress in the case, Patil said, “The police have arrested seven people, including five minors. These seven are from the 15, 11 of whom were minors, the police had booked for allegedly murdering Mohammad Anwar. The main accused, Ravindra Kharwar, who hails from Ballia district, is also behind bars and is being interrogated.”
Naeem Ghazipuri, 60, Anwar’s elder brother, said communal harmony in the village had been intact for the last 17 years, but after Kharwar’s arrival in the village, tensions had flared up.
“There was no religious divide in the village; we were living peacefully for years. It seems my brother was targeted because he had just returned from Ajmer a day ago. We are satisfied with the action taken by the police. There was fear for a few days, and understandably so. After all, our family member was killed. We even left the village for a few days; but now, things are returning to normal,” he added.
Simmering since months
Suraj Kumar, 26, a neighbour of the deceased, said tension in the village had been brewing for the last two months after someone vandalised Imam Chowk. “The district magistrate, sub-district magistrate, and other senior officials had visited the village two months ago when the vandalism had happened, but the administration did not take it seriously. Ultimately, Anwar Khan was killed,” he added.
When asked why he did not turn up to help Anwar and his family, Kumar said he and his family had gone to bed early that night, tired from the Holi preparations, and they got to know about the incident only in the morning.
Azrul Begum, 50, another Muslim neighbour of the bereaved family said the incident was a culmination of the months-long dispute over Imam Chowk. “Anwar was killed when he protested against the intentional damage being caused to the holy place. He was gagged first and then hacked with an axe. Earlier as well, there have been disputes in our village over the same issue, and the police have always insisted that we compromise.”
Anwar’s son Mohammad Sikander said Kharwar, a teacher, had taken up a posting in the village six months ago, and since then, dispute over the Imam Chowk land, which is owned by the Gram Sabha, had been bubbling.
“On our previous complaints of damage to the holy place, senior district officials had assured the family that nothing would happen to us,” scoffed Sikander.
“The DM, SDM, and the SHO assured us that nothing would happen and even got Imam Chowk repaired three months ago after the same people damaged it. The administration should have taken this issue seriously, as there had been other untoward incidents before the murder of my father.”
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