Jamshedpur, May 19: Three youths were lyn-ched by 2,000 people before five policemen in Bagbera, 10km from the heart of the steel city in East Singhbhum, late last nig-ht over child-lifting suspicions, which along with yesterday's murders of four cattle traders in Rajnagar, Seraikela-Kharsawan, took the toll to seven in less than 24 hours.
An unprepared police force could not save the three Hindu youths from mob murder at Bagbera around 10pm yesterday, hours after four Muslim cattle traders were killed in Rajnagar, confirming police assertions of no communal angle to these grisly crimes. Condemning the Rajnagar and Bagbera murders, chief minister Raghubar Das has promised Rs 2 lakh as compensation to the kin of each deceased while state DGP D.K. Pandey called for public awareness on radio and FM to combat rumours on social media, including WhatsApp, on child-lifting when no such instance had taken place.
Brothers Vikas and Gautam Verma, aged 28 and 26, and their friend Gangesh Gupta, 25, all residents of Ramtekri Road, Jugsalai, were beaten to death by the mob and the brothers' grandmother Ramsakhi Devi, 70, critically injured on Nagadih-Ghaghidih Road in Bagbera. A team of five policemen stood helpless.
The third of the Verma brothers Uttam, 23, who managed to escape, recounted how the uproar started.
Though a sizeable number of police had arrived at the spot by 9pm, a mob of about 2,000 people, most of them drunk, tied the victims to a pole and thrashed them with sticks and boulders in the presence of the police.
Apparently, the three brothers who were in the business of constructing septic tanks at homes of urban slums and suburban villages, had gone on two bikes last evening to survey areas where there was scope of getting some work orders. They also fixed flex banners with phone numbers at many places to attract customers.
After fixing a banner at Nagadih in Bagbera at 7pm, Gautam suggested scouting for customers at a slum nearby. As Uttam kept guard over bikes, Vikas and Gautam walked towards the Nagadih bustee when some youths accosted them and wanted to know what they were doing there. When the brothers said they were from Jusgalai, the Nagadih people asked for identity cards.
Though Vikas showed them his driving licence, the crowd, which was swelling by the minute, was not satisfied and asked them to call some family member for Aadhaar or voter ID cards.
When Gautam called up his grandmother Ramsakhi Devi at home, the 70-year-old woman had the presence of mind to inform Bagbera police and then call up a neighbourhood boy, Gangesh, to give her a lift to the place the trio were held hostage. By the time the Bagbera OC and four constables reached the site, the crowd had swelled to at least 500 and was getting angrier every minute. Taking advantage of the momentary commotion, Uttam escaped, but the police could not save Vikas and Gautam from being tied to a pole.
When their grandmother and Gangesh reached the site, the hostile crowd had started branding Vikas and Gautam child-lifters and hitting them with sticks and stones. Seeing Gangesh, they dubbed him part of the gang and beat him up. When the grandmother protested, she was struck with a boulder.
Bagbera OC Amish Hussain said he had gone to the spot thinking a small group of people were creating trouble in the name of child-lifting, of late a frequent occurrence in these rural and semi-rural areas.
"But reaching there I found a mob of 500 people. We were just five policemen. How could I have ordered a lathicharge?" he said.
He added he asked for more forces, but most personnel were at Rajnagar in Seraikela-Kharsawan. By then, the crowd had swelled to 2,000 as people rushed to see the trio and beat or stone them. Around 10pm, around 60 policemen came from Bagbera, Jugsalai and Parsudih in seven vans but by then the three youths were almost dead. The crowd pelted the police with stones, injuring six, and damaging two vehicles. By the time the police caned the crowd and dispersed them, it was 12.30am today.
Nagadih mukhiya Rajaram Hansda claimed he tried to stop the crowd but no one listened. He alleged the police stood at a safe distance after their initial attempts to set the hostages free.
City DSP Animesh Nathani conducted a flag march at Nagadih, where 200 armed policemen have already been deployed to prevent any recurrence. There was a flag march this evening too.
This morning, police also recovered the body of cattle trader Sheikh Halim (28), the one whose fate was unknown in the Rajnagar lynching, from Dangodungri, a hillock behind Shobhapur village. Seraikela-Kharsawan SP Rakesh Bansal said over phone from Rajnagar that Halim, a resident of Haldipokhar, had possibly been lynched at Dangodungri. His friends Sheikh Naim, Sheikh Sajju and Sheikh Siraj had been lynched earlier.
Security personnel at Shobhapur village in Rajnagar on Friday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
SP Bansal said 21 villagers were identified as culprits in the Rajnagar lynching and police were searching for more.
In Ghatshila, more than 100 people forced shops to shut down in Mosabani to protest against the murders Rajnagar, 65km away. Police, along with SDO Sushant Gaurav, stepped in on time to prevent escalation of tension any further. Security forces conducted a flag march while senior police officers held talks with community leaders. The shops reopened in the evening.
ADG (operations), R.K. Mallick, who came to Jamshedpur from Ranchi today and held a meeting with senior officials, admitted that there could have been lapses on their part.
"I have come to know that the first incident of lynching, based on rumours, took place on May 11. We will be conducting a probe into why police were unable to take steps to prevent the recurrence of such an event. However, our priority now is to have the last rites of the deceased per formed and prevent more such incidents," he told The Telegraph after his meeting with East Singhbhum deputy commissioner Amit Kumar, SSP Anoop T. Mathew, IG (STF) R. K Dhan and Kolhan DIG Prabhat Kumar.
He said they were in the process of identifying the culprits, but warned those who had fled villages after indulging in mob violence that their property would be attached.
"We are identifying the culprits who had indulged in lynching. Nobody will be spared," he said.
Mallick said the police would soon launch a mass awareness drive at rural police stations in East Singhbhum and neighbouring Seraikela-Kharsawan district about the dangers of rumours, clarifying that not a single incident of a child being kidnapped had occurred in the region.
"We will be sending out public messages for peace on the radio, newspapers and television. All police stations have been asked to hold meeting with panchayat members and village chowkidars. Villagers will be told not to take the law into their own hands. Information about suspicious people, if any, should be conveyed to the police over the toll-free helpline 100," he said.
Deputy commissioner Kumar said the police technical cell was monitoring social media. "Anyone sending or forwarding false messages related to child lifting cases will be punished under the provisions of cyber laws. So, far no case of child kidnap has been registered anywhere in the district. I appeal to people not to get influenced by such rumours," he said.