Alwar lynching

Lynch mob again

Print edition :

xzxzvzvzdvzdv Photo: T.K. RAJALAKSHMI

Another Meo Muslim dairy farmer is beaten up in Alwar, Rajasthan, on suspicion of cow smuggling even as the Supreme Court calls for a separate law to punish lynching.

THREE days after a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra recommended that Parliament draft and enact a separate law to punish lynching, another murderous attack took place on a small-time dairy farmer in Ramgarh in Alwar district of Rajasthan in the intervening night of July 20-21.

Rakbar Khan was returning to Kolgaon village in Firozepur Jhirka tehsil in Nuh district (part of Mewat region) of Haryana after purchasing two milch cows and two calves from a farmer in Ramgarh tehsil. Aslam, a 23-year-old daily-wage worker, accompanied Rakbar. The two men started from Ramgarh late in the night on foot and hoped to reach their village in the morning, covering a distance of 20 kilometres. Somewhere near a forested area, a biker coming in the opposite direction distracted the animals, whereupon the cows bolted into the adjoining cotton fields. Rakbar directed Aslam to keep a watch on the calves as he ran after the cows.

According to the first information report (FIR) filed by the Rajasthan police, Assistant Sub Inspector Mohan Singh (now suspended) received a call from one Nawal Kishore informing him that some “cow smugglers” were taking cows towards Haryana. A police patrol team left for the said area (Lalwandi village) and upon reaching there found two men in possession of two cows and a man, identified by the police as Rakbar, lying on the ground covered in mud. Rakbar told the police that the attackers set upon him when he was taking the cows he had purchased in Ramgarh to his village. He also told the police that they beat him up, suspecting him and his assistant of being cow smugglers. Aslam had managed to escape the scene.

The FIR stated that Rakbar fainted after giving his initial statement whereupon the police took him in their jeep to the Ramgarh Community Health Centre (CHC), where he was declared dead on arrival. The FIR noted that the police despatched the cows to a nearby gaushala (cow protection centre).

Rakbar’s wife lying unconscious at her home at Kolgaon village in Haryana, with her seven children by her side.   -  T.K.Rajalakshmi

At this juncture events turned murky as leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) began propagating the story that Rakbar died due to police negligence and delay in timely treatment. The distance from the site of the incident and the CHC was a mere 4 km. Mohan Singh told Frontline at the Firozepur Jhirka police station that he took Rakbar to the CHC at 3:30 a.m. (the entry in the CHC register corroborates this). This was also reported in sections of the media. The police later admitted negligence and an error of judgment. But there was a suspicion that the police also had thrashed Rakbar.

High-level probe

The Rajsthan government set up a high-level probe, under the supervision of the Special Director General of Police, to go into the allegation of custodial death. According to the post-mortem report, Rakbar died of shock from more than a dozen ante-mortem injuries. Three policemen, including Mohan Singh, were suspended for the delay in providing medical treatment and three persons were booked for the assault on Rakbar.

(After facing severe criticism in Parliament from the opposition parties on the growing mob violence and lynching in the country, the National Democratic Alliance government on July 23 constituted two high-level committees—a committee headed by the Union Home Secretary and a group of Ministers headed by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh—to suggest measures to address the situation.)

Aslam’s statement

Aslam, who had accompanied Rakbar to Ramgarh.   -  T.K.Rajalakshmi

Aslam, the lone witness to the communal attack, gave a detailed statement the next day. It was only after he reached his village after running all night that he heard that Rakbar was no more. As news of the incident spread, anger spilled out on the roads of Mewat. Agitated Meo Muslims blockaded the road.

Aslam told Frontline that six or seven men were lying in wait in the fields. “They fired in the air to scare us. The animals ran into the fields and we tried to retrieve them. But the men began to attack us. Two of them held me and the rest were beating up Rakbar. One of them said, ‘Dharmendra, break his legs’, ‘Vijay, break his legs’. When one of them said he would die from the beating, others responded by saying that the MLA was ‘their man’ and would protect them. I escaped when the two men who were holding me joined the rest to beat up Rakbar. I kept running not knowing where I was heading. I reached Kolgaon at 10 a.m. by which time news of Rakbar’s death had reached his family. I had no mobile phone, and could not inform anyone about what had happened,” he said.

Aslam, a daily-wage labourer in a brick kiln, agreed to assist Rakbar in herding the animals as kiln work is suspended during monsoon months. He was promised a sum in return for his assistance. “They were 15-day-old calves. Rakbar had taken Rs.50,000 with him. We bought the cows and the calves with that money from a Meo and hoped to reach home by early morning,” he said.

