Print edition : October 14, 2016

Mewat youth on the Nuh-Alwar highway protesting against Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar's remarks on the double murder and gang rape. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Survivors of the murderous attack at Dingerheri village in Mewat district. Photo: T.K. RAJALAKSHMI

A victim of police excesses at Raghunathgarh village in Alwar in Rajasthan. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

Village elders at Raghunathgarh following the police raid after Id. Photo: T.K. RAJALAKSHMI

A house reduced to rubble in Raghunathgarh village. An earth mover was used to bring down the newly constructed porch. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

Murder, gang rape, and vandalism in the name of cow protection are changing the face of the Mewat region in Haryana and the future of its predominant inhabitants, the Meo community.

AT Dingerheri village in Tauru tehsil of Mewat district in Haryana, Ibrahim, a landless peasant, retired for the day along with his family on August 24. The night was quite warm. Ibrahim and his wife Rasheeda, and his cousin Zafruddin and his wife Ayesha slept on cots placed outside his single-room dwelling. The children, including his two nieces Sameena (name changed) and Safiya (name changed), slept inside.

But Ibrahim and Rasheeda did not live to see the sunrise of August 25. They were set upon with unimaginable rage after midnight. The attackers tied up their hands before raining blows on them. Ayesha lay unconscious with a deep gash on her face while Zafruddin lay comatose in a government hospital. The head of the family, Zoor-ud-din, escaped with his life as he had spent the night in the fields three kilometres away.

The attack lasted for three hours from midnight. Ibrahim’s nieces, one of them a minor, were dragged out of the house and gang-raped.

“I heard the screams of my uncle and aunt. I heard loud threatening voices asking me to open the door. There were five or more of them. One of them had a shovel in his hand. My 12-year-old cousin Naved was hit and he ran towards me. They asked me about my husband. I said he would be coming for Id. They said, ‘so you will eat cow meat’. I said no. They said, ‘We will celebrate Id for you.’ I tried to run; they said they would kill my eight-month-old son. Then they started beating us, asked us for money and jewellery. There was nothing to steal. Then they dragged us to my uncle’s house which was close by, and made us remove our clothes and four of them raped us. Our throats were dry due to the crying and beating. They kicked me on my private parts. My stomach was hurting. We asked for water, they gave us urine to drink. I heard one of them tell someone on the phone that they had killed four people,” Sameena told Frontline.

The mayhem came to light after daybreak when children in the neighbourhood, who noticed buffaloes mooing and getting restless, rushed to see what had happened. They then informed Zoor-ud-din.

More trauma awaited the girls as they were taken to the police post in Tauru and made to wait there. Their medical reports, available with Frontline, appeared to have been prepared casually. They gave vague indications of sexual assault but not of a grievous nature. The same doctor was shown to have done the medical examination on the two girls at the same time. In fact, the details of injuries on external body parts, barring the genitalia, appeared to have been done to overrule rape, a senior government officer told Frontline requesting anonymity. The medical report of the minor showed her age as 16 when her school leaving certificate indicated she was 14.

Ayesha, who survived the attack with 17 stitches on her head, told Frontline that the attackers threw water on her face and pressed her neck to see if she was alive. “I stopped breathing. My arm was broken. They raped my daughter Safiya and hit my sons Naved and Parvez,” she said.

Four persons were arrested in connection with the incident, of whom three belonged to the neighbouring village of Mohammadpur and were cow protection volunteers. Two of them had Facebook screenshots, one of which contained a communal message and the other described himself as a volunteer of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). But Mohammadpur has rallied behind the accused demanding their release. The Bar Association of Nuh has demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the matter as they feel the State police are not taking the matter seriously.

“The police filed a case of trespass against the accused. We raised a hue and a cry to get the relevant sections, such as dacoity, murder, attempt to murder, and rape, added to it,” he said. It was clear that the murder, and rape were not random incidents. It was not burglary as the family was too poor to horde any wealth. Interestingly, the region has recorded the lowest crime rate in the State. Was this a deliberate attempt to stir trouble in an area where people lived peacefully albeit with pathetically limited means?

Rao Inderjit Singh, a Minister in the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre and the Lok Sabha member representing the region, has not reacted to the attack. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s remarks trivialising the rape and murder evoked huge protests in the region on September 20.

Under communal radar?

The Meo community inhabits the area along the Aravalli range from Nuh in Haryana to Alwar and Bharatpur in Rajasthan. Meos were described by British administrators-cum-ethnographers as predatory and criminal social groups. (Suraj Bhan Bharadwaj, Contestations and Accommodations: Mewat and Meos and Mughal India, OUP, 2016.) Bharadwaj writes that being in the vicinity of Delhi and Agra, Mewat was within the reach of the Sultans of Delhi. It was a strategic location in that sense. Are the present-day “sultans” of Delhi targeting Mewat for a particular reason?

Indications are that three incidents in quick succession—the double murder and gang rape before Bakrid and before that the infamous “Biryani tasting” episode by the Haryana Police at food stalls along the highway and the vandalising and looting of more than three dozen homes in Raghunathgarh village in Alwar district of Rajasthan, which is again dominated by Meos—are not a coincidence. It was not long ago that two youths accused of smuggling beef were beaten and made to eat cow dung by cow vigilantes in the region ( Frontline, September 2). A few days before Id, the police, in an early morning raid, ostensibly acting on the orders of Bhani Ram Mangla, chairman of the Haryana Gau Sewa Aayog, swooped down on the food stalls along the Delhi-Gurgaon-Alwar highway and collected “biryani” samples from at least two dozen stalls. They were not accompanied by any food inspectors. The raid created panic.

