Zainul Ansari and his grandson at Delhi's Red Fort.

One morning, returning from visiting his sister, an 80-year-old Muslim man was lynched in Sitamarhi

Rumours had swirled about a Durga idol being damaged by a stone hurled from a mosque. Zainul Ansari paid the price.
Updated 08 Nov, 2019 12:26pm

There is no other part of the world that Zainul Ansari had known and loved in the eight decades of his life. This noisy, crowded, impoverished, vibrant piece of Bihar had been his only home, Sitamarhi. I guess that there would be no other place he would have wanted to breathe his last breath. But not this way: his body burned beyond recognition by a lynch mob of strangers, including children and a woman. He would not have wanted his remains to be buried furtively with only his sons and a few policemen as witness, alongside the bodies of strangers in another city, Muzaffarpur.

Zainul Ansari, farmer and wage labourer, had lived all his life in a village Bhorahan, just 6 km from the district headquarters of Sitamarhi. Today it was almost part of the town. Legend has it that Sita emerged from under the ground in Sitamarhi. Ansari’s two sons, Ikhlaq Ansari and Mohamed Ashraf Ansari, had left home in their twenties in search of work. Now in their forties, one has a steady job in a garment factory in Mumbai, another in Ludhiana. For the past 20 years, their life had developed and even rhythm. They returned to Bihar to visit their parents, wife and children once every five or six months.

After their mother died, many years earlier, it was their father Zainul Ansari who held the family together. When a team of the Karwan e Mohabbat met the family just months after the lynching, his two daughters-in-law wept in consolably. He was more than a father to us they said. Such a gentle man. He took care of us. We were safe with him.

A family holiday

Among the photographs they showed us was a recent picture of Ansari with his grandson standing together posing outside the Red Fort in Delhi. His grandson had taken him there for a holiday. We see a man erect, straight and robust, belying his 80 years. He has a white beard, and is dressed in a blue checked tahmat, short kurta and a skullcap. It was these very markers that so easily identified him to be a Muslim to the lynch mob that took his life.

Sitamarhi, around 150 km north of Patna, does have a history of communal tensions. In 1992, after the Babri Masjid was demolished, this town saw the fresh flowing of blood. But recent years were peaceful, until the Bharatiya Janata Party and Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) joined hands to form the state government. It began to look as though activists of the Sangh organisations were raring for a fight with the Muslim residents of the area.

Harsh Mander and other members of the Karwan e Mohabbat team meet with Zainul Ansari's family.
Harsh Mander and other members of the Karwan e Mohabbat team meet with Zainul Ansari's family.

Matters came to a head during the Durga Puja celebrations in the autumn of 2018. The organisers insisted on taking their processions through Muslim localities, and everywhere chanted abusive slogans, such as the one asking Muslims to go either to Pakistan or the cemetery. This insulting sloganeering has become routine around the country, and it requires a few hot-headed Muslim youth to retaliate with stones and sticks for a local communal skirmish to ensue.

When this did not happen in Sitamarhi during the Durga Puja celebrations in 2018, rumours began to fly on the tenth day of Durga Puja (when traditionally the Durga idols are immersed in rivers, streams or lakes). The story spread like fire that stones had been thrown at a Durga statue from a mosque as the procession passed by it, and Durga’s arm was broken. No one saw the broken arm of the idol, and most people agree that all of this was a mischievous fiction.

The district administration could have done much more to snuff out these dangerously provocative rumours. They could have firmly restricted the routes of the last procession of the season due to be taken out through the streets of the city the following morning, carrying the statue of Maa Kaali. The could have ensured a much larger police presence. None of this was done.

Swirling rumours The rumour of a stone from a mosque damaging the arm of a Durga statue continued to circulate through the night, and the next morning thousands of people gathered for the Maa Kaali procession. They defied the district administration by insisting on taking the procession though prohibited routes passing through narrow lanes in areas where Muslim residents lived in large numbers, and by shouted frenzied poisonous slogans against Muslims. The crowd continued to swell, and many came armed with lathis, sticks, spears, iron pipes, axes and swords. Along the way, they set fire to Muslim shops and houses.

By the time the procession reached the central Gaushala Chowk in the Sitamarhi market, the mood was feverish. Many of the small fruit and vegetable shopkeepers in the Chowk were Muslim, and they had closed shop and rushed home. It was about 11 in the morning when an unsuspecting Zainul Ansari was returning home after calling on his sister. People had warned him that morning about rising tensions, but he brushed them aside, saying that no one would touch him. He was wrong. The feverish mob was thirsting for revenge against the allegedly broken arm of the Durga statue. Zainul Ansari was visibly Muslim. No one knows exactly how it started, but the crowd turned into a lynch mob and fell upon Ansari, first raining blows on him with their sticks and iron pipes.

