In Pune, India, 17-year-old Savan Rathod was able to tell his father that a mob burned him alive after he admitted he was Hindu.
“Savan left home about a week before his death following a petty quarrel with his sister,” explained his father Dharma Rathod. “After coming to know about the incident, I reached Sassoon hospital (where Savan was admitted) on Thursday evening. I asked him what happened… From what he told me I believe that assailants did ask him whether he was a Hindu and then burnt him alive after he said ‘yes.'”
The Indian Express is reporting pro-Hindutva groups “have demanded an investigation by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS),” noting that immolation is a common murder technique among Islamic State terrorists.
These groups and members of the boy’s community “threatened to launch an agitation on January 27 over the death.” The court also allowed the police to keep suspects Imran and Zuber Tamboli and Ibrahim Sheikh until January 25.
However, police said the suspects claim they set Rathod on fire on accusations of stealing vehicle batteries. Members of the community asked the police to record his deathbed statement, but they refused. DCP [Deputy Commissioner of Police] Tushar Doshi spoke to The Indian Express about their decision:
“We probed the backgrounds of all three suspects. No communal links have been found so far. They have committed a gruesome crime. But there is no evidence to say the intention behind it was communal.”
Doshi added, “After nabbing Savan, the assailants questioned him for battery theft for a few hours. We confirmed at least two spots where they took Savan, suspecting he had sold stolen batteries here. Then they forcibly made him drink petrol and set him on fire… Savan Rathod’s video at the hospital could be an afterthought as he did not mention anything of a communal nature when FIR [First Information Report] was lodged.”
Instead those people went to the hospital to tape it themselves:
“I was working with my family in Pandhapur. I had a dispute with them and came to Pune looking for work… While I was urinating, three persons objected and asked me my name. I said Savan Rathod. They asked me if I am Hindu? I said ‘yes’. Then they poured something over me from a can and set me on fire.”
Those recording the video then ask Savan if he feels he was burnt because he is a Hindu. To this, Savan is seen nodding his head.
“When we went to the hospital on Thursday evening… Savan’s situation was bad,” described advocate Ramesh Rathod. “So we asked police to record his statement before he dies. But the cops refused, saying he himself was the complainant.”
He added: “So I recorded his dying declaration on my cellphone in the presence of his father and other activists. He did not mention anything about theft. Maybe, police fear that revealing the facts would create communal tensions.”
Tensions between religions have been rising in India. Earlier this month, a protest broke out in West Bengal’s Malda district by local Muslim groups “against the hate speech of Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha leader Kamlesh Tiwari.” The protesters set on fire numerous vehicles and “ransacked” the police station where they destroyed records.
Hindu publications believe the protesters wanted to scare off the remaining Hindu families.
In other areas, hardline Hindus target those they believe are butchering cows, which are sacred to them. The AFP reported vigilantes wait on the side of the roads waiting “for suspected cattle smugglers in the desert state of Rajasthan.” The state banned cow slaughter and consumption of beef.
“Smugglers often open fire or try to run us over,” explained Babulal Jangir, the leader of the Gau Rakasha Dal (Cow Protection Squad). “I even get death threats, but nothing bothers me. My heart beats only for my dear cow mother.”
Hindus killed four Muslims between September and November last year.