Ausaaf Khan, a resident of Ferozepur Jhirka tehsil, said: “They destroyed the livelihoods of people here. Around hundred families or so made a living by selling the biryani to daily wage workers and truck drivers at subsidised rates. The cow is an excuse. They want to hurt us economically. The stalls have vanished.” The 100-odd kiosks from Sohna in Gurgaon to Ferozepur Jhirka had all but vanished.

A senior officer with the State administration told Frontline that once the meat was cooked, it was difficult to make out which animal it was from. Further, if it was adulterated, only a food inspector was qualified to take samples and if there was suspicion that the rice contained beef, then a first information report (FIR) could be registered but the police have no mandate to collect samples on their own. “A police officer has to be accompanied by a civil officer to collect samples,” he said. It was well known that Mangla, the chairperson of the cow commission, belonged to Punhana in Mewat and had been taking a special interest in “cow politics” in the region for quite some time. His appointment as the chairperson of the Gau Sewa Aayog was not without reason.

When questions were raised about the police raids, the Chief Minister said they were unauthorised. “It is just posturing,” said Yunus Khan, an advocate, adding that the biryani episode had been deliberately created to deflect attention from and public outrage against the murder and gang rape at Dingerheri.

Khattar aggravated matters by stating at a press conference that the rape and murder were small issues. On September 20, the entire stretch of the national highway at Nuh tehsil was blocked for hours by angry youngsters who demanded an apology from the Chief Minister.

Significantly, among political parties, only the State unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) protested against the Chief Minister’s statement. Expressing concern over the developments in Mewat, former State secretary Inderjit Singh pointed out that communal incidents in the region were unheard of. He recalled that when the Babri Masjid was brought down, a delegation from his party visited Mewat to see if all was well and found that the people were the least bothered.

Noor Mohammad, a former president of the Nuh Bar Association and district president of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), told Frontline that Mewat was a standing example of syncretic culture in Haryana.

Protectors turn aggressors

Communal targeting continued along the highway and spilled into a hamlet near Raghunathgarh village in Alwar in the Mewat region of Rajasthan. The day after Id, on September 14, the police conducted a raid late in the night on suspicion of cow slaughter. They continued the raid the next morning, with the discovery of allegedly 36 cow carcasses. According to villagers, the police were accompanied by local Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal activists. No one was spared, not even women who held infants in their arms. As the men ran into the nearby fields, the women and children were manhandled and household items were looted or destroyed. Nearly three dozen homes were broken into. Frontline visited the place on September 18 and found highly traumatised and scared womenfolk. Some of them showed their bruises. The police untethered the livestock. The hamlet’s only source of drinking water, a borewell, was damaged. “They deprived both animals and human beings of water,” said Sharifa, whose shop was looted.

The police claimed that they received information that cows had been sacrificed on Id and were buried. Local people pointed out that this was laughable as it was customary to distribute the meat of the sacrificed animal and not bury it. They said the police were accompanied by some people wearing T-shirts and shorts. “They abused us, beat us with their rifle butts and took away our menfolk. We were beaten as we tried to reason with them,” said 70-year-old Rahiman, who walked with a limp after being hit in the back. The homes targeted were in Rewarabas, a hamlet within Raghunathgarh village. Twenty-two persons were named in the FIR, of whom only five were from this particular hamlet. Twelve persons were arrested, some of whom were picked up randomly.

According to an eyewitness who did not want to be identified, BJP legislator Gyan Dev Ahuja reached the spot the very same day followed by Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal activists on motorcycles. The same activists forced a shutdown of the Raghunathgarh bazaar for two days. District Collector Muktanand Aggarwal told Frontline that the Superintendent of Police had set up an inquiry into the events following a complaint. He said if the inquiry proved there were excesses, action would be taken. He said the police had denied any role in the vandalism.

The residents were afraid to file an FIR against the police. They said they feared getting locked up if they ventured near the police station at Nugawa. “If we complain against them, they will come upon us with fury,” said an eyewitness. A member of the majority community said police raids were frequent in the village but this kind of vandalism was new. “They pick up people regularly—they do not need any excuse. People here are simple and poor. And now they are scared as well,” he said.

Shahid Khan, perhaps the only educated Meo in the village and who worked in Delhi, said the investigation had to be impartial. Innocent people and the main breadwinners of the families had been arrested, he said, and feared things would never be the same again in Raghunathgarh.

History has it that Hasan Khan Mewati, a legendary figure, had taken on Babar in order to restore the Delhi Sultanate to the Lodi dynasty. Meos were the last to convert to Islam and they still swear by the folklore loyalty of their ancestor. They are angry today that sections in the media and certain political leaders lampoon Mewat as a “mini-Pakistan”.

There is a saying in Haryana, “Mev ka kya Mussalman; Jat ka kya Hindu”, which means that neither the Jat nor the Meo has any distinct religious identity. It is feared that not only the adage but the region might witness a mega transformation if incidents aimed at polarising communities are allowed to continue.