By Sanya Dhingra
23 March, 2018
Prosecution acted swiftly, helping the court to complete the trial in 3 months; police & local administration in the BJP-ruled state cooperated significantly.
Ramgarh, Jharkhand: A Muslim man is lynched in public by a Right-wing Hindu mob because he was suspected to be carrying beef in his vehicle. Twelve suspects, including the local BJP media manager, are arrested within days.
The chargesheet is filed, charges framed in a fast-track court, trial started, 15 prosecution witnesses and one defence witness heard over 90 hearings, and 11 convicted and sentenced to life terms since the twelfth was a juvenile – all in less than nine months from the date of the crime, in a state ruled by the BJP, known to be sympathetic to cow vigilantes.
Sounds incredible? But this is exactly how the story panned out this week in this little-known town in Jharkhand, giving India its first conviction in a case related to cow vigilantism.
Alimuddin Ansari was killed in what is suspected to be a pre-planned attack on 29 June last year. A little over a month later, then Ramgarh superintendent of police Kishore Kausal had said, “We are determined to bring the case to finality at the earliest.”
These could have been just hollow words of a red-faced administration. After all, Ansari met this fate the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi had warned cow vigilantes against taking the law into their own hands.
Two days after the fast-track court sentenced the 11 convicts to life imprisonment, ThePrint retraces the twists, turns and progress in a case that stands as a stark contrast to the glacial pace such pursuits for justice are known to move at.
Unusual legal promptness
Speaking to the media last year, registrar general of the Jharkhand High Court Ambuj Nath had said it was at the instance of the state government that the high court constituted a special fast-track court presided over by additional district judge Om Prakash, who continued to oversee the case from the beginning until the end, to try the case.
“The fast-track court was instructed to conduct hearings on a daily basis,” said public prosecutor Sushil Kumar Shukla. Starting from 22 September 2017, four days after the chargesheet was filed on 17 September, hearings were held on a daily basis. A total of 90 hearings took place and 15 witnesses were produced by the prosecution, as opposed to just one by the defence, Shukla told ThePrint.
In addition, the criminal history of at least three of the convicts – Deepak Mishra, Chhotu Verma and Santosh Singh — was established in the court, by producing previous chargesheets against them under Section 295 A of the IPC (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), Shukla said.
“We had, in fact, demanded capital punishment for the three,” he added.
That the Jharkhand High Court continued to monitor the case closely also made a difference, then SP Kishore Kausal, who oversaw the entire prosecution, said.
“It also made a difference that the high court itself was monitoring the case…the judge himself was very eager to try the case,” Kausal added.
Strong Government Intent
But it was not just the prosecution and speedy trial, argued Shukla. “The police and local administration also cooperated significantly,” he said.
“This case was the government’s top priority,” said a local investigating officer, speaking on condition of anonymity. While some in the police expected the government to pressure them to go slow, the BJP-led government had instructed the police to ensure that justice is done in the case, the officer added.
“There was enormous amount of pressure on the administration to act since Modi ji had made a statement condemning this kind of violence on the same day,” Shukla too said. “The government was scared of the ignominy.”
Followed by a spate of lynchings of Muslim cattle traders in the state and a stern warning by chief minister Raghubar Das to the police officers that any more cases in their area would result in termination of their jobs, an SIT was formed immediately, and the 12 accused — including BJP leader Nityanand Mahto and a minor – were arrested.
“We just did what we were supposed to do,” Kausal said. “We produced all the witnesses, collected scientific evidence as required under the Evidence Act.”
However, given the heinous nature of the case, the police were also personally invested in it. “We had a lot of video evidence, which would have served no purpose without authentication from the FSL (Forensic Science Laboratory)…So we got all that done,” he added.
“The videos of the attack were shown on a projector in the court in the presence of defence lawyers and the accused,” Shukla said.
Overcoming the Hurdles
However, it is not as though there were no hiccups in the trial, Shukla said. “At least four witnesses out of the original 19 turned hostile,” he said, even as he refused to comment if they had turned hostile due to political pressure.
“Of course, the defence tried to prolong the trial,” said Kausal. “We had filed the charge sheet in September…If not for their delaying tactics, we were expecting the verdict two-three months ago,” he added.
Faizan Mustafa, a law professor at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, said, “It’s remarkable that in a BJP-ruled state, the police and prosecution could get a conviction so soon.” But he remains sceptical of the impact of this judgment on other such cases, given it comes from a lower court, and is bound to be challenged.
Kausal sees no merit in that argument though. “You can say that the (lower court) judgment is interpreted differently or more witnesses will turn hostile…But the scientific evidence that we produced cannot be tampered with, and will lead to the same judgment even at the highest level,” he said.