All for the cow

Print edition : August 13, 2004

ON JULY 10, a young man was done to death in full public view in a crowded weekly market of Barghat, about 20 km from Seoni. The incident went largely unnoticed, as it took place soon after the Bhomatola gang rape. But the one aspect common to the murder of 32-year-old Abdul Waaris Khan and the gang rape of the three Dalit women was that both were carried out publicly. Had there been any intervention by either the administration or the community, both the incidents could have been prevented. It was also the fear of reprisal that seems to have dissuaded bystanders from intervening in both the cases, though in the Barghat incident the fear appears to be more palpable.

July 10 was the day of the weekly market at Barghat. Waaris, a resident of Khari village, had come to sell his bull. Waaris was also unaware of the presence of the "flying squads" of the Shiv Sena, the Bajrang Dal and the Sewa Bharati. The main aim of these squads is to prevent the sale of cattle that they assume are being sold to slaughterhouses. As part of their cattle protection and rescue activities, the squads often "persuade" farmers and traders to part with their old and infirm animals, on the plea that the animals would be settled in a gaushala (cattle home).

Barghat has a sizable Muslim population. Soon after the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Uma Bharati assumed office, one of the first pieces of legislation to be passed banned cow slaughter (this covers the entire bovine species). Ever since the government passed the law early this year, "cow rescue" activities have been on the rise. Barghat, a BJP stronghold, is represented in the Assembly by Transport and Forest Minister Dhal Singh Bhisen who has been winning from there since 1990. The Assembly constituency is sharply polarised in the communal sense.

According to a report compiled by a fact-finding team of the Jabalpur district committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), at the market Abdul Waaris was accosted by several persons who accused him of trying to sell his bull to butchers. An argument ensued, after which the group, mainly comprising eight persons, beat him to death with sticks. According to the post mortem report, his spleen was ruptured in the beating.

The Seoni administration was cautious about revealing the identity and political affiliations of the persons involved in the murder. "The intention was not to kill," said a senior police officer, almost defensively. The police registered a case of murder against the eight persons. According to the Superintendent of Police, D. Sreenivasa Rao, while four of them have been arrested, four are absconding.

A senior official in the administration confided that the dispute that led to the murder was communally motivated. It was learnt that all the eight persons involved were members of the Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and the Sewa Bharati. According to the CPI(M) fact-finding team's report, the accused persons were often spotted moving in a jeep with "Udan Dasta Sewa Bharati (Flying Squad of the Sewa Bharati)" inscribed on the vehicle. On July 10 too, they arrived at the marketplace in a similar vehicle.

It appeared that the administration was under great pressure over the Barghat episode. Officials appeared to be reluctant to crack down on the groups whose activities had the potential to fuel communal tensions. In fact, a senior official in Jabalpur threw up his hands and said: "What can we do? After all, are not these people supposed to bring about Ram Rajya?"

Waaris, who was the sole earning member in his family, leaves his wife, a two-year-old daughter, five unmarried sisters and old parents. It is significant that members of the minority community acted with great restraint. According to District Magistrate Faiz Kidwai members of the community did put up a protest, which delayed the post mortem. But the accused were arrested only because of the protest.

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