| Ajit Sahi
In an EXCLUSIVE interview Mariam Khatoon, the widow of Alimuddin Ansari who was killed by gau rakshaks on June 29 last year, has said she does not want her husband’s convicted killers to hang.
“Though they murdered my husband I don’t want them to lose their lives,” she told this reporter at her home shortly after a court here found the 11 accused guilty of killing him. “I would prefer the court gave them life imprisonment.”
The court’s guilty verdict for the 11 men is the first conviction in India for Gau Rakshaks, the self-styled cow vigilantes linked to the RSS-BJP-VHP-Bajrang Dal, who have gone on an attack-and-kill spree especially since the BJP-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in May 2014.
While the 11 men, at least one of whom was a well-known BJP leader in this district, have been found guilty of murder under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, three of them were additionally found guilty of conspiracy under section 120(B) of the IPC. Sentencing is due on March 21, Wednesday.
Mariam Khatoon implored Prime Minister Modi to put an end to continuing assaults by the Gau Rakshaks on innocent Muslims across India. “There is terror of the gau rakshaks among the Muslims and Mr. Modi should realise it is not good for inter community relations,” she said. “Please, for god’s sake, stop it.”
She also said that the Hindu neighbours in her village were no less supportive of her and her family than the Muslim community. In fact, she said, never had there been any chasm between the Hindus and Muslims in not just the village but in the entire Ramgarh district.
Announcing the verdict in Hindi in open court at about 3.30 pm on Friday, Additional District Judge Om Prakash said that he had considered all evidence and witness statements before ruling the accused as guilty. A full judgement in writing is expected to be delivered along with the sentencing.
Alimuddin was waylaid by Gau Rakshaks at a prominent city thoroughfare on the morning of June 29, 2017, and severely beaten. The Gau Rakshaks accused him of carrying beef in his car. After the police arrived on the scene he was taken to a local hospital where he shortly died of his injuries.
The defendants denied they had assaulted Alimuddin and, instead, claimed he died of in police custody due to police torture. The judge rejected this contention. For hours before the verdict was given the road leading to the courthouse, as well as the court premises itself, was heavily patrolled and guarded by a special police force.
The sprawling lawns of the courthouse teemed with young men in bright saffron shirts, many of whom also sported saffron bandanas around their foreheads, who were obviously supporters of the defendants. Many said they were active members of the Bajrang Dal.
Women and children from the families of the accused crowded the narrow corridor at the end of which lay Judge Prakash’s courtroom. None, however, but the lawyers and a handful of journalists were allowed into the court, right after the 11 accused, their hands tied with a long, single rope, were marched into the massive iron cage inside the courtroom.
Dressed in shirts and trousers, all the accused wore fresh saffron tilaks on their foreheads. This reporter counted at least 22 lawyers on the defendants side, greatly outnumbering the lone public prosecutor flanked by three lawyers that represented Mariam Khatoon’s family.
As the judge pronounced his verdict there was stunned silence all around in the courtroom. In conversations with this reporter before the verdict was read the families as well as the Bajrang Dal supporters had appeared confident that most, if not all, the accused would be acquitted. As the team of lawyers left the courtroom the convicts’ families and supporters crowded around individual lawyers trying to make sense of what had just happened.
Mariam Khatoon and her family were conspicuous by their absence from the courthouse, although about half a dozen of their well-wishers from her village were present. After the verdict was given, they quietly hurried out.
The defendants’ lawyer, M. B. Tripathi, told this reporter they will appeal the conviction at the Jharkhand High Court in Ranchi after the sentencing.