[EXCLUSIVE] Latehar hangings: Chilling confessions of gau rakshaks
- Catch has accessed confessions of 5 of the accused in the Latehar hangings
- They admit cow protection was the motive behind the murder of Majloom Ansari & Imtiyaz Khan
- According to them, Arun Sau strangled both the victims, including 12-year-old Imtiyaz
More in the story
- What exactly happened on the morning of 18 March?
- How were the murders carried out?
- What is the background of the accused?
It has been 17 days since cattle trader Majloom Ansari and a 12-year-old school boy Imtiyaz Khan were killed and hanged at the Jhabar village in Jharkhand's Latehar district. The local police were prompt in taking action and arrested 5 persons within 24 hours of the murders. Three other accused surrendered later.
What the Jharkhand police and administration are being cagey about is the motive behind the murders. This is despite the fact that some of the accused are active cow protection activists and have had run-ins with cattle traders in the past.
Locals say that one of the accused, Arun Sau, is associated with the Bajrang Dal.
Catch has in its possession confessions of the 5 accused to the police which clearly show that the motive behind the murders was indeed cow protection. It wasn't, as a few news reports had claimed, a case of loot driven by business rivalry.
Five of the accused were arrested by the police within less than a day of the murders: Manoj Kumar Sahu, Mithilesh Prasad Sau alias Bunty, Pramod Kumar Sau, Manoj Sau and Avdhesh Sau.
Three others surrendered later at the court: Arun Sau, Sahdev Soni and Vishal Tiwari.
All five accused who were arrested by the police have confessed to their crime. Their confessions also indicate that Arun Sau, the alleged Bajrang Dal activist, was the mastermind behind the murders.
Two of the accused recollect that it was Arun who strangled Majloom and 12-year-old Imtiyaz with a rope and killed them.
The confessions of the 5 accused are more or less similar, except for a few personal details.
Based on their accounts, it seems that only 4 out of the 8 accused were actually involved in the murders: Arun Sau, Manoj Sau, Pramod Sau and Sahdev Soni.
Apparently after intercepting the cattle traders, the group split up. These 4 took Majloom and Imtiyaz to the scene of the crime while the other 4 took the "rescued" oxen to the jungle. Here are excerpts from the confessions that can help us recreate what happened in the wee hours of 18 March.
Name: Manoj Sau
Age: 27 years
Resident of: Jhabar village, Balumath Block, Latehar
Profession: Farming. Also works part time as an account keeper in local construction work
Confession: "I was married in Balumath and this is how I came in contact with Arun Sau, who is from the same community as me. I called him Bhaiya and we met him very often. Around 6 months ago, some Qureshis from Balumath shut him inside a house and thrashed him. During our meetings, Arun Sau said that we need to take revenge and it was decided to form a team to take on traders who were taking cattle from Jhabar village to Balumath.
On the morning of 18 March, 2016 Avdhesh Sau called me at 3:30 am from his mobile (last numbers 22) on my mobile (last numbers 31). He told me that he saw cattle being transported from Jhabar village to Balumath. I instructed him to continue tracking the traders. Immediately, I called up Arun Sau and told him what Avdhesh had informed me. Arun told me summon all my other team members. Then I called up Mithilesh Prasad Sau, Pramod Sau and Manoj Kumar Sahu. I told Manoj Kumar Sahu to tell Vishal Tiwari.
I picked up Arun Sau from Chhat Talab and headed towards the main road. We reached there in 10-15 mins. We saw that Sahdev Soni, Vishal Tiwari, Mithilesh Sau, Pramod Sau, Manoj Kumar Sahu and Avdhesh Sau were present. (Mithilesh had picked up Sahdev Soni, whom he met on the way).
Avdhesh told all of us that the traders who are transporting the cattle, are a little distance ahead. Then we followed them and intercepted them at Devi Mandap in Jhabar. They were transporting 8 oxen.
Once we caught them, Arun Sau told Mithilesh, Avdhesh, Vishal and Manoj Kumar Sahu to take the 8 oxen towards the jungle. They took them westwards towards the jungle and tied them to trees."
Among the five people arrested, Manoj Sau and Pramod Kumar Sau accompanied Arun Sau and Sahdev Soni and were involved in killing of the 2 cattle traders, according to the confessions. The details provided by Manoj Sau and Pramod are identical, barring a few personal details. Their recollection of the murders is also the same. Here's what Pramod said in his confession about the murders.
