Jayant Sinha with the men convicted for killing a meat trader in Jharkhand
On July 6, eight men convicted for the murder of Alimuddin Ansari, a meat trader, were granted bail by the Jharkhand High Court. Union Minister Jayant Sinha sparked controversy after pictures of him felicitating the convicted men went viral on social media.
All the convicts were members of the BJP or the Sangh Parivar.
Stung by the backlash, the minister posted a series of tweets, expressing regret and stating that he respects rule of law.
But local BJP leaders in Ramgarh, where the lynching took place, have no such regrets. Speaking to NDTV, Shivshankar Banerjee, the chief of the local BJP unit, said: "I am saying with pride that I went to pick them (the convicted men) from the jail. They did not commit any crime. Legally, they are convicts but not for the people of Ramgarh," he said.
The conviction of the 11 men by a fast-track court on March 21 was the first sentencing in a case of lynching over cow slaughter.
The Jharkhand High Court, however, granted them bail, saying the evidence against the convicted men -- photos and videos of the assault -- only showed them as members of the mob, not assailants.
But the public prosecutor, SK Shukla, denies this. "A CD with the video of the incident, verified by the FSL (Forensic Science Lab), was seen in the court where all the accused were seen assaulting the deceased. The defense tried to prove that he died in custody, but that could not be established during the cross examination," he told NDTV.
NDTV visited six of the convicts out on bail, but only one agreed to speak.
Nityanand Mahto, one of the convicts and the media convener of BJP, pleaded innocence.
"I was barely there for 10 seconds. I've been wrongly implicated for political reasons. And there's nothing wrong in felicitating people especially if they are innocent," he said.
Mariyam Khatun, wife of Alimuddin Ansari, has given up her legal battle. "We are poor, my husband is gone, so there is no point going to the Supreme Court. The way they (the accused) were felicitated, it seemed like they were not murderers but saved someone's life," she told NDTV.
Currently, 10 of the 11 convicts are out on bail.