Distraught father

Rakbar sold milk for a living. He owned some cows and buffaloes. He is survived by his wife and seven children; his eldest a daughter is 12 years old and the youngest is a year old. In his dying declaration, he told the police what had happened and gave details of his family.

The police inspecting the site near Lalawandi village where Rabkar Kahn was lynched on July 20-21.   -  ANI

“I received a call at 7 a.m. on July 21 and was told that my son was admitted to a hospital in Ramgarh. They did not tell me that he was dead. He had gone to buy milch cows. We have been in the dairy line for generations. It is our source of income. The intention of the attackers was to rob my son of the cows. Rakbar was one of my three sons. The MLA is responsible for this, he incites people,” Rakbar’s father, Suleiman, said.

Small dairy farmers such as Rakbar cannot afford to buy buffaloes. A female buffalo can cost anywhere between Rs.25,000 and Rs.1 lakh. A milch cow can be purchased for Rs.15,000.

“How am I going to look after these children,” wailed Asmeena, Rakbar’s 28-year-old wife. The women of the village said no work of any kind was available in the area and that was one reason people depended heavily on livestock rearing.

Cow vigilantism in Alwar is not new. Pehlu Khan, another Meo Muslim and dairy farmer from Haryana, was beaten to death on the Behror highway in 2017. Umar Khan, a Meo Muslim from Bharatpur district, was waylaid by cow vigilantes in November 2017 and his body was found on the railway track near Ramgarh. Later two cow vigilantes confessed to killing him.

Situated a few kilometres from the Haryana border, Ramgarh is particularly notorious for cattle vigilantism and harassment of Meo Muslims. The nearest village across the border is Naogaon where Meos go often to buy their provisions. Harassment was a routine affair, they said. “Gau rakshaks and sometimes even the police regularly stop all vehicles carrying animals, be they goats, sheep or buffaloes, and harass us,” Suleiman said.

Rajasthan police with the three persons arrested in connection with the lynching of Rakbar.   -  by special arrangement

Of the five persons named in the murderous attack on Rakbar, three have been arrested. The police informant, an activist of a Hindu outfit who reported the incident to the police, has been let off. Two persons were picked up on the spot as they were found in possession of the cows.

Gyan Dev Ahuja, the BJP MLA from Ramgarh, has never been apologetic about his zeal to protect cows. In a video interview to Aaj Tak television channel soon after Rakbar’s death, he said it was incorrect to say that Rakbar was beaten to death. The Mewat area and borders of Haryana, he claimed, were famous for the smuggling of cows for slaughter. He blamed the police and the local administration for the incident and said he had repeatedly told his “activists”, or karyakartas, not to beat up such smugglers but hand them over to the police. In Rakbar’s case, too, he said his “activists” informed him that they had surrounded the “cow smugglers”, roughed them up a little, but were not responsible for his death. He died in police custody. He appreciated the efforts of the State Home Minister to set up two cow protection check posts.

Regular harassment

Hiralal, ex-sarpanch of Kolgaon, told Frontline that the allegations of cow slaughter were baseless. A Dalit, he said that in almost each of the 400 Meo homes in his village, milch cows and buffaloes were reared. “They establish a bond with the animal. The milk is supplied to dairies and sweet shops. They don’t slaughter the animal whose milk has fed the family. Vehicles are stopped regularly on the pretext of checking and the police take money,” he said

“Even if we transport fodder, we have to pay bribes,” said a Meo Muslim of Kolgaon. Meo men are picked up at the slightest pretext. Abdul Majeed, a former sarpanch, said his brother was picked up in Alwar when he had gone there to buy bajra seeds. “There have been 10 cases in Rajasthan alone of people being killed on the charge of cow smuggling,” he said. As livestock rearing was more often than not the single source of income for small and medium farmers, it was essential to purchase milch animals at regular intervals, he said.

After Pehlu Khan’s murder and the restrictions placed on the sale and transport of animals across State borders, dairy farmers in Mewat are finding it difficult to sustain their livelihoods. Pehlu Khan, who had purchased livestock from a cattle fair in Jaipur, was waylaid and beaten to death during daytime. “It is impossible to purchase animals and transport them in the daytime. The police and cow protectors constantly harass us,” said Wajib Khan, a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) member. He said there was sufficient reason to believe that the ruling parties of certain governments were supporting cow vigilantes. He said they had seen pictures of Union Minister Jayant Sinha garlanding cow vigilantes who were released on bail in Jharkhand.

Livestock rearing is the main occupation in Mewat.   -  T.K. Rajalakshmi

The general public perception is that the Mewat region is a land of beef eaters and cattle smugglers. The region covers the districts inhabited by Meos in parts of Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. Mainly agriculturists and livestock farmers, Meo Muslims consider themselves a distinct community. They take pride in their history, which finds reference in the Baburnama, and their distinct language, Mewati.

