NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh — Friday will mark three years since Mohammad Akhlaq, an ironsmith, was lynched by a mob in Bisada village, in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh. Now Hariom Sisodia, one of the 17 accused, is gearing up to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election from the Gautam Budh constituency in Noida, Uttar Pradesh.
"Mohammad Akhlaq messed with our religion, he messed with our gau mata, what happened to him was right. Anyone who kills cows will meet a similar end," Sisodia told HuffPost India on Wednesday after the Uttar Pradesh Navnirman Sena, the Meerut-based political outfit backing him, made a formal announcement of his candidacy.
While claiming the police had arrested the wrong men, including him, Sisodia reiterated, "What happened to Mohammad Akhlaq was the right thing."
"When I'm a lawmaker I will ensure that not a single cow is killed," he added.
Sisodia, 28, who was released on bail in October 2017 after spending two years in prison, said that he is running for office to protect Hindutva and to hit back at the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who, he said, promised to help the 17 accused but eventually did nothing.
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW POLITICS
Get our top news delivered to your inbox every morning, Monday to Friday. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more
"The BJP leaders said that we will ensure justice, we will make sure you are financially okay, and we will get you jobs. But they did nothing. I'm unemployed. The main thing was 'case wapas ho jayega', but that has not happened yet."
There was a public outcry when Mahesh Sharma, a union minister and the Lok Sabha lawmaker from Gautam Budh Nagar, attended the funeral of Ravi, Sisodia's cousin, the 18th accused, who died in police custody in October last year. Sharma had tweeted photos of his visit to the Bisada village, where Ravi's family had draped his body in a national flag. The minister later denied having promised financial assistance to the family.
"It was all a photo opportunity," Sisodia said today. "The money was promised but never deposited."
Mohammad Akhlaq messed with our religion, he messed with our gau mata, what happened to him was right.
Sisodia blamed the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government for failing to hold accountable the jailer, SK Pandey, for the death of his cousin. While the authorities have maintained that the 22-year-old died after contracting dengue or chikungunya, his family has alleged mistreatment including beating in prison. "The jailer beat him before my eyes, but no case has been registered against him," Sisodia said.
Sisodia says he couldn't complete the BA degree he had enrolled for at the time of his arrest in 2015. The father of two children aged three and four, he claims to be living off the Rs 4,000-5,000 which his younger brother earns as a "supervisor" every month. He sold off his plot of land to pay Rs 1 lakh to make bail.
Sisodia said that he was not running as a gimmick, but to win. "This is not for show," he said. "I'm fighting for my 17 brothers."
On whether he stands a chance against the national and regional parties in UP, Sisodia said, "What have these parties done except play politics? I will fight for my religion. I will fight for Hindutva," he said. "We can do anything for gau raksha. If they mess with our religion, then we can do anything. The police does not do anything. There is no law and order."
In fact, Abhishek Sisodia, president of the Akhil Bharatiya Kshatriya Yuva Mahasabha, who had offered Rs 5 crore for the heads of Deepika Padukone and Sanjay Leela Bhansali during the Padmaavat movie row, said that the Thakur community from all over the country would support Sisodia.
"There are over four lakh Rajputs in Gautam Budh Nagar who will vote for him," he said, adding, "To protect gau mata, we will teach a lesson not just to one Akhlaq, but to one lakh Akhalqs."
To protect gau mata, we will teach a lesson not just to one Akhlaq, but to one lakh Akhalqs.
Sisodia will also have the backing of the Rajasthan-based Rajput Karni Sena, which led a violent agitation against the release of Padmaavat, resulting in its limited release despite the Supreme Court ruling out a ban on the movie.
The UP Navnirman Sena, headed by Hindutva firebrand Amit Jani, is planning to field five candidates in UP including Sisodia in Gautam Budh Nagar and Shambhu Lal Raigar from Rajasthan who hacked a Muslim man to death in December 2017.
The UP Navnirman Sena, Jani said, was formed as a "social organisation" in 2010, and is now filling out the paperwork to become a political party. "The symbol will be assigned by the Election Commission a few weeks before the election," he said.
Earlier this week, Jani told HuffPost India that he would have liked to announce Sisodia's candidature on 28 September 2017, the day that Akhlaq was killed.
After the press conference today, Sisodia and Jani posed with a sword for the press.
Mohammad Akhlaq's lynching
28 September 2018 will mark three years since Akhlaq was lynched by a mob in his native village of Bisada, less than 60km from Delhi. Shortly after the loudspeaker in the village temple was used to announce that Akhlaq had slaughtered a calf, his fellow villagers broke down the door to his house and searched his rooms for beef. In 2016, it was reported that a meat sample sent to the Mathura forensic laboratory in connection with Akhlaq's case was beef, but it later emerged the meat sample was not from Akhlaq's house. The UP government has never made clear whether it was beef or not.
Akhlaq's was the first lynching after the BJP swept to power in 2014, and it appeared to be the horrific culmination of the hate which the Hindu right had unleashed in order to gain political power. While the public expressed outrage and writers returned government-sponsored literary awards, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took eight days to break his silence on the matter. Even then, he did not condemn the killing, instead putting the onus on both Hindus and Muslims to "fight poverty" instead of each other. Modi has come under pressure to condemn lynchings a few times, but his government has mostly called it a "law and order" issue that had to be dealt with by the state governments.
Akhlaq's lynching ushered in an era of horrific violence against Muslims. A study by IndiaSpend found that 84% of Indians killed in cow-related violence since 2010 are Muslims, and 97% of these attacks occurred after 2014. But public outrage has withered away.
We can do anything for gau raksha. If they mess with our religion, then we can do anything.
All the accused are out on bail
Of the 18 men who were arrested for Akhlaq's lynching, Ravi died in custody and 17 are out on bail. The case is moving at a glacial pace, lawyers on both sides told HuffPost India.
Accusing the defence team of using delaying tactics, Yusuf Saifi, who represents Akhlaq's family, said that charges were yet to be framed in the case. "All the 17 accused are out and they are leading normal lives," Saifi said. "What can I say about Mohammad Akhlaq's family? They are coping. No one lives in the village anymore."
Defence lawyer Ram Saran Nagar said the accused were out of prison, but most of them were jobless and disillusioned. "Some of them are doing some labour work but one could say that their lives are over," he said.
Nagar estimated that he had attended 30 hearings on the matter since the accused were granted bail. "It takes time for the law to take its course in India. Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Indira Gandhi was such an important person but even her case took so long," he said.
What can I say about Mohammad Akhlaq's family? They are coping. No one lives in the village anymore.
Unemployed and no future
In addition to Hindutva, Sisodia said that he wanted to highlight the issue of unemployment. "There are around 14,000 residents in Bisada. 90% are unemployed. No one in the new generation is employed," he said. "Go and see our village, there are so many young boys who are unemployed, who then go towards crime."
The BJP, he said, had done nothing to help the 17 accused to find jobs after they were released on bail.
"They took us out of gadha and throw us in the kua. After all the political parties did politics on us, no one has even come to ask how we are doing. We need to do something for ourselves."
Also on HuffPost India: