Cow vigilantes

Tricks of a trade

Print edition : May 26, 2017

Cattle traders Aasu, Rizwan and Kamil, who were attacked by members of animal rights organisations. Photo: Divya Trivedi

Aquil Qureishi, president of the Buffalo Traders Welfare Association. Photo: Divya Trivedi

Ehtesham Hashmi, the victims' lawyer. Photo: By Special Arrangement.

Cattle traders see a nexus between cow vigilantes and animal rights organisations in Delhi, where vigilantes unleashed violence in April. In the past year, 40,000 animals seized by them were not returned to the owners, and traders believe that they were sold.

A PLANNED and brutal assault on cattle traders in Kalkaji in Delhi on April 22 by a mob of gau rakshaks (cow protectors) has brought to the fore the issue of cow vigilantism that has been rampant in the capital. Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power at the Centre in 2014, instances of violence by gau rakshaks have increased in Delhi.

However, representatives of the Buffalo Traders Welfare Association say the seizure of animals and the harassment of cattle traders by animal rights organisations go back a long way. In most cases, first information reports (FIRs) were registered and court proceedings initiated, but they never grabbed media attention. What seems to have changed in the past three years is the degree and nature of the violence against traders while transporting cattle from other States.

“Earlier the moment we reached the borders of Delhi, we would think we were safe, but not in the past few years. Incidents of our vehicles being intercepted by members of the People for Animals or the SGACC [Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre], who call themselves gau rakshaks, are brought to our notice every other day,” said Aquil Qureishi, president of the association.

The attack in Kalkaji attracted attention thanks to a video recording of the incident made by the NDTV reporter Radhika Bordia, who was passing by. As the video went viral, the police authorities were pressed into action and the media took note. In some incidents earlier, the transporters and drivers, too scared even to register a complaint, quietly slipped away.

On April 22, Rizwan, Aasu and Kamil left Pataudi village in Haryana’s Gurgaon disrrict in a truck with 13 buffaloes for Asia’s largest cattle market in Ghazipur, on the outskirts of Delhi, in Uttar Pradesh. Every day, many vehicles carrying livestock bought from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan make their way to the Ghazipur market where they are sold for various purposes, including slaughter. The transport of buffaloes, goats and sheep is not illegal under the Delhi Agricultural Cattle Preservation Act, 1994, which bans the slaughter of cows, calves, bulls and bullocks in the capital. As the men neared the Kalkaji temple in Delhi, a car screeched to a halt in front of the truck, forcing Rizwan, who was driving it, to come to a sudden stop. Some 15 to 20 men soon emerged from cars, which seemed to have arrived at the spot in a planned manner. They pulled the men out of the truck and thrashed them with sticks and iron rods.

“They even pulled down the pants of one of them to ascertain his religion,” said Ehtesham Hashmi, the lawyer for the victims. Significantly, not just Muslims but people from various other communities, such as Sikh, Rajput, Bhaat, Banjare, Jaat, Gujjar, Bheel and Bhopa, are engaged in the cattle trade.

The gau rakshaks snatched their phones, some Rs.7,000 and the receipt of the purchase of animals from Pataudi. In a written complaint to the District Commissioner of Police (DCP), South East, the victims said they were abused with disparaging words about their community and asked not to enter Delhi again. “The men who identified themselves as PFA members accused them of transporting cows for slaughter and tried to incite the public to join them in beating up the men. Had it been any other place, the chances of these men being lynched, like Pehlu Khan [a cattle trader who was beaten to death in Rajasthan’s Alwar district on April 1], would have been high,” said Ehtesham. FIRs were registered against Aasu, Rizwan and Kamil under Section 429 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960. They were taken by the police to the AIIMS Trauma Centre and then arrested. “It took us more than a day to get them out on bail,” said Ehtesham. On the contrary, the gau rakshaks were let off with mild charges under IPC Sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 341 (wrongful restraint).

