On 13 August, Imrul Hoque received a phone call from the superintendent of police of Assam’s Hojai district asking him if he knew Hifjur Rahman, his elder brother. The police informed Hoque that his brother had been lynched on suspicion of cow theft.
The 23-year-old rushed to Nagaon Civil Hospital and found that his brother had died from injuries sustained during a “brutal, inhuman beating.”
Hoque said his brother could have been anything because he was a person with a mental health condition but not a thief.
“He (Rahman) would ask for money from people and from shops, but never touch a thing to eat,” Imrul said. He was trying to get his brother’s body from the civil hospital to perform the last rites on Monday.
On 12 August, Rahman from Jayantia Basti in the Islam Nagar area entered a Hindu dominated village— Bamungaon in Lanka area— of Hojai district. Somehow, Rahman got rounded up by Hindu residents on suspicion of stealing cows. Locals from Bamungaon village had informed that there had been some incidents of cow theft in the area and they were keeping a vigil.
The vigilante party of the village had beaten Rahman before informing the police. A local police official from the Lanka police station said that they received information about the incident at around 2:40 a.m. Sunday and rushed to the spot.
The police then recovered a seriously injured Rahman and took him to a local hospital, where, the police claimed, he was declared dead.
Locals from Bamungaon also claimed that Rahman was caught red-handed stealing cows, an assertion outrightly discarded by the victim’s family.
“Everybody knew that he (Rahman) was a mentally unstable person. He used to roam all around the district. Sometimes he would go out of home for days before being found. You can see him trying to ask for something to eat. How can sensible men not see the mentally deranged person and kill him”, said Hoque as he shared his brother’s video, which clearly shows his condition.
Local police have arrested six persons— Sanjoy Das, Nikhil Das, Tulendra Das, Uttam Chakrabarty, Jayanta Chakrabarty and Sanandhu Majumdar under IPC 302. The police also said a seventh person will also be arrested under the same section of the IPC.
Rahman had been missing from home for around 10–12 days this time.
“This time he will never return home. Seeing the injuries and his body, I felt that he was killed at the spot where he was beaten.”
“If there was cow theft and they caught him red-handed, they should have given him to the police. The police would have sent him to jail if he had committed a crime. He was not an animal to be beaten like this to death,” the brother said in a broken voice.
“If you just had one look at him, you would understand that he has a mental health condition.”
According to his AADHAR card, Rahman was born in 1996. He was married and has a 9-year-old son who lives with his mother at his in-laws’ home.
“I had sent my sister-in-law because it was becoming difficult to manage the expenses. My brother developed a mental health condition, and I was left alone to provide for the family. So, I thought of sending her home so that I could manage his medical expenses,”Hoque said.
“Even if he had a mental health condition, he was a human. He was my brother.”
The local police official from Lanka station said that there were instances of cow theft and that a goat thief was arrested a few days ago.
But “no FIR or complaint was filed in the last week about any cow theft,” the policeman said adding, “I will have to look into the files to see how many FIRs have been recently filed about cow theft. I cannot say it right away.”
On 25 July, another Muslim youth was also lynched on suspicion of cow theft in central Assam’s Morigaon district. Saddam Hussein, along with his brother Anarul Hoque and four other fellow villagers, were stopped at a Hindu dominated village and attacked.
While three men managed to escape the mob with small injuries, Saddam was lynched, and Bilal and Nijarul Hoque sustained grave injuries. Nirajul has since recovered enough to move back home, but Bilal has been frequenting the hospital.