Print edition : January 05, 2018

Shaista, daughter of Mohammad Akhlaq who was killed on the charges of storing beef at Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, in 2015, speaks at the AIDWA convention in New Delhi on December 8. Photo: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

At a public meeting in Pahari tehsil of Bharatpur district in Rajasthan demanding justice for the cattle trader Umar Khan, a victim of cow vigilantism. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

Dalit victims of caste violence at Shabbirpur in Saharanpur district of western Uttar Pradesh. Som Pali’s (centre) husband and son are facing charges under the National Security Act.

Anita Minj, who lost her husband to cow vigilantes in Garhwa district, Jharkhand. Photo: PICTURES: T.K. RAJALAKSHMI

Father and children of Umar Khan, whose body was found on the railway track in Alwar district of Rajasthan.

Shakir, Junaid Khan’s brother. Junaid and Shakir were stabbed on the Delhi-Mathura train in June 2017. Shakir survived the assault by the mob, but is unable to use his hand to work.

Saira, Junaid Khan’s mother.

Systematic targeting of the poor, irrespective of their caste, community or religion, shatters several families in Rajasthan and other BJP-ruled States.

“MEWAT mein jo musalmaanon ke saath ho raha hai, woh Hindustan mein kisi ke saath nahi ho raha” (whatever is happening to Muslims in Mewat region is not happening to anyone in the entire country), said Sarjit Khan, a Meo Muslim at Pahari, a tehsil headquarters in Bharatpur district in Rajasthan. A lone cloth placard emblazoned with the words “Justice for Umar” hangs on a tent pole, seven kilometres from Ghatmika village in Pahari tehsil. The tent was erected for a public meeting organised to condole the death of the cattle trader Umar Khan, one of the latest victims of cow vigilantism in the region. Umar’s body was found on the railway track at Ramgarh in Alwar district on November 10. His family got to know about his death two days later. The police maintain that two groups had exchanged fire and in the ensuing clash, Umar was killed. But they do not explain how the body was found on the railway track. No weapons were found on Umar. His associates, who have been booked under the Rajasthan Bovine Act, also did not possess any weapons.

“Mewat is being targeted and we can see it happening, even sitting in faraway Jaipur. The vigilantes need no proof to establish that the cows are being taken for slaughter,” Engineer Khursheed, a Jaipur-based social worker, told Frontline.

Pehlu Khan, Junaid Khan and now Umar Khan, the three cattle traders who were murdered in 2017, were all Meo Muslims from the region, which includes the Nuh (previously Mewat) district of Haryana, Alwar and Bharatpur districts of Rajasthan and some parts of western Uttar Pradesh. Since the region is home to Meo Muslims, it has come under the close surveillance of cow vigilantes.

Ghatmika has been labelled as a village of cow smugglers and at least 200 people have been charged with cow smuggling. But not a single case has ended in conviction. Amra Ram, a four-time Member of the Legislative Assembly from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and former president of the All India Kisan Sabha, said the government suspended three officials when a foreign tourist was killed by a bull. In the case of Umar’s death, the police were keen to dismiss it as a result of gang war. Some police posts in Alwar have been designated cow vigilante or gau rakshak posts. Umar, father of nine children, was most likely accosted by one such group as he was returning home with the cattle. His wife delivered their ninth child four days after his death.

A pall of gloom hangs over Ghatmika. Mubarak, a final year undergraduate student, said livestock owners were scared to rear cows. The police, he said, wanted to be posted in Mewat as there was “more money” there. “The police used to harass us when the Congress was in power, too. But there were no cow vigilantes then,” said Mubarak.

In September, the Supreme Court took cognisance of cow vigilantism and directed the Centre and the States to take firm action against such elements and called for some “planned and well-coordinated action” by State governments. But the court’s ruling seems to have been ignored.

Since 2015, members of the Muslim community have been targeted in the name of cow vigilantism and “love-jehad”. On December 6, Mohammad Afrazul, a migrant labourer from Malda district in West Bengal, was hacked and burnt alive in Rajsamand district by Shambulal Raigar, a Dalit, on the suspicion that he was involved in a relationship with a Hindu woman. Raigar got his 14-year-old nephew to videotape the assault and posed it on social media. The video, in which Raigar is reported to have been heard saying, “This is what will happen to you if you do ‘love-jehad’ in our country”, led to his arrest. People wonder whether it is possible for Raigar to be familiar with the term “love-jehad” but for orchestrated efforts of some sections to whip up communal passions. Several instances of killing of Muslims were reported soon after the Bharatiya Janata Party headed by Vasundhara Raje formed the government.

In May 2015, Abdul Ghaffar Quereshi, a meat-seller in Birloka village in Nagaur district, was lynched; Pehlu Khan was lynched in April 2017 in Alwar; Zafar Islam was beaten to death in Pratapgarh district in June 2017 by municipal officials; and the Manganiyar singer Ahmad Khan was murdered in Jaisalmer in September 2017 (this resulted in the fleeing of 200 Muslims from Dantal village). The more recent ones are the murders of Umar and Afrazul.

