Jaisinghpura village in Haryana bordering Rajasthan is still seething with anger a week after dairy farmer Pehlu Khan was lynched in front of his sons by a mob as he was transporting milch cows from Jaipur.
Villagers are shocked by the silence of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and the initial denial of the incident by a federal minister in Parliament.
Rubbing salt into the wound, Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria said it is illegal to transport cows and the vigilantes are only doing their job by foiling such efforts.
Police in BJP-ruled Rajasthan have arrested three suspects and they are hunting for more. A post-mortem report has confirmed Khan died of injuries received during the mob attack.
Khan, 55, father of eight, bought the cows at a cattle fair in Jaipur and was returning home leading a convoy of six mini-trucks carrying the bovines on April 1. He had made similar business trips in the past.
Khan had valid receipts to prove he was not smuggling cows out of Rajasthan for slaughter. But a group of ‘cow vigilantes’ or gau rakshaks who stopped him on the highway near Alwar tore off his transport documents and beat him up with sticks and iron rods. He died in hospital two days later.
Before his death, Khan told police the attackers were members of the Hindu fringe groups Visva Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, both close to BJP. Khan’s eldest son Irshad, who was also assaulted, said he wanted the strictest punishment for the culprits.
This is the 10th attack in two years on members of minority communities across India in the name of protecting cows or enforcing the ban on beef.
Although the ban on cow slaughter exists in 22 states, attacks against those who violate the rule increased only after a federal government led by the BJP came to power in 2014.
In 2015, a 50-year old farm worker Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched by a mob at his home in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, on suspicion of slaughtering a cow and consuming its meat. Later, the meat recovered from his fridge was found to be mutton.
In July last year, four Dalit men were beaten up in Gujarat for cow slaughter which they never committed. They were only skinning dead cows brought from another village.
In June last year, a video by cow vigilantes showed two suspected beef transporters being forced to eat cow dung mixed with cow’s urine, milk, curd and ghee in BJP-ruled Haryana.
On Friday, the Supreme Court asked six states – most of them ruled by the BJP – why a ban cannot be imposed on cow vigilante groups that attack Muslims and Dalits, members of the lowest Hindu class, there.
The six states, which include Uttar Pradesh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat, have different laws against cow slaughter. Gujarat recently made it a non-bailable offense punishable with life in jail. Some of these states even provide cow vigilantes with identity cards.
Following the lynching incident in Alwar, the National Human Rights Commission has issued notices to the federal and Rajasthan governments.
The incident found echo in Parliament on Friday with parties demanding an apology from federal minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi for denying the lynching incident.
Naqvi clarified the incident did happen. He said his denial on Thursday was in response to a question on cow vigilantism in three states excluding Rajasthan.
Failure of state police
Media reports say the lynching incident in Alwar was partly the result of the failure of Rajasthan state police in keeping an eye on cow vigilantes. On April 1, they arrived at the crime scene only 20 minutes after receiving the call.
If the vigilantes were helping police, they should have alerted them about the truck movement. Instead, they took law into their own hands. Witnesses too joined them in attacking Khan and others.
Despite the ban on beef, questions are raised on a government’s right to dictate what its citizens should eat. Cattle may be sacred to most Hindus but their meat provides protein to the poor at an affordable price.
The Alwar incident should force BJP-ruled states to keep cow vigilantes on a tight leash.