By T.K. Rajalakshmi in Mewat
ELEVEN years ago, on October 15, 2002, the year communal riots rocked Gujarat, five Dalits were lynched by a mob at the Dulina police post in Jhajjar district of Haryana. It was the day of the Dussehra festival and the five happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. They were accused of cow slaughter, a charge that was later found to be a canard spread in order to justify the killings. The mob, it was said, was led to believe that the five were from the minority community. The issue of cow slaughter as a polarising issue is alive even today. The region of Ahirwal in southern Haryana stretches up to Mahendargarh where cattle rearing is common. It is contiguous with the Mewat region, which goes all the way up to Alwar and Bharatpur, where Meo Muslims live. A few “gurukuls” here have, along with certain sections of the local population, taken it up as their mission to patrol the neighbourhood and rescue cattle. One such rescue mission led by the Yuva Jagriti Sena, constituted in September last year, took a communal turn on August 24 when a young member of the organisation died following a scuffle with some vehicle owners while chasing alleged cattle-smugglers.
On August 26, the Gurgaon-Pataudi road was blocked for several hours after local Hindu organisations called a bandh. A sizeable number of Muslims reside in Pataudi. The next day, a panchayat of both communities was convened to work for peace and amity, but in the end communal slogans were raised and there were deliberate attempts to vitiate the atmosphere. Matters did not come to rest there.
On August 29, the BJP and the Haryana Janhit Congress organised a demonstration in Taudu, a Muslim-dominated town in Mewat, ostensibly for peace. In Nuh, again in the Mewat region, a meeting of the Sarei Majlis Committee comprising intellectuals from the minority community from Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh passed a resolution demanding a social boycott of “thieves, dacoits and cattle smugglers”.
But the Gurgaon administration was totally unprepared for what took place on August 30. A convoy of 25 trucks transporting 195 stray cattle was on its way from Chandigarh to the Batswana gaushala (cowshed) in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh. An ambulance and a paramedical team were part of the convoy. However, only seven of the two dozen trucks reached Batswana that evening.
Taking a shortcut through Jhajjar via Pataudi and Gurgaon, the convoy had halted for a break between Jhajjar and Farookhnagar when rumours spread that the cows were taken for slaughter. The government staff accompanying the vehicles was branded as smugglers. The efforts of the local police to divert the convoy failed as religious slogans were raised. The cattle was unloaded, and within a few hours, anti-socials set fire to 16 trucks and some police vehicles.
“A genuine case of cattle transportation was given the colour of cow smuggling,” said Major S.L. Prajapati, who was part of a three-member delegation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which visited the area. The same day, a few hours later, another vehicle carrying a carcass broke down near Dharuhera on National Highway No. 8 and a mechanic was summoned. The mechanic spread the word around about a foul smell emanating from the vehicle. Within no time a crowd gathered, with faces covered and armed with crowbars, and destroyed scores of vehicles, private and public, on the road. It also set fire to a police post and a traffic post at Dharuhera. The police resorted to firing in the air to disperse the crowd. It is learnt that transport vehicles belonging to a particular community were also targeted. Companies of the Central Reserve Police Force and the Rapid Action Force were deployed in Pataudi, Farookhnagar and Dharuhera.
Living in fear in Mewat “Each time something like this happens, our community goes into a huddle, waiting for the next violent episode. The pressure is too much,” said Akhtar Hussain, who runs a provision shop near a police post at Nuh-Rojka, deep inside Mewat territory. The community, he said, immediately declared that anyone found slaughtering a cow would be fined Rs.1 lakh. “There was no option but to impose a fine. Our people are regularly stopped and beaten up for no reason. So instead of suffering humiliation, we decided to impose a fine on our community members,” he said.
Members of the Meo community Frontline spoke to said communal tensions over the cow were deliberately fomented and more so as elections approached. “Everyone knows who does it. The police also know. But they take money and let the vehicles go. There are members of the majority community who also do it, but whenever one among us is caught, it is given a communal colour. It is the cheapest meat going around. Why is there a ban here when in other States it is allowed?” an elder member of the community asked.
He explained how in nearby Palwal district, in Hathin block, there was an attempt to murder a temple priest. “Five men were booked and all of them were non-Muslims. Had the man died, we would have been held responsible because we are sizeable in number in that block,” he said.
A police informer from the minority community told Frontline that vehicles carrying cows were often supplied by Hindu traders themselves.
In Ghasera village, Irfan and Sajjid Hussain run a non-governmental organisation. Being residents of Mewat is not easy for them. “We cannot buy a cow without thousands of questions being asked. The police stop our people regularly, especially if we are in a vehicle and sport a beard,” one of them said.
In Tauru block, they said a member of the majority community had killed his cow and it was sought to be blamed on the minority community. In the police investigation it turned out that the animal had not been slaughtered the “halali” way. A deep sense of fear runs among the Meos. There is growing disenchantment among them towards the ruling Congress party. Voters in all the five Assembly segments of Mewat, once a Congress stronghold, are looking at alternatives.
The only source of employment in Mewat is to find self-employment or do farming. Many villages do not have schools beyond the secondary level and the dropout rates for girls and boys are higher than in the rest of the State.
There is virtually no development worth its name in Mewat. “Local people are not given permanent jobs in the factories here. They are kept on daily wages,” said Irfan. With the politics over the cow a constant source of tension in this region, the minorities have little to look forward to. Almost all their energies are focussed on staying out of “trouble”.