Transporters of livestock are routinely stopped by vigilantes holding ID cards and even posing as the police. They not only take money from the transporters but also seize the cattle. Traders say the cattle are seldom returned to their rightful owners. In August 2015, a truck carrying buffaloes and sheep was intercepted at Chilla village in Mayur Vihar and the men who were in the truck were stoned and beaten severely. Most of the cattle were released and two animals, which were hit by stones thrown by a crowd of around 200, died. Members of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals took away the remaining cattle.

Shashank Sharma, Gaurav Gupta and Saurabh Gupta of the PFA, who are alleged to be involved in the Kalkaji attack, are not first-time offenders. Their visiting cards bear the home address of PFA chief Maneka Gandhi, who is the Union Minister for Women and Child Development. Recounting the incident, Radhika wrote in her blog: “Another man standing there said, ‘ Hum PFA ke hai, Maneka Gandhi ka group, Ashoka Road se (We are from the PFA, Maneka Gandhi’s group, from Ashoka Road).” She added: “Nothing I saw last night had to do with animals or of any cruelty against them. What I saw were bloodthirsty men who have now brought the familiar pattern of frightening cow vigilantism into the heart of Delhi and a police whose only actions were directed at the victims who have now been arrested.”

In a Facebook live video, Saurabh Gupta admitted to his involvement in the assault. He said that he and his brother Gaurav were neither named in the police complaint nor arrested as reported by the media. He also claimed that the Delhi Police had supported them in the entire matter. “My brother and I have been falsely targeted. We only saved the animals. We were not arrested at all. We made a call to the PCR [police control room] that cows were being transported. We will save buffaloes until we die. We didn’t do anything wrong, we are proud of it. I am emboldened by this whole episode. Anybody who sees buffaloes in this condition will definitely beat the traders. The Delhi Police have supported us throughout this episode. We should have been praised and given an award for this, instead we are being targeted. Only Shashank Sharma’s name is in the police complaint. I am proud of him and his mother, Vandana Sharma, who reached the spot with us. Me and my brother’s names are not there anywhere in the police complaint. We are eight to 10 people who roam the streets at night to catch the trucks. We spared the kasais [butchers] not because we have any sympathy for them but because if they died then we would be blamed,” he said in the video.

The Public Relations Officer for DCP, South East, Sarita Vihar, told Frontline : “If the MLC [medico-legal case] shows that the injuries on the Muslim traders were severe, then we have no problem registering a stricter FIR against the attackers, but at present such is not the case. In any case, if anybody is engaged in crime, we will definitely take strict action against them as per law.” He added that it was not wrong to beat up a badmaash [rogue].

Earlier complaints

A few years ago, the All India Jamiatul Quresh, a social organisation of the Quresh community of India, alerted the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) Commissioner, and the Commissioner of Police regarding the insensitivity, illegality and high-handedness of the Delhi Police when it came to dealing with cases relating to traders who brought cattle to Delhi. In a letter, they alleged that “two unauthorised entities, viz. People For Animals (PFA) and Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre (SGACC), through their officials have been acting as extraconstitutional and extra-statutory bodies, whereby they are functioning as a law unto themselves.” The organisation pointed to a nexus between animal rights organisations, gau raksha samitis and the police and urged the authorities to take corrective steps.

According to it, once the cattle were seized by the organisations, “the head of PFA and the head of SGACC, namely Ms Maneka Gandhi and her real sister Ms Ambika Shukla respectively, virtually, dictate to the local police as to how and what criminal case is to be registered and in what manner. Consequently the local police, being overawed by the status and pressure of the aforesaid sisters, frame the traders in false and non-existent criminal cases.” It goes on to state that the number of livestock was often under-reported.

