The nightmare of hatred that is haunting India just does not end. In the latest outrage, with many echoes of the lynching of cattle farmer Pehlu Khan in April this year, three Meo Muslim dairy farmers transporting dairy cattle were attacked by mobs and bullets on the border of Rajasthan and Haryana.
The incident took place On November 10, in Fahari village near Govindh Gadh in Alwar district of Rajasthan. Dairy farmer Umar Khan was a resident of Ghatmatika Pahadi, near Pahadi Kaman in Raigarh. He was returning after buying milch cattle from the cattle market in Ramgarh. It appears that the mob blocked the pickup van, punctured the tyres, and fell upon the three men. The mob not just brutally assaulted the men, they also shot at them.
One of the men, 35 year old Umar Khan died. His body was found on a railway track 15 kilometres distant, his head and arm severed from his body, presumably to try to portray the incident as a railway accident and to destroy evidence. But the ravaging of the body by the train could not still obliterate the wounds showing the entry and exit of the bullet. The second man Tahir is battling for his life in a private hospital. The third Jawed managed to escape with less serious injuries.
Relatives of the man who was gunned down allege that the police was present but did nothing to protect the victims. The response of the Rajasthan state administration follows the same pattern as in earlier vigilante mob attacks in the state. The Home Minister does not express any regret, instead justifies the continued attacks as the result of ‘shortage of manpower’ in the police force. The Rajasthan police with alacrity registers criminal charges against the victims, dubbing them ‘cow smugglers’, and charging them under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter) Act.
It is important to underline that it is only transporting of cattle for slaughter that is prohibited by the law in Rajasthan. Transporting animals for dairying does not break any law.
In the pickup vans of both Pehlu Khan and Umar Khan there were milch animals and calves. It is only ageing and scrub cattle that do not yield milk which are slaughtered. A cow at best can be sold for slaughter, I am told, for around six or seven thousand rupees. The milch cows that both Pehlu Khan and Umar Khan were transporting were indisputably worth several times this price.
Therefore there is no reason for the police to presume that these animals were being transported for slaughter. It was clear that they were breaking no law of the land, only pursuing their family vocation to earn an honest income to feed their families. Yet the Rajasthan police insists on criminalising the victims.
In these many ways this incident is a reprisal of the attack on another dairy farmer Pehlu Khan, his sons and other villagers, in April this year. The only notable and worrying difference is the use of firearms by the lynch mobs. But we witness the impunity with which mobs that claim to be ‘gau rakshaks’ or cow protectors attack, lynch and kill, assured of the protection of the state administration. And the same determination of the police to treat the victims of these lynch attacks as criminals.
In the journey of the Karwane Mohabbat which travelled through eight states, beginning with Assam, passing through Jharkhand, coastal Karnataka, Delhi, UP, Haryana, Rajasthan and concluding in Gujarat, we found that such hate attacks have become commonplace across large parts of the country. Only a few, when they occur close to Delhi and human rights activists draw public attention to these, register in the national consciousness. But I am convinced that the numbers run into several hundred, possibly thousands, and with my colleagues we are trying to muster the evidence for this claim.
In Odisha recently, I was told by a group of activists that barely a week passes without reports in local papers of attacks by vigilante mobs on cattle transporters. These attacks in Odisha typically end in serious injuries, not deaths, and there is little public outrage against these. Instead even the local Youth Congress and youth wings of the Biju Janata Dal claim proudly to have violently protected cows from slaughter.
Lynch attacks by cow vigilante mobs encouraged openly or tacitly by the police have become the new normal across many parts of India. As I have observed elsewhere, India is fast transforming into a republic of hate. These demons of hate, encouraged by the words and the strategic silences of senior leaders of the national and state governments, are tearing apart India’s social fabric.
An old Meo Muslim cattle farmer said to me in anguish, ‘Why don’t they just pass a law that Muslims can no longer rear cows?’
[Harsh Mander, a former IAS officer, is an activist, who works with survivors of mass violence and hunger, as well as homeless persons and street children He is the Director of the Centre for Equity Studies.]