Mewat Killings Reveal How Police Watch as Armed Gangs Attack Muslims
Two Muslim men, Junaid and Nasir, set out on 16 February to meet their relatives in the Mewat region of Rajasthan. Members of so-called cow protection groups waylaid them, leading to a horrific sequence of violence that culminated in their tragic death. It is well-known that cow protection groups operate in Haryana and around, torturing cattle owners and transporters.
The killing of Junaid and Nasir reveals the extent of protection and support these groups get from the police. Events widely reported in the media give credence to allegations that the police and cow protectors openly collude to target the weakest sections of society—Mewat’s Muslim dairy farmers, cattle breeders, traders and transporters.
One such gang, allegedly led by Monu Manesar, operating in the name of cow protection, beat Junaid and Nasir. For some reason, they took their victims to a police station in an area not far from the Rajasthan border. But the police refused to take the two injured men to a hospital or apprehend those who accompanied them. The gang members then allegedly ferried Nasir and Junaid to a remote place in the Bhiwani district of Haryana, set their van afire with both men strapped inside. Locals discovered and reported the charred remains of the two men and the vehicle to the police. It has also been reported that the car used to abduct them was earlier registered as a government vehicle.
Human rights activist Harsh Mander, the founder of Karwan-e-Mohabbat, visited Nasir and Junaid’s village in the Bharatpur district of Rajasthan, which is very close to the border with Haryana, to soothe the wounds of the families and residents. He wrote in The Indian Express: “I am profoundly chilled as I scan social media pages of Monu Manesar. He and members of his gang livestream as they openly brandish sophisticated firearms, sound sirens mimicking police jeeps, shoot at vehicles, and brutally thrash the men they catch.”
Local protests are going on against the brutal killings, but at least two so-called maha-panchayats have also been held since mid-February. These mahapanchayats, which had the support of Sangh Parivar affiliates such as the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, also involved an outfit named the Hindu Sena. Hate speeches were delivered at all these gatherings. Speakers said that if Rajasthan Police try to arrest vigilante Monu Manesar, they will face a thrashing. At the mahapanchayat on 22 February, one self-styled “Aastha Maa” raked up the love jihad angle and incited listeners to attack Muslims.
So far, three alleged culprits in the murder of Junaid and Nasir have been arrested. It has turned out that they are police informers or mukhbirs. The menace of cow vigilantes has risen in the last few years, especially since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014. In 2015, Haryana passed a law, the Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan (Cow Progeny Protection and Promotion Act, amended in 2019 to include a punishment of upto ten years for those who “traffic” cows. Since then, numerous groups have sprung up in the region, stopping vehicles carrying farm animals, forcing the drivers and owners to make deals, or attacking them brutally. Even transporters with valid papers are not being spared. Can anybody claim that the Haryana Police is blissfully unaware of what is going on?
The Muslims of Mewat, who have inherited a syncretic tradition of Islam, rely primarily on dairy farming for survival. While the police watch, they are made victims of regular attacks from Monu Manesar-type groups.
Cow and beef consumption have been deliberately stoked into massive issues to divide society along religious lines. A madrasa student, also named Junaid, was lynched in a train on the alleged suspicion that his tiffin contained beef. The killing of Mohammad Akhlaq and Pehlu Khan has not been forgotten. Lynching is not just a crime but a political-social weapon introduced in society to direct hate towards the identity of the victims of lynching—primarily the Muslim victims, but also the Dalits and the tribals. Hence, after almost every lynching, the ones killed are blamed, while the killers are feted.
The chilling murder of Akhlaq prompted compassionate citizens to return their national awards some years ago. India’s foremost writers, scientists, and social workers immediately spotted the attempt to divide Hindu and Muslim communities, using cow beef as a pretext. IndiaSpend has reported that Muslims were the target of 51% of violence centred on bovine issues from 2010 to 2017 and comprised 86% of the 28 Indian citizens killed in 63 incidents. Only 3% of these attacks had been reported before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014. IndiaSpend also recorded that about half the cow-related violence—32 of 63 cases—occurred in BJP-ruled States.
Scores of organisations, inspired by Sangh Parivar affiliates and the impunity they enjoy, have sprung up. Their members attack people and are accused of extortion and killing, too, while the police and administration make anodyne remarks about the situation. Crimes against Muslims are highlighted with aplomb by the media, encouraging many killers to live stream the attacks. That is what Monu Manesar did on his Facebook page. Recall that Shambhulal Regar also videotaped his brutal killing of Afrazul in Rajasthan. We saw those accused of murdering Kalimuddin Ansari feted by Jayant Sinha, a Union Minster at the time. Politicians participated in processions to support the rapists and killers of Asifa, the eight-year-old from Kathua. Engineer Mohsin Shaikh’s murder in Pune ended with all accused not just acquitted but a victory procession in their favour. Police officer Subodh Kumar Singh, who had taken action after miscreants in Uttar Pradesh tried to stoke communal conflict over a dead cow, was also killed by a mob.
None other than Prime Minster Modi said in a public speech that Maharana Pratap dedicated his life to cow protection. New issues are regularly being added to the hate-the-other menu in this way. On 26 February, there was a massive Hindu Jan Aakrsoh or Hindu Mass Resentment rally in Vashi, Navi Mumbai, where participants shouted slogans against Muslims over so-called love and land “jihad”. A sectarian media anchor presented a detailed chart of “types of jihad” after this, never highlighting that the charges against Muslims for conducting any jihad are fake.
The spiral of hate, violence and consequent polarisation is pushing back the fraternity our Constitution enjoins on all citizens. What is happening today is the exact opposite of events during the freedom movement, when communities joined forces to overthrow the oppressive British regime and install a government of and by Indians. It is time to install our foundations of harmony, amity and peace anew. These are essential prerequisites for progress in any society.
The author is a human rights activist and taught at IIT Bombay. The views are personal.
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