Moreover, the animal rights organisations put pressure on the police to send the animals to the SGACC at Rajouri Garden rather than a government-approved infirmary. At the time of taking back the custody of the animals under the orders of a court, the SGACC apparently forced the traders to pay inflated bills for maintaining the animals. Further, at the time of delivery of the animals, the traders were sometimes told that up to 70 per cent of the animals had died. This when animals maintained by a government-run infirmary had a mortality rate of 2-3 per cent.

The courts have often pulled up the SGACC for claiming that animals seized by it had died. On July 7, 2004, the Additional Sessions Judge of the Karkardooma Court, Justice Parveen Singh, reprimanded the SGACC’s submission that almost all of the 531 sheep and goats seized by it had died shortly after reaching the SGACC. Stating that the SGACC was only a custodian of the animals on behalf of the state or their rightful owners, Parveen Singh said that the SGACC was duty-bound to inform the investigation officer or the court in case any of the animals died rather than dispose of the carcasses immediately. “I find the conduct of SGACC to be highly unsatisfactory. It is not the conduct of a person who is holding animals as a custodian/bailee on behalf of the state. The attitude in neither providing the details to the investigation officer nor to the court is not of a custodian but of a person who either considers himself an owner of these animals and thus unanswerable to anyone or the one who had something to hide,” the judge observed. Parveen Singh directed the DCP to investigate the matter.

Again, in 2009, the SGACC claimed that 291 goats in its custody had died. A court-ordered inquiry revealed that the animals were healthy and did not have any disease. It also noted that no receipt issued by the MCD regarding the death of the animals had been produced. The court took cognisance of an earlier order passed by the Court of the Metropolitan Magistrate on August 27, 2007, which said: “[A] large number of complaints are being received by the owners of seized animals wherein the main grievance is that [the] exact number of animals are not being handed over to them by SGACC on the ground that some of the animals have died. In order to maintain transparency and fairness, SGACC is directed to get the post-mortem of the animals which died during their treatment therein conducted and provide the same to their respective owners at the time of discharge of remaining animals.” The court also directed the Station House Officer (SHO) of the Badarpur police station to register an FIR against the SGACC.

In 2012, the court of Naresh Kumar Laka, Metropolitan Magistrate, Tis Hazari, questioned how 128 animals transported from Rajasthan to the Ghazipur mandi had fallen sick. The court maintained that the persons who had seized the truck were not authorised to do so. “Serious allegations are levelled against them for extortion of money and thereafter by their misappropriation by selling them in collusion with officers of SGACC,” the judge observed. He directed the SHO of the Rajouri Garden police station to register an FIR against Rajender Singh, who brought the animals to the SGACC, and some other, unknown, persons for extortion. “Keeping in view the fact that four to five persons forcibly took possession of the truck at midnight as alleged by [the] complainant and thereafter deposited the animals in the SGACC, it is highly improbable that such action has been taken by the said persons without any express or implied consent of the officers of the SGACC. Accordingly, the SHO is specifically directed to investigate the elements of nexus between Rajender Singh, his associates and the officers of the SGACC,” the court said.

In 2001, the PFA filed a civil writ petition in the Delhi High Court against the Buffalo Traders Welfare Association, the Delhi Meat Merchants Association, the Idgah Slaughter House, the MCD Commissioner and the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Justices Anil Dev Singh and R.S. Sodhi dismissed the case, which apparently was based on false evidence, and fined the PFA Rs.20,000.

A High Court order dated November 21, 2002, directed the government to appoint at least two mobile magistrates to ensure compliance with the provisions in Sections 74 to 79 of the Delhi Police Act, 1978, and Sections 34 and 35 of the PCA Act about producing animals before a magistrate. To date it has not been implemented. The Buffalo Traders Association in a letter to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in April pointed this out and named Saurabh, Gaurav, Amarjeet Saini, Dalip Suri, Tiyagi and others of the PFA and the SGACC for beating and looting cattle traders. In the past year, it said, animal rights organisations had not given back 40,000 seized animals, resulting in a loss of Rs.50 crore to the traders.

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