Cow vigilantes

Striking fear

Print edition :

Qasim, who was beaten badly by cow vigilantes, being dragged along a street in Hapur on June 18. Photo: PTI/Twitter

Family members of the victims of the attacks in Hapur addressing a press conference at the Press Club of India in New Delhi on June 22. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

Cow vigilantes lynch one man and severely injure another in Hapur in Uttar Pradesh two days before Eid, giving rise to the suspicion that there is a plan to create fear psychosis in the Muslim community at festival time.

IN early 2016, Baba Narsinghanand Saraswati formed a 15,000-strong private army called the Hindu Swabhiman Sena in western Uttar Pradesh. The Sena started with 50 training camps located in Dasna, Meerut and Muzaffarnagar where boys, girls and adults were given martial arts training. Even children as young as eight years old were trained to use lathis, pistols and guns. Saraswati said his Hindutva soldiers would rise to the occasion when the Islamic State (I.S.) attacked the area around 2020. The bogey of I.S. has been kept at bay, but cow vigilantes have struck in the region once again.

A little under three years after Mohammad Akhlaq was dragged out of his home and lynched by a mob barely a day after Eid ul Azha festivities in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, accusing him of storing beef, cow vigilantes lynched Qasim, a butcher in the Pilkhuwa region of Hapur town in western Uttar Pradesh, a couple of days after Eid ul Fitr. 

Qasim left his village on June 18 morning with Rs.60,000 on his person to purchase cattle. According to his brother Saleem, Qasim received a phone call in the morning asking him to reach the Bajhera Khurd area around 11 a.m. Meanwhile, a rumour started floating around that some cow merchants were trying to steal cows for the purpose of butchering them. A mob attacked Qasim. “They killed my brother because he was a Muslim. There could not have been any other reason,” Saleem said on the sidelines of a press conference in New Delhi.

Qasim was attacked by more than a dozen young men. He was assaulted with lathis, pushed, shoved and thrashed until he almost died. Then, even as he pleaded for water, he was abused by the young men and also young boys in the mob. Yet the lasting image of the Hapur tragedy is not of children mouthing expletives, but the policemen escorting the attackers who dragged the body of Qasim along the streets. If the 2002 post-Godhra violence was defined by the image of Ansari pleading with folded hands for life, New India’s lasting image will be of the unfortunate Qasim being dragged on the uneven road with three policemen in attendance, one seeming to clear the road ahead, one busy on his mobile phone, and the third escorting the vigilantes dutifully. The picture also shows the mobsters pulling Qasim’s hands and feet, ready to dump him into the nearest pit.

As the photograph went viral, the State police issued an apology. “Because of non-availability of an ambulance at that moment, the victim was carried in that manner. Admittedly, the policemen should have been more sensitive in their conduct,” said the Director General of Police in a press statement. The police claimed that the picture was taken a few minutes after they arrived on the scene and tried to take the victim to hospital. The three policemen seen in the photograph have been transferred.

For the police though, the photograph was merely the beginning of a controversy. Soon, there were allegations from the victim’s family that the police were trying to project a case of murder by cow vigilantes as a road rage incident although the attackers recorded their shameful deed and uploaded it online. In the video, which has been shared around 10,000 times, the assailants are seen attacking Qasim, abusing him and calling him a cow killer. 

A Jamaat-e-Islami Hind delegation, comprising its secretary general Saleem Engineer and its former general secretary Nusrat Ali, and members of the United Against Hate outfit met the Superintendent of Police and found that there was no mention of lynching in the name of the cow in the first information report (FIR). The Pilkhuwa Kotwali police registered a case under Sections 147, 148, 307 and 302 of the Indian Penal Code. The police claimed that there was no complaint of lynching in the name of the cow by the family members of Qasim, an allegation Saleem and Qasim’s son Mahtab dispute.

Mercilessly beaten

“My father was mercilessly beaten to death in the courtyard of a local resident of Bajhera and his body was dumped in a field. When he started from home in the morning, he told me he was going to purchase a buffalo or some goats. He had Rs.60,000 with him. On his body, there was only Rs.14,000 or so left,” said Mahtab, adding that the family got a call to come to the police station to see Qasim who, however, had already passed away. Qasim, a father of six, was the sole breadwinner of his family. “We got a call around 3:30 p.m. and went to the police station, but he was not there. Then we went to the hospital. He had passed away. There were marks of severe thrashing on his body, marks of batons, knives, sickles.”

Samiuddin, who witnessed the thrashing of Qasim from a nearby field where he was gathering fodder and rushed to intervene, was also beaten. The mobsters had by then gathered some 30 men from the vicinity. Samiuddin was admitted to a private hospital with bleeding injuries. “The mob chased us, They tied our feet and dragged us across Bajhera village. I was subjected to assault and I fainted,” he recalled later.

According to Samiuddin’s daughters Zahida and Shahida, he had gone to gather fodder in the morning. But they learnt later that he had been assaulted and was admitted to hospital. “We did not know which hospital, so we ran from one place to another. Finally, we found him in a serious condition, bleeding profusely in a hospital. He was assaulted by cow vigilantes even though there was no signs of possession of cattle, dead or alive, in the vicinity.” The injured man’s brother, Mehruddin, said the family was asked to sign on an FIR before the police revealed the whereabouts of Samiuddin. The family disputed the police contention that he was a victim of a road rage incident, and raised questions about the presence of an ink mark on his thumb. The family asserted that Samiuddin’s thumb impression was probably taken when he was unconscious to lend credence to the police claim that there was a road accident, which led to the rising of tempers and a subsequent assault on the two men. 

The family’s claim of a conspiracy to assault Samiuddin was bolstered by a video in which he is shown being assaulted by a group of men, who question him about the cow and make filthy allegations around the subject. Samiuddin is threatened with dire consequences and is shown bleeding.

Incidentally, residents of Samiuddin’s village alleged that there was an announcement from a Devi temple that cow killers had been apprehended and people should gather at the temple. A similar announcement was made from a temple after the lynching of Akhlaq. 

After visiting the families of the affected, Engineer said: “It reminded us of Dadri clearly. Like in the Dadri case, here too some people announced from a temple that some cattle smugglers were in the village, went on to nab Qasim, and then attacked Samiuddin. The flow of events makes us believe that it was a pre-planned attack and not a spontaneous act of a few head-strong men.”

The State police denied any knowledge of an announcement made from the temple.

A relative of Samiuddin said: “Akhlaq was killed soon after Bakrid. Last year, 17-year-old Junaid Khan was lynched on a local train at Ballabgarh near Delhi when he was returning from Eid shopping. Qasim and Samiuddin were lynched two days after Eid. There is a conspiracy to create fear psychosis in the community during festivals.”

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