Rajasthan’s Zaffar Hussein, a CPI (ML) member and activist, was allegedly beaten to death by civic officials after he objected to them taking photographs of women defecating in the open.
For 24 hours, Rashida Bi has been in a daze. With a white dupatta over her face, she sits facing a blank wall, wailing and talking incoherently in snatches.
Next to her, her 14-year-old daughter Sabra is reading the Quran to come to terms with her grief, sitting on the floor of their modest one-storey home in a congested neighbourhood in Rajasthan’s Pratapgarh.
Her father, CPI (ML) member and activist Zaffar Hussein was allegedly lynched by government officials early on Friday after he objected to their photographing women defecating in the open.
The mother and daughter were among the women being clicked by civic officials, including the commissioner.
“They threatened my 14-year-old daughter, said they’ll burn her father, break my face,” Rashida says in an outburst before collapsing into sobs.
“It was about 6:30 am and we had gone for latrine [to relieve ourselves] there when the car of municipal officials came. They started clicking our photos, abusing us and kicking our water mugs. Abba came out and told them to stop after which they started beating him,” says Sabra, the younger of Zaffar’s two daughters.
Kamal, a sweeper at the municipality, was hitting Zaffar’s head with a stone, she adds. “The commissioner, who was sitting in the car, egged him on. ‘Maaro, maaro, jaan se khatam kar do’,” says the daughter, who studies in Class 10.
Shahida (30), a neighbour who too claims to be an eyewitness, adds that Kamal’s hand and shirt got stained with Zaffar’s blood during the assault.
Police haven’t arrested anyone for the alleged assault but has named five civic officials – including commissioner Ashok Jain – in the FIR. “We were only telling women coming back after defecating to stop doing it in the open. Zaffar came and attacked Kamal,” he told HT.
“I held him and took him aside. Whatever the issue, you must not fight, I told him. Zaffar then left cursing us,” he said. He added that there was no attack or retaliation from his men.
But eyewitnesses dismiss the official’s version of events and say they saw the alleged attack on the 48-year-old Zaffar.
“They threatened my 14-year-old daughter, said they’ll burn her father, break my face.” — Rashida Bi, wife of Zaffar Hussein
At the spot where the alleged lynching took place, a few stones, a little larger than fist, are lying on the road. “I was returning from there after taking a dump,” Durga Shankar, a 16-year old standing at the spot, says pointing towards a mound of black rocky ground.
“A white car was parked here. And the red-haired man [Kamal] was punching him [Zaffar] in the stomach,” he says.
Another woman who had gone to relieve herself, Sarsi Meena, says Zaffar had come out running after the women made noise. “The officials had been coming since four days and clicking our photos and telling us to use the community toilet,” she says.
Zaffar, who ran a small grocery shop and worked for rights of labourers, had repeatedly petitioned the municipal councillor to release money for the construction of toilets in the homes, the villagers say.
The photographing of people defecating in the open is part of the government’s Swachh Bharat scheme to shame and discourage public defecation. But many experts say such naming-and-shaming doesn’t work because poor and backward communities have scant access to functional toilets or funds to build their own facilities.
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.