Latehar hangings: just 6 months on, all accused get bail. Who is to blame?
The gory images of two cattle traders hanged from a tree in Jharkhand's Latehar has still not faded from public memory. Yet, all eight accused are already breathing free. Manoj Kumar Sahu, Mithilesh Prasad Sahu, Pramod Kumar Sahu, Manoj Sao, Awadhesh Sao, Arun Sao, Sehdav Sao and Vishal Tiwari were granted conditional bail by the Jharkhand High Court on 8 September 2016.
On 18 March this year, Majloom Ansari, 32, and Imtiyaz Khan, 12, were on taking their cattle to a local fair when the accused assaulted them near Jhabar village in Balumath. They were beaten with sticks, strangled and their bodies hanged from a tree. The accused allegedly belonged to a local cow protection group.
The families of Majloom and Imtiyaz are living in fear since the high court let the accused out. Munnavar Ansari, the younger brother of Majloom, says his family is "traumatised".
"We had little idea they would come out of jail so soon. We thought the court would call us as witnesses before granting bail. But it didn't. Now, my family is living in fear. The accused may try to harm me as I am the main witness in the case. There is an atmosphere of mourning in my home after the news came of the bail order. We are really afraid," Munnavar says.
Mohammed Janab Ansari, the vice-president of Herhanj block, is astonished at the court's order. "We are trying to find out how they managed to get bail. What was the basis of the court's judgement? We were flabbergasted when we heard this news," Ansari says.
The defence lawyer Arvind Nath Shahdeo seeks to answer Ansari. The police, Shahdeo says, failed to produce any credible evidence against his clients. Insisting that the accused should have got bail much earlier, he adds, "It was a weak case from the beginning. The FIR alleges that Vinod Prajapati had attacked the victims. However, the police investigation revealed that he was not present at the scene of the crime when it was committed. Moreover, there is not a single eyewitness in this case. The police extracted fabricated statements from my clients. But they have no value in court. There was no evidence against the accused. Yet they were denied bail for six months only because the issue was in the limelight."
Mohan Singh, a local lawyer, believes that the Balumath police deliberately weakened the case. "The accused walked free as the police did not bother to present solid evidence. In fact, they weakened the case to the extent that bail became inevitable. The prosecution is dependent on the evidence provided by the police. And the court pronounces its verdict based on the same evidence. The Balumath police deliberately covered up the matter."
Catch contacted Ajay Singh, the former head of the Balumath police station and the investigating officer in this case, to get his version of the story. Ajay had prepared the chargesheet. Asked about aspersions being cast on the probe he led, he replied, "This is a judicial matter. The police has tried to present every available evidence to strengthen its case. We were not careless in our investigation. If the police investigation was weak, the district court would have granted them bail. The fact that the accused had to approach the high court proves that the police has done its job well. To grant or deny bail is a matter under court's jurisdiction. The police cannot do anything about it."
The aggrieved families, the accused, lawyers, the police - everybody has their version of this story. But the undeniable truth is that two dead bodies were found hanging from a tree in Jhabar and that somebody killed them. The question is: will the families of the victims, and indeed the nation, ever know who the killers were? And would they ever be punished?