“The people who killed my father have been given jobs in a renowned public sector enterprise, while my brother, who had to discontinue his studies, is without a job,” said a young woman at a convention on women’s citizenship rights, organised by the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) in New Delhi on December 8. The convention observed that the “past three and a half years have seen an unprecedented assault on those citizens who are unwilling to accept the Brahmanical and patriarchal notion of the Hindu Rashtra. Increasing instances of assassinations, lynching, rioting, abusive trolling, and justification of attacks on the security and right to choice of women (particularly young women), along with severe economic devastation exposes the unholy nexus of the communal forces with the corporate sector.”

The young woman who spoke at the convention was Shaista, daughter of Mohammad Akhlaq, whose lynching in September 2015, on allegations of storing beef, by a communally charged mob in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri district caused a national outrage. In August, 13 of the 17 accused in the murder case were given bail. Among the 13 was the son of a local BJP leader. The public outrage failed to discourage cow vigilantism and minority targeting, In fact, since Akhlaq’s murder, cow vigilantes have become more brazen in their attacks.

As Shaista shared her grief, her brother, Danish sobbed quietly. “It was a black night. The people whom I called chaacha and bhaiya attacked us.” The family moved out of Bisada village in Dadri, which was its home for generations. “The mahaul [atmosphere] isn’t good,” Danish told Frontline.

A pattern

Anita Minj, a Christian tribal woman from Garhwa district in Jharkhand, lost her husband to cow vigilantism. A tenant farmer, Ramesh Minj, had gone to inspect his crops on August 22. He never returned. Anita did not think there was any cause for worry because he used to travel a lot. But when he did not return home after a certain time, she got worried. She soon learnt that people from a neighbouring village had assaulted her husband accusing him of being a “beef-eater”. He had been picked up by the police.

“They told me gau rakshaks had attacked him. When I saw him in jail, he was crying. The police kept my husband in their custody and he was severely injured. The assaulters had slashed him and broken his fingers. The police taunted me when I took food for him. They said I should give cow meat to my husband and not potato curry. They let my husband die in that state. We are poor people. What could I have done? The State government has not given any money by way of compensation. Some official gave Rs.5,000 to my father-in-law. I lost the only earning member of the family. I have four children; the eldest is 14 and the youngest three years. Their future is uncertain,” Anita Minj said. She has not received the death certificate.

“My children ask me why I sent their father to the fields that day. I have no answer,” Anita Minj said. Arjun Minj, a representative of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Mahasabha, an organisation that led the struggle against the Jharkhand government for diluting land tenancy laws, told Frontline that cow vigilantes had become active in the district in recent times. The police did not take action against those who held gau rakshak meetings in the district even though the identity of these people was common knowledge, he said.

Saira, the mother of 17-year-old Junaid from Ballabhgarh district in Haryana who was stabbed on the Delhi-Mathura train on the eve of Ramzan in June 2017, is filled with remorse for sending her son to shop for clothes in Delhi. Saira said money was offered to the family to withdraw the complaint.

“Every day meetings are called; my husband is asked to attend the meetings, and there he is asked to withdraw the charges. Hum insaaf maang rahe hain aur hamare bete ki boli lag rahi hai,” (I am asking for justice and they are putting a price for my son’s life) Saira said.

Shakir, who tried to rescue his brother, was assaulted in such a manner that he was unable to lift his arm. “It was as if the entire train compartment was against us,” he told Frontline.

Shakir, who has studied up to Class X, used to work as a driver to supplement the family income. He was stabbed in the shoulder and the upper arm, and the injury has rendered him incapable of driving. Four of the six accused in the Junaid murder case were let off.

Victims all

Dalit women of Shabbirpur village in Saharanpur, whose homes were razed to the ground and whose menfolk were beaten and thrown into jail because they dared to oppose the upper-caste Rajputs of the village, are the other silent victims in Rajasthan. Nearly 60 Dalit homes were vandalised and looted. Som Pali, one of the women, said her husband and son were booked under the National Security Act and were sent to jail.

Subhashini Ali, a former Member of Parliament from the CPI (M), who visited Shabbirpur, told Frontline that the government did not give any compensation to the Dalit families. The Dalits’ temple was desecrated and the administration did little to repair the damage done to it by the Rajputs of the village. “The idea was to break them [Dalits] economically,” she said.

Koeli Devi of Karimati village in Simdega district was not a victim or survivor of communal profiling. It was an administration obsessed with Aadhaar-linked entitlements that caused the death of her 10-year-old daughter, Santoshi Kumari. For the past seven months the family was denied ration by the public distribution outlet. Since Koeli Devi’s husband was mentally challenged and did not find work, Koeli Devi and her older daughters walked 3 kilometres every day to find work. “ Saat din se chulha nahi jalaa” (the stove was not lit for seven days) she said. The Block Development Officer gave us a letter which directed the ration shop owner to give us our quota but he drove me away. It was on November 28. There was no food at home. My daughter was crying. I gave her some water with sugar and salt. She was looking unwell. Then we took her to a local doctor but there was nothing he could do,” Koeli Devi said, breaking down. In her thin emaciated arms, she held her infant son, her latest born.

The systematic targeting of the poor, irrespective of their caste, community or religion, has left many families shattered, and women are forced to fend for themselves and their minor children in several cases. To say that insecurities had heightened among the minorities and the poor in recent times would be an understatement.

Shaista summed it up well with restrained sadness: “ Desh ki pehchaan desh ke logon se hoti hai, desh mein insaaf hoga jab logon ke saath insaaf hoga.” (a country is recognised by the character of its people; there will be justice only if people are given justice).

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