Name: Pramod Kumar Sau
Age: 28 years
Resident of: Jhabar, Balumath Block, Latehar
Profession: Graduate but unemployed, so started working on his family's fields
Confession: "Arun Sau made one of the traders, who was a boy, sit behind on the motorcycle and tied his hands. And I was made to sit behind the boy. Manoj Sau made the other sit on his Passion motorcycle, with his hands tied. Sahdev Soni was made to sit behind him holding the trader.
Then all of us went to the kaccha road leading to Pakdi and stopped at Khaprail Bar. Then I, Arun Sau, Sahdev and Manoj Sau thrashed the 2 traders with sticks. Then Arun Sau told us wait, while he goes and gets rope from a nearby village. He returned after 10-15 minutes carrying a rope. He said that 'these are the people who sell cattle to the Qureshis of Balumath. We will not leave them alive. I will take revenge on them for an old enmity'.
Saying this, Arun Sau took a rope and strangled the 30-32 year old trader (Majloom Ansari) to death. He tied the rope around his neck and hung him from the tree. He order us to climb on the motorcycle and push the body upwards. I, Sahdev Soni and Manoj Sau began pushing the body upwards.
Then Arun Sau hanged the body from the tree. It was made to appear that the cattle trader had hung himself from the tree.
Then Arun Sau strangled the 12-year old cattle trader with a rope. Then he climbed the tree and pulled the boy's body upwards. He ordered us to push the body upwards. Arun Sau then tied the rope to the tree and it was made to appear that the trader had hung himself. Then I, Arun, Sahdev and Manoj came to Jhabar Road on motorcycle and the other 4 told us that they had tied the cattle to the trees."
The confessions of Mithilesh Prasad Sau alias Bunty, Avdhesh Sau and Manoj Kumar Sahu - 3 of the arrested persons who weren't present during the murder -- are also more or less identical. Besides the common accounts of what happened until they intercepted the traders, they recall that they followed Arun Sau's orders and tied the "rescued" cattle in the jungle westwards. Mithilesh came in the evening of 18 March along with with Manoj Sau to check on the cattle. Two of the oxen remained tied to the trees, 6 had managed to break their ropes and escape.
Mithilesh's confession is important as he is a functionary of the Gau Raksha Samiti and he has said that his actions were the result of the mandate and responsibility given to him by the Samiti.
Name: Mithilesh Prasad Sahu alias Bunty
Profession: Owns a cement shop
Resident of: Jhabar village, Balumath block, Latehar
Confession: "Around 5 months back, in October 2015, at Jhabar village, a meeting of some men of the village was called. At the meeting, I was given the responsibility of the area's Gau Raksha Samiti. I was given the task of countering people involved in cattle trade. On the basis of that mandate, I did what I did."
If true, the confessions show that cow protection was the motive behind the murder of Majloom and Imtiyaz. Loot wasn't the motive at all, as the oxen weren't taken away but rather tied up in the nearby jungle. Also, all the accused are from reasonably well-to-do backgrounds. Take Manoj Kumar Sahu for instance, who is director of the American School in Balumath. Interestingly the school runs in a property owned by a Muslim.
He met Arun Sau while working at the school. "It is during my stay at Balumath that I met Arun Sau. We are from the same caste," Manoj Kumar Sahu says in his confession.
Though Sahu wasn't part of the group of 4 who allegedly carried out the murder, he admits to "feeling scared" during the incident.
Who is Arun Sau?
The central figure in all the 5 confessions is Arun Sau. In their confessions Manoj Sau and Pramod Sau both say that it was Arun who strangled the cattle traders using a rope. Pramod recalls that Arun climbed a tree and pulled 12-year-old Imtiyaz's body after tying a rope around his neck.
Locals in Balumath say that Sau was the Balumath block in-charge of the Bajrang Dal. "There was a board saying 'Bajrang Dal Prakhand Pramukh' outside the Mahavir Mandir in Balumath but it was removed immediately after the incident," a local told Catch on condition of anonymity.
According to reports, Majloom Ansari's family have claimed that Arun Sau had threatened him in February. Apparently in September, Arun had assaulted an elderly maulvi Guzar Qureshi in Jhabar and forcibly cut off his beard.
Some other locals in Balumath claim that Arun Sau had a history of such assaults.
What the administration says
Despite the clearly ideological motives behind the murders, the administration is downplaying the cow protection links to the murder.
"We will investigate all angles, we cannot make any conclusions at this juncture," Latehar superintendent of police Anup Birthare told Catch.
Birthare also refused to comment on Arun Sau's Bajrang Dal links.
However, he denied that the police had ever claimed loot or business rivalry as the motives behind the murder.
"Police never said it local trade rivalry or loot was the motive. That is absolutely false," Birthare told Catch. He assures that the police will be filing a chargesheet soon.
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