Just a day after the lynching of Rakbar, a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) functionary, Indresh Kumar, at a press meeting after the inauguration of the Hindu Jagran Manch in Ranchi, Jharkhand, said mob lynching would stop if people stopped eating beef.

Kamran Ali, a young Meo who was training to be a junior basic teacher, said he was scared of venturing outside Meo-dominated areas as people from other denominations viewed them with suspicion. “Even if we move in groups, they will beat us up,” he said, referring to the murder of Junaid Khan, the 16-year-old boy from Haryana on a Delhi-Mathura train before Ramzan in 2017.

“They call us beef eaters. The present nature of politics has ensured our permanent stereotyping as cow smugglers and slaughterers,” he said, adding that of the 22 districts in Haryana, the maximum number of livestock owners were in Mewat. “We are the real gau rakshaks. We feed our cows, take care of them. We don’t abandon them when they cease to be of use to us,” he said.

It was interesting to see nomadic herders from Rajasthan moving freely with their livestock through Nuh district. The livestock also entered the fields and grazed on the land owned by Meos. “We are a gentle people. We marry within our community and keep to ourselves. Herders from Rajasthan bring their livestock here during the monsoon months. They know we are also livestock owners and farmers. Their animals graze here. The nomads move around freely with the confidence that no harm will come to them,” said Salim Khan, a Meo Muslim who works with a non-governmental organisation in Delhi. He said as education levels in the region were low and employment opportunities were absent, Meos were engaged in agricultural operations and livestock rearing or worked as drivers in the transport sector. With livestock rearing facing new challenges such as cattle vigilantism and agriculture becoming less remunerative, Meo youths have taken to driving. But even this form of employment had its share of problems as getting new driving licences or old ones renewed is difficult.

“They make us run around or keep us waiting for months. Finally, we give up. Besides, if a driver from our community gets involved even in a minor accident, he will be beaten up for sure,” Zakir Hussain, the nambardar of Kolgaon, said. He said the lynching incidents were aimed at inciting the Meo population.

Whether Rakbar died in custody or not is a matter under probe. The undeniable fact is that he was beaten up by a communally charged mob for no apparent reason save for the fact that he was a Meo Muslim who was found in the possession of some milch animals. The nexus between the police and cow vigilantes should ideally be a matter of inquiry. The legitimacy given to cow protection check posts by the Rajasthan Home Ministry is a matter of concern as there is enough evidence to show that the authorities are mainly deployed to harass innocent people or extort money. Statements by elected representatives in Rajasthan exposed the deep-rooted nature of the malaise. While Gyan Dev Ahuja has been unapologetic about the activities of cow vigilantes, Jaswant Singh Yadav, Behror MLA and a Minister in the State Cabinet, appealed to Muslims to understand the “sentiments of Hindus”.

Surinder Singh, Haryana State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who was among the first to arrive at Ferozepur Jhirka and Kolgaon village after the incident with a delegation, told Frontline that it was common knowledge that innocent farmers and livestock owners from Mewat were routinely harassed as soon as they entered Alwar. “They are terrified and are asking whether they have a right to rear animals or not. Political patronage to these cow vigilante groups is a worrying aspect. The nexus between such groups, the police, local politicians and the administration, has to be inquired into,” he said.

Rajasthan is the only State to have a dedicated department for cow welfare and protection. The Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act proscribes the transport of cattle for agriculture and dairy purposes outside the State without a permit. The process of buying livestock has thus been made cumbersome for livestock owners. In 2015, an amendment to the Act included camels also on the list and it affected the livelihood of camel herders. In 2017, the killings of Pehlu Khan and Junaid Khan were thought to be isolated incidents, but as reports of Muslims being targeted began to come from West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh as well, it became evident that there was a pattern.

According to IndiaSpend, a data journalism portal, more than 80 per cent of the victims of all cow-related violence are Muslims and more than 52 per cent of such violence was reported from BJP-ruled States.

The Supreme Court in its July 17 judgment by Chief Justice Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, held that a special law “would instil a sense of fear” in the perpetrators. The bench held that the law and order machinery in the States had the “principal obligation to see that vigilantism, be it cow vigilantism or any other vigilantism of any perception, does not take place” and that the “process of adjudication takes place within the hallowed precincts of the courts of justice and not on the streets”. The judgment came in the context of a series of writ petitions filed against rising cow vigilantism. The court held that “there cannot be an investigation, trial and punishment of any nature on the streets.” (In a previous hearing of the case, the court had classified lynching as “mob violence”.)

Yet, what seems to be happening is exactly the opposite with even senior Ministers indulging in competitive semantics.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor