2017: The year of lynchings

2017: The year of lynchings

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A protest in Delhi organised against cow vigilantism.
A protest in Delhi against cow vigilantism in India.

The violent activism of self-styled ‘cow protectors’, who call themselves ‘Gau rakshaks’, involves thrashing, harassing and lynching people — anytime, anywhere. And with the rise of violent cow vigilantism, ‘gau’ (cow) is now more important than humans in this country. Lynching incidents have happened in the country for the last few years, and have even led our Prime Minister to theatrically shed tears over the killings and condemn them. But, the gau rakshaks remain undeterred.

In recent years, incidents of brutal lynchings in the name of cow protectionism have become common place

  • On 28 September 2015, fifty-two-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq and his son Danish were attacked inside their house by a mob. The two, accused of slaughtering a cow and consuming beef, were beaten with bricks and bamboos. While Danish survived, his father succumbed to his injuries. The lynching made headlines due to being communal in nature.
  • On 11 October 2015, Zahid Rasool Bhat, the sixteen-year-old conductor of a truck on route to Kashmir was attacked by a mob with petrol bombs on the Jammu-Srinagar Highway. The truck, on its way to Jammu was standing still near Shiv Nagar area as traffic was stopped in view of the day-long strike called by various Hindu outfits after three carcasses of cows were found. Bhat suffered severe burn injuries following the attack. He was brought to Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, where he succumbed to burn injuries on the intervening night of October 17 and 18.
  • On 1 April 2017, Pehlu Khan, a Muslim dairy farmer, was accused of smuggling cattle and was lynched by mob on the national highway in Rajasthan’s Alwar district.
  • On 22 June 2017 Mohammad Junaid Khan, fifteen, was lynched and three others attacked when they were on their way home from Delhi after shopping for Eid during Ramzan. Junaid was stabbed to death and the others injured. The four men were thrown off the train when it pulled into a station at Asaoti, barely twenty kilometres from Delhi.
  • On 22 June 2017, in Nowhatta town of Srinagar, fifty-seven-year-old Deputy Superintendent of Police of Jammu and Kashmir, Mohammed Ayub Pandit, was lynched by a mob inside Srinagar’s Jamia Mosque. The mob behind his lynching was reportedly chanting the name of secessionist militant Zakir Musa while assaulting him. According to J&K Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, Pandit had asked his men to go home for Shab-e-Qadr prayers and volunteered to report for duty.
  • On 29 June 2017, forty-year-old meat trader Mohammed Allimuddin Ansari was lynched by a massive mob on a suspicion that he was carrying beef in his vehicle in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand. Pictures which later emerged showed his bloodied body, meat pieces on the road and his burning vehicle.

After witnessing several cases of lynchings and killings in the name of cow, the nation finally decided to take notice, particularly after the deaths of Pehlu Khan and Junaid Khan. Pehlu Khan’s death at the hands of cow vigilantes in Rajasthan occurred with the complicity of the crowd which was seen celebrating his execution. It was even captured on camera, and subsequently watched by millions on social media, but no one came forward to help. Equally chilling was the muted response that followed the killing of Junaid who was stabbed till he bled to death, in the lap of his brother, barely a few days before Eid.

Those who are fighting against the injustice want to name 2017 as ‘the lynching year’.

“This year has been marked by the most gruesome lynchings. Be it Pehlu Khan, Junaid Khan, Allimuddin Ansari or Ayub Pandit, their deaths raise an alarm. An alarm we all must pay attention to”, says Shahzad Poonawala, a social activist and Delhi based lawyer who along with several others is now fighting to bring Manav Suraksha Kanoon (masuka) into existence, to instil a sense of fear in cow activists who are fearlessly taking law in to their hands.

2017 was also the year when, perhaps for the first time, citizens across the country united and marched on streets against mob murders, just like they had come together and had taken to the streets after the Delhi gang rape of 2012, that became famous as the Nirbhaya case.

On cow vigilantism, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, said that “no one should take law into his or her hands.” However, he added that one cannot generalise and paint the image of gau rakshaks as negative and that they are doing “great work” on the ground.

Similarly, firebrand Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader, Praveen Togadia, suggested that gau rakshaks be given arms to help them perform better.

At the centre of this senseless violence is the cow, and those who are out on the streets to protect the cow are hardly bothered about anything else in the world, be it conscience.

“Cow is our mother. What is wrong if we are out to protect our mother?” asks Khemchand, national president of the gau raksha wing of the VHP.

Khemchand, who sits in New Delhi, told The KashmirWalla that gau rakshaks are not random groups of people who are simply lynching anyone, for no reason. Instead, they are Hindus with a kind heart and abundant love, especially for cows, and have been selected only after viewing their performances on the ground.

