07, Aug 2018 | Abeera Dubey
Additional Sessions Judge’s Court: Judge Om Prakash
Date of Judgement: March 21, 2018
Introduction and Background
Lynchistaan, a name that is being increasingly used to call India due to the increase in mob violence in the country. The rise in lynching cases over the past five years have left many shocked. This year there can be seen a trend of killing people over rumours of child kidnapping, however till last year the killings were mostly reported over bovine issues. On July 17, 2018, the Supreme Court of India, passed a comprehensive verdict on the worrying growth in this latest version of mob violence, formulating strict guidelines for the states. The judgement may be read here. There is also a debate that such cases have always existed in the country, while the buzz around it has increased, only as a result of bias media coverage and a conspiracy against the right-wing. The claims however appear baseless as against the statistics of the crime.
In the absence of any official data, the statistics can only be determined from various news mediums. Huffpost’s study of incidences of mob violence shows that although instances of mob violence existed in the country from before, the data unequivocally bears that the numbers of such incidents have been ticking upwards since BJP came in power in 2014. According to IndiaSpend, 33 people have been killed based on child lifting rumours out of 69 attacks since January 2017, before that only 1 such attack was reported in 2012.
Mob Violence on Bovine Issues
According to IndiaSpend’s database that records such cases, there have been 85 incidents of cow-related violence in the country, out of which 97% took place in the Modi regime. 55% of these victims have been Muslims, and 12% Dalits. Hate crime has only increased with one reported incident in 2012 to 2 in 2014, 12 in 2015, 24 in 2016 and 35 in 2017. In 2018, there have been 7 incidences so far and in all of them the victims have been Muslims. CJP’s Time Line of Lynchings brings you details of these incidents in chronological order. Navigate the timeline here.
Shockingly enough, in 30% of such attacks, cases were registered against the victims. One such case is of Mohammad Akhlaq, who was dragged from his house in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh and beaten to death, after a temple announced that a cow has been slaughtered. Nine months later, FIR was filed against him and his family members for killing a cow. The family has all along denied these charges. The accused in this case are out on bail.
Another such cow related violence happened in Ramgarh, Jharkhand on 29th June 2017, where Alimuddin Ansari was dragged out of his van, which was set on fire and killed by the mob. The chargesheet was filed against 12 accused and the case was up before the Sessions Court of Ramgarh. Nityanand Mahto, local leader and BJP Media in-charge for Ramgarh, was amongst the accused. The court on March 21, 2018 awarded life sentence to the 11 accused, including Nityanand Mahto. The 12th accused was juvenile and his case was transferred to the Juvenile Justice Board. This is the first conviction in the country on bovine hate crime issue. At a time when communal passion and lynchings are becoming the norm of the day, this judgment by the trial court holds supreme importance. The Judgement of the Additional Sessions Court may be read here.
Alimuddin Ansari Lynching Case and Judgment
Alimuddin Ansari, a resident of Hazaribagh district was proceeding to Ramgarh in his van when near Hindustan Gas Agency near Bazartand, he was brought out of his van and beaten. He was allegedly transporting beef in his van, which is illegal in the state of Jharkhand. The police came to the spot and took him to the hospital. However, he died soon after being admitted to the hospital. The FIR was filed by his wife, Mariam Khatoon. The case was registered under IPC sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting with deadly weapons), 149 (unlawful assembly), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees or upwards), 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance) and 302 (murder), and 120 (concealing design to commit an offence).
The postmortem report of the deceased shows that the injuries were caused by hard and blunt substance and the shock of those injuries caused death. It was also found that injuries rendered are sufficient in the ordinary sense of nature to cause death. The defence presented the story that the injuries causing the death of Alimuddin were a result of assault in Police Station. However, the court discarded their theory, convicting them of killing the deceased.
The Court made the following points in its Judgment:
- The court concluded that although it is evident that Alimuddin was carrying beef at the time of the incident in his van, which is an offence in the state of Jharkhand; but at the same time killing a person by a mob is a negation of the Rule of Law in the nation. The court made a reference to the Supreme Court’s Judgment in National Human Rights Commission v. State of Gujarat and ors, where SC has observed that “Communal harmony is the hallmark of democracy. No religion teaches hatred. If in the name of religion people are killed i.e., essentially a slur and blot on the society governed by the rule of law. The constitution of India in its Preamble refers to secularism. Religious fanatics really do not belong to any religion. They are no better than terrorists who kill innocent people for no rhyme or reason in a society which as noted above is governed by the Rule of Law. ” The court in this paragraph rightly remarked against the increasing setting norms of vigilante groups consisting of majority community in the country taking law in their own hands. It has rightly implied that nobody is above law and violation of law is to be dealt by appropriate authorities and not the terror spreading vigilante groups.
- The Defence in the case had raised a point that the absence of holding a TIP of the accused during the case proceedings damages the case of the prosecution. The court discarded this point and made a reference to the case of Dastagir Sab and anr. vs State of Karnataka (2004)[i] in which the Apex Court has observed that “No law states that non-holding of Test Identification Parade would by itself disprove the prosecution case. To what extent and if at all the same would adversely affect the prosecution case depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case.” The Judgement of the SC referred to by the Judge (.) may be read here. The Judge further remarked that “So in this view of the matter, holding of TIP was wholly unnecessary.” In the following case, as the FIR was registered by an informant who had named all 12 accused, was none other than the wife of the deceased, who had obtained information of the incident and accused from one of the eye-witnesses, the TIP was deemed not necessary.
- The Defence had also asserted that some of the material witnesses were left by the prosecution which adversely damages it’s case. The following allegation of Defence carried weight as the prosecution has built its case on the testimonies of several witnesses, including eye-witnesses to the occurrence. The court remarked that, when, so many material cum eye-witnesses have already been adduced and examined by the prosecution in support of its case, the exclusion of a few witnesses for examination by the prosecution, does not blow (affect) the case made by it. A reference to the case of Namdeo vs State of Maharashtra (2007) was also made, where the Supreme Court has laid down that “Neither the legislature (Section 134 of the Evidence Act 1872) nor the judiciary mandates that there must be particular number of witnesses to record an order of conviction against the accused. The legal system of this country has always laid down emphasis on value, weight and quality of evidence rather than on quantity, multiplicity or plurality of witnesses”.
- The Defence also raised an objection that the testimonies of Prosecution witnesses Md. Nasim Ansari and Md. Jalil Ansari are not trustworthy since they were closely related with the deceased and were on inimical terms with some of the accused persons. The court repudiated this point on the ground that both the above named witnesses are eye-witnesses to the occurrence and they have been consistent since the beginning in their respective testimonies and cross-examinations. The court also observed that it is a well settled principle of law that the evidence of inimical or interested witnesses is to be scrutinized with care but they cannot be rejected on the ground of being partisan evidences. If the witness is true and reliable in their testimony, the evidence cannot be thrown out on the threshold by branding them as inimical witness as has been held by the Supreme Court in the case of Ramashish Roy vrs. Jagdish Singh (2005). 
- Nityanand Mahto, Bhartiya Janta Party’s media in-charge in Ramgarh was also amongst the 12 accused being prosecuted in the case. The Defence claimed that there was not even an iota of evidence against Nityanand Mahto which goes to show that he was involved in the commission of the crime. However, the court remarked that four eye-witnesses have identified and testified against Nityanand Mahto and there is sufficient evidence on record to hold him guilty of the offence. The court boldly stood against the scheme of the accused to protect the political leader. The court awarded similar punishment to Nityanand Mahto as others, for being a part of the mob that killed the victim; thus, setting a right example.