In a now-commonplace pattern, members of the mob also took videos and photographs of the lynching. The photographs which were widely circulated, the family shared with the Karwan team when we visited them in the Karwan. The photographs show that the crowd had many young men, teenagers, even children, and at least one woman and a young child are clearly visible wielding large iron pipes as weapons. It appears from the photographs that the crowd bludgeoned the old man with sticks and the iron pipes, and hit him on the head and other parts of his body.

In another picture, Ansari is being carried to the side of the road by two very young men who are holding his arms and ankles. In a third photo he is lying on the ground with a pool of blood under his head: presumably some in the crowd sliced his neck. In a fourth picture, sacks and other combustible material are piled on top of him and he has been set on fire.The postmortem report revealed that some of the burn injuries were ante-mortem, which means that Ansari was still alive when the mob set him ablaze.

Police delay The police station is barely a five-minute drive from where Ansari was being slaughtered, in the middle of a busy market square, and it was mid-morning. Yet the police did not come on time to save the man’s life. By the time they did come, the man’s body was charred beyond recognition, his face unrecognisable, his limbs entirely burned.

One of the police responses after this was to ban the internet, to prevent rumours from spreading further. As a consequence, Zainul Ansari’s family had no inkling about why the old man did not return home. The women went to the police station, and the policemen there filed a missing person’s report. They desperately phoned Ikhlaq and Arshad, the old man’s sons in Mumbai and Ludhiana. The men took the first unreserved trains to rush back to Sitamarhi. It took two or three days for them to return home. By then, the internet ban had been lifted, and they saw the chilling photographs of their father’s lynching that circulated widely on WhatsApp.

The men went to the police station with the photographs. The police then took them to a mortuary in neighbouring Muzaffarpur, then showed him the charred body, and concluded that this must be the remains of their father. They had transported the body to Muzaffarpur, so that his funeral would not spark off another bout of communal violence in Sitamarhi. They requested the family not to take the body home. Instead they organised the funeral in a cemetery attached to a madrassa in Muzaffarpur itself. It was here that the remains of the old man were laid to rest amidst the bodies of strangers.

Two months had passed since the lynching when the Karwan team met the family in their home in Sitamarhi. The two sons, Ikhlaq and Arshad had not returned to their garment factory jobs in Mumbai and Ludhiana, because there was no grown man to look after the family left behind in Sitamarhi, and they were even more in fear now. But there was no work to be found in Sitamarhi, so they were confused and worried about their futures.

But they were most in grief about the way that their father had been killed – lynched by a frenzied mob of strangers, and that too for a sacrilege that he had not committed, and which probably had not even happened.

“It was his age: we knew he would leave us one of these days,” Arshad said to us. “But for him to go like this? Like this?”

This article originally appeared at and has been reproduced with permission.


Author Image

Harsh Mander is a human rights activist and peace worker. He writes and speaks regularly on issues of social justice.

He regularly writes columns for the Hindustan Times, and Mint.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (48) Closed

