Krishnagar, Sept. 4: A village kangaroo court in Nadia today sentenced an alleged cow thief to death and let a mob carry out the “execution” with sticks and scythes.
Within minutes of the shalishi meeting verdict in Gopalpur, Hogolberia, a group of 20 villagers pounced on Safikul Mahaldar. They hacked the 22-year-old to death as some 100 others watched, cheering and screaming abuse at the condemned man. The body was dumped in a paddy field.
The murder, standing out from the more common heat-of-the-moment lynchings, puts rural Bengal in the league of northern Pakistan’s tribal areas where Mukhtaran Mai was gangraped under a village council’s orders in 2002.
Shalishis are held in many state villages to settle local disputes, with elders hearing out both parties and handing out a verdict, but these are mainly property and family quarrels.
The state government had tried to encourage and regulate the system by drafting a bill to set up pre-litigation shalishi boards that would reduce the burden on courts. The Opposition, alleging the CPM would pack the boards with its supporters, forced the so-called shalishi bill to be shelved.
Police said Safikul was “known” as a thief in the village, about 200 km from Calcutta and close to the Bangladesh border, and had been arrested several times. Two years ago, he was driven out after a shalishi where villagers accused him of a string of burglaries.
“He reappeared six months ago,” a police officer said. But Safikul’s daily-wager parents and brothers, who too had left the village after the elders’ verdict, never returned.
“Around midnight yesterday, farmer Kuram Biswas saw Safikul sneaking out of his cattle shed with a cow and began screaming. The neighbours woke up and chased Safikul, who was slowed down by the cow,” the officer said.
He was soon caught, tied up and confined in a room at Kuram’s house. The shalishi was held at dawn.
After their frenzy died down, the villagers themselves informed the police. Tehatta sub-divisional police officer Ashok Roy said his men were trying to identify those who took part in the lynching and those who watched it.
“We have detained about 10 for interrogation and are trying to find out who the rest were,” Roy said.
The villagers mostly kept up a sullen silence. One of them said: “Thefts had risen after Safikul’s return. Many of us had our cattle or bicycles stolen. We decided that the next time we caught him, he wouldn’t be spared.”