“There is actually nothing random about them at all. Our gau rakshaks have identity cards. They are known to the police and even the cops approach them for help at various places,” said Khemchand who urged people to refrain from misjudging miscreants as gau rakshaks.

As per the VHP’s gau raksha wing’s data, there are almost 4,500 gau rakshaks working in 400 districts of India. The country, in all, has 21 leaders who are divided in groups. The heads of 12 zones are different people who look after the work in Tamil Nadu, Bangalore, Mumbai, Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh), Jaipur (Rajasthan), Guwahati (North East), Lucknow, Meerut zone (Agra, Meerut, Uttarakhand), Indraprastha (Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Himanchal), Jammu and Kashmir.

Speaking on what the prime task of gau rakshaks is and how they spot cattle being smuggled, Satendra Baruah, district head of gau raksha wing in Agra, shared some details.

Describing how the network of gau rakshaks is better than that of the police, Baruah said, “when a truck with ‘suspicious animals’ enters any city, owners of shops located around the highway send out a message, either through messenger or on local whatsapp groups, with details about the vehicle. This is when our task starts and we act within seconds. From chalking out a route plan to calling volunteers, all must be done within minutes and then the gau rakshaks chase the truck down on bikes. Few of them set up obstructions on the road and help their counterparts.”

‘It is not as easy as it seems. We are unarmed, while the smugglers have pistols, knives and what not,” he added.

At times the police provide assistance to the gau rakshaks, and at times, the gau rakshaks assist the police. “I still remember when we were praised publically by the Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) of Agra when we helped the police in saving a truck full of bovines and pacifying angry villagers who were all set to create a ruckus at the police post. We managed the crowd, sent the cows to a gau shala and saved the police,” Baruah said with a proud smile on his face.

So, is the violence ok? Khemchand claimed that most of the gau rakshaks denounce violence as a method to protect cows, but that sometimes it is required.

“Media often mistakes miscreants as gau rakshaks. Like what happened with Junaid. Did gau rakshaks kill him?” he asked, adding that his volunteers believe in protecting the cow without harming the smugglers. As per the VHP’s rules, the volunteers must handover cattle smugglers to the police.

The VHP also claims that gau rakshaks are creating awareness among the masses to protect the cow. But how is this being done on the ground? Khemchand said that the VHP believes that such values can be inculcated in a person at a young age, and hence they are targeting schools.

“Study material is being sent to schools — both government and private. We organize workshops to make kids aware of the benefits of cow. Subsequently, we conduct tests based on the study material. The test is called gau vigyan pariksha and is scheduled for October this year”, Khemchand told The KashmirWalla.

When asked about his view on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s, recent condemnation of killing in the name of the cow, Khemchand said, “Aaj kal Rajniti secular ho gayi hai. Video viral hote hain aur Pradhanmantri gaurakshako ko kuch bhi bol dete hain. Bina padtal kiye ki video me koi gau rakshak the bhi ya nahi, video abhi ka tha ya purana. In rajnitigyon ki buddhi brasht ho gai hai (These days politics has become secular. Videos go viral and the Prime Minister talks against gaurakshaks without even investigating whether there were gaurakshaks in the video or not, or how old the video is. These politicians have lost their minds.”

Accusing Narendra Modi of being biased, and attempting to attract a new voter group (Muslims), Khemchand said, “why is the PM silent when cattle smugglers kill gau rakshaks and innocent farmers?”

“About 112 gau rakshaks and farmers have been killed by cow smugglers across India. This number is far more than those who have been lynched. Why does the country only unite when a Muslims dies? Why does everyone come after us?”, he said adding that gau rakshaks are forced to remain active on the ground as the government and police have totally failed to protect the cow.

Khemchand also criticized the Central government’s decision of taking back the orders banning the sale of cattle for slaughter. “Itni si baat me inki hawa nikal gayi. Hum kitni mehnat se yaha tak laye the (They got worried due to such a small thing. We worked hard to bring things this far)”, he added. Khemchand is of the view that all kinds of cattle trade should be banned.

When asked about times when gau rakshaks take law in their own hands and their form of justice — starting from slaps and thrashings, going to the extent of lynching —, Khemchand said, “mistakes do happen and this is why we have always demanded DNA test on bovines but nothing has been done”.

“Look, we aren’t against Muslims or Dalits as is being portrayed. For us, anybody who harms a cow is a villain, irrespective of caste, creed or religion. We want our message to be heard loud and clear, ‘don’t kill the cow’. And now, we would also like to say, do not defame gau rakshaks. Do not commit violence in our name,” said Khemchand. “Not in my name,” he added.

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Khabri Mishra is north India based journalist who has worked in states like UP, Bihar, Delhi and Chhattisgarh. Having an experience of over six years in covering hard core crime and politics, she still has a soft corner for human interest stories.

‘Gunga bhi usse batiyata Hai, Khabri Mishra see koi kuch nahi chupata hai’

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