- During the case four witnesses were declared hostile by the prosecution. Hostile witnesses are those who turn against their own previous statements or testimonies before courts or versions on affidavits. Four witnesses called by the prosecution changed their position from the testimony they gave in the pre-trial phase to the Police Officer under Section 161 of CrPC. Four witnesses called by the prosecution changed their position from the testimony they gave in the pre-trial phase. The court pointed out that Jitendra Ram, a hostile witness has supported the case of prosecution on the point of killing of Alimuddin by the members of Gau Raksha Dal (cow shelters) in his cross-examination. It was also evident from his statement to the magistrate that the three main accused Chhotu Verma, Santosh Singh and Deepak Verma hatched a conspiracy against Alimuddin, assaulted him along with other accused and set the vehicle on fire. Mukesh Kumar and Lalan Kumar who also later turned hostile to the case of prosecution have before supported the date and time of the occurrence, as well as happening of the occurrence of this case in their respective evidence. The conspiracy is also clear from the statement before the magistrate of another hostile witness, Md. Meraj Khatra, although he turned hostile on the point of identification of the accused in the court. The court observed that it is clear that these witnesses have given their statements voluntarily and without any pressure or inducement, and thus turning hostile is not bonafide in view of the evidence of other witnesses. The court made a reference to the case of Bhagwan Das vrs. State (NCT Delhi), where the SC observed that “the statement of the hostile witnesses given before the police of this case can be taken into consideration in view of the proviso 162(1) Cr.P.C. and their subsequent denial in the court are not believable as they are obviously afterthoughts in order to save the accused person from the legal consequences.”
- The court also observed that the Investigation Officer (IO) of the case, Vidyawati Kumar Odhar has honestly done her job and there is no reason to discard her testimony. In addition, it further made a reference to an observation by the Supreme Court in the case of Mahesh vrs. State of Maharashtra. The court observed that if the the witness has chosen to not corroborate his earlier statement made in complaint or recorded during investigation, the conduct of such a witness for no plausible and tenable reason will give rise to doubt to the testimony of the IO who has sincerely and honestly done the investigation of the entire case. In this case, the court rightly concluded, that no benefit will be given to the accused because of the witness who tried to shield truth from the court for sole reason of protecting the accused or the reasons best known to him.
- The court established that the photos and videos available as evidences of the crime and accused have been duly authenticated by the forensic department and that the available evidences including the phone records of the accused persons (CDR, CAF and location), the material exhibits which have been recovered on the basis of confessional statements of the accused or seized by making a proper seizure list and the photos of the accused person goes on to show Criminal Conspiracy on the part of Chhotu Verma, Deepak Mishra and Santosh Singh and complicity of all 11 accused in the commission of the crime. It further observed that is crystal clear that three main accused hatched a conspiracy to do an illegal act and in its pursuance committed murder of Alimuddin. These facts also clearly show motive of the crime.
All 11 accused Deepak Mishra, Chhotu Verma, Santosh Singh, Uttam Ram, Sikandar Ram, Vikram Prasad, Raju Kumar, Rohit Thakur, Nityanand Mahto, Kapil Thakur and Vicky Sao were sentenced under section 148 (rioting with deadly weapons), 149 (unlawful assembly), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees or upwards), 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance) and 302 (murder) to rigorous imprisonment for life and fine of Rs. 1000. In addition Deepak Mishra, Chhotu Verma and Santosh Singh were also sentenced under section 120 (concealing design to commit an offence) for rigorous life imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 2000.
The court in the end, before parting with the order recorded that “while as per Article 21 of the constitution of India no person can be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to procedure established by law and state is duty bound to protect the life and liberty of every human being, but the state has completely failed to perform its constitutional as well as statutory obligations.” It further directed that since the victim needs to be adequately compensated, the case be recommended to District Legal Service Authority, Ramgarh for awarding adequate quantum of compensation to the victim of the crime.
This Judgment, by District Judge-II of Ramgarh Om Prakash, has come at a time where its need was greater than ever. Such an apt pronouncement on the crime of lynching should set precedent for all the pending cases in the country and hopefully, act as a deterrent for vigilante terrorist groups.
 Para 32, Page No. 71, Judgment
 Para 32, Page No.71 , Judgment
 Para 10, Page No. 23, Judgment
 Para 32, Page No. 74, Judgment
 Dastagir Sab and anr. vrs State of Maharashtra- 22nd January 2004, Paragraph 2 of Page 3.
 Para 34, Page No. 76, Judgment
 Namdeo vrs. State of Maharashtra, March 13, 2007, Paragraph 1 of Page 8
 Para 38, Page No. 80, Judgment
 Ramashish Rai vrs. Jagdish Singh- 17th November, 2014 AIR 2005 SC 335, Paragraph 7,
 Para 10, Page No. 20, Judgment
 Under Section 161, CrPC statements are recorded by Police officer making an investigation about the facts and circumstances of the case. The person being recorded is bound to answer truthfully to the officer in charge.