Javid Shirazi
Nov 05, 2019 04:37pm
Beyond sadness.
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Jahan Ara
Nov 05, 2019 05:37pm
I feel really sorry for the minorities of India. Magical india is showing its magic by lynching innocent humans.
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Nov 05, 2019 06:17pm
Always be thankful for Pakistan.....
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Nov 05, 2019 07:16pm
A sad and shocking incident. Every sane Indian should hang their head in shame!
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Saif Zulfiqar
Nov 05, 2019 07:26pm
Now BJP militants are killing old Muslims of India.
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Nov 05, 2019 07:38pm
Heartbroken for him, his family, and for what once used to be his country
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Shamoon Ahmad
Nov 05, 2019 07:38pm
Humans killing humans, and they claim to be the most intelligent specie on this planet, while they are the only specie which kills their own kind.
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Nov 05, 2019 07:44pm
Face of Fascist India
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Nov 05, 2019 07:48pm
So sad!
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Nov 05, 2019 07:51pm
shameful as to how religion and politics can poison a society.Shame on humanity not to stand against these heinous crimes.
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Nov 05, 2019 07:53pm
Incredible India
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Nov 05, 2019 08:19pm
That is the only way to show to the world of the SHINING INDIA which he had been propagating all the time since he has been the prime minister of that country. Cruel and shameless behavior about the minorities living in the country.
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Nov 05, 2019 08:24pm
Is India still secular? May be in the thoughts of liberals and pages of constitution. Not in the daily lives and actions of its citizens.
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Nov 05, 2019 08:56pm
What else is called Fascism?
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Nov 05, 2019 09:26pm
India is hell for all minorities
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Nov 05, 2019 09:30pm
Why do you thinks Muslims of India wanted Pakistan?
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Nov 05, 2019 09:36pm
Shameful state of affairs in the so called world’s biggest democracy. Is this the way to behave?
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Nov 05, 2019 09:37pm
The real face of Modi Inc!
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Nov 05, 2019 09:43pm
Shining India Has no business calling itself a democracy. Only a fascist Hindutva colony for and by Hindus.
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say it
Nov 05, 2019 10:32pm
Sad, tragic and barbaric. While India is becoming a world power and economic strength-they are fast loosing humanity this all really worth it?
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Nov 05, 2019 10:39pm
Thank you Jinnah
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Nov 05, 2019 11:03pm
Due to Hindutava fascism, lynching has become common!
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M. Siddique
Nov 05, 2019 11:15pm
Secularism is debunked in India and Hindutva has taken over the masses.
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M. Saeed
Nov 06, 2019 12:07am
And, these are the so called docile and passive Non Violent Hindus of world's biggest secular democratic nation called India.
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Syed Ali
Nov 06, 2019 12:26am
Confused, could such cruelty take place in united India or would have been wide spread in country with 65% Hindu majority.
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Khalida Husain
Nov 06, 2019 12:47am
Any comments from RSS guys?
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Tayyab Qader
Nov 06, 2019 12:52am
Shame on Modi and his supporters to sow hate in the communities against Muslims and other minorities.
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Syed A. Mateen
Nov 06, 2019 01:59am
Many Muslims choose not to migrate to Pakistan after the partion in 1947, keeping in view that their relatives will be left behind. In reality Muslims who migrated to Pakistan only left their ancestral properties, businesses, private jobs, but also their relatives and till today Muslims apply for Indian visas to go and meet their blood relations. There are 201 million Muslims residing in India which is world's second-largest and the world's largest Muslim-minority population. India is also home to 11% of the world's Muslim population. The hatred about Muslims exists prior to the India-Pakistan divide and killing of Muslims by Hindus in India on one pretext or the other is a daily routine matter. Indian government failed in protecting the rights and properties of the Muslims as if Muslims are third grade citizens of India. The core issue is to make Hindus of India to understand that Muslims are also human beings as Hindus and to kill a human being is killing the entire humanity.
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Nov 06, 2019 02:30am
I truly respect Harsh Mandar to share this information
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Nov 06, 2019 03:22am
India has been set on fire by Modi and his bjp team. They are thriving on anti-muslim agendas. Hindu terrorism and nationalism has no doubt reached the new levels and it will only get worse unless some sensible people take heed of the evil trap set by bjp. What they dnt know is truth will eventually prevail and justice will be served!
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Irfan ul Huq
Nov 06, 2019 04:23am
Lynching raping murdering and burning this are the trademarks of today's fascist India. They are living in the 21st century and in the stone age at the same time .
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Jahan Ara
Nov 06, 2019 05:16am
In India Minorities are living in hell. Fascists Hindus are determined to destroy the fabric of their own society.
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Ahmed Ali
Nov 06, 2019 05:51am
Until the Muslims fight back, they'll be continuously killed like that
Recommend 0
Nov 06, 2019 05:58am
Sad but truth
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Nov 06, 2019 06:24am
Extremely disturbing,sad and terrible.
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Dr. Ali
Nov 06, 2019 06:57am
I will never understand how one could raise his hand to strike a man in his eighties, its in our genes to protect the vulnerable ones, children, women and the elderly, in the hope that we might need protection ourselves one day.
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R S Chakravarti
Nov 06, 2019 07:10am
This is terrible. I hope all the culprits were caught and will be appropriately punished.
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Nov 06, 2019 07:43am
Incredibly shameless India
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shobhan Kumwar
Nov 06, 2019 08:28am
Terrible, shocking and very very sad.
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Nov 06, 2019 09:08am
The Quaid was right. We are two Nations Muslims and Hindu
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Nov 06, 2019 09:14am
Thank you Quaid-e-Azam!
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Nov 06, 2019 09:42am
@Asad, Well they got Pakistan .
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Nov 06, 2019 10:03am
India going down the drain for life .
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Nov 06, 2019 10:04am
All this hate created by Modi for votes
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Nov 06, 2019 10:12am
So sad. Beating a 80 year old man to death is not civilization.
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Nov 06, 2019 10:39am
@Jahan Ara , don't believe all that you read or hear in your media. The oxford international media watch has reported that your country has a very strong media information manipulating organization.
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Nov 06, 2019 11:22am
@Syed A. Mateen, The difference will remain
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Nov 08, 2019 12:43pm
@IFTIKHAR, What about Bangladesh?
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