March 19, 2023

Why Cow Vigilantism is Targeting Mewat?

Inderjit Singh

THE barbarous lynching and burning to death of two Muslim young men on February 15 at Loharu town of Bhiwani in Haryana should not be seen as just another criminal act. It is rather one of the most gruesome incidents in the series of many killings perpetrated in different parts of the country in the recent past, especially since the BJP assumed power at the centre and in several states. 

Junaid (35) and Nasir (25) belonged to Ghatmika village in the Mewat region of the Bharatpur district of Rajasthan. The two men were on their way to the village of their relatives when they were kidnapped by a gang of cow vigilantes from Haryana, thrashed badly and brought to the Ferojpur Jhirka police station, a notorious routine practice going on here. However, this time around, the police refused to get custody of the two victims, who were in critical condition. They rather advised the vigilantes to take the bodies of the victims away. So they were taken far away from Loharu and were set ablaze in their Bolero jeep, which was later found burnt with the charred bodies of Junaid and Nasir inside it.

All the above details have been widely covered by the media. It is necessary to recall a few more similar shocking instances of innocent Muslims killed with impunity, all in the name of smuggling or slaughtering of cows, beef eating etc. 

A young boy Waris was murdered on January 28 but this was shown as an accident despite videos doing the rounds showing the gau rakshaks beating him mercilessly in the car. Umar Mohammad, also of Ghatmika, was murdered. One Junaid was earlier stabbed to death in a train near Ballabgarh when the three of them were attacked by the fundamentalist mob branding them as beef eaters. They were returning from Delhi after shopping for the Eid festival. On June 29, 2017, three Muslims named Naeem,  Halim Sheikh and Shiraj were killed in Rajnagar of Jharkhand. In May 2021, gym trainer Asif Khan was beaten to death in Jammu by a mob forcing him to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’. A youth Samir Chaudhary was killed in Shamli in May 2021. These are besides the infamous lynchings of dairy farmers Pehlu Khan in 2017 and Rakbar Khan in 2018 in the Nuh district of Haryana.

What is deeply disturbing is that each and every gruesome incident gets slipped into oblivion as new crimes happen. The situation is not going to change if the individual instances are seen as isolated, scattered cases and not as part of the larger Hindutva project of communal polarisation envisaged as its core component by the BJP/RSS and its various communal outfits clandestinely active under religious, cultural and social cover for decades. They have undertaken state and region-specific studies and research at both micro and macro levels pertaining to traditional customs, cultural values, rituals and festivals, along with the local social contradictions between caste and religious faith etc. 

The reach, influence and disruptive potential has increased by penetrating different institutions and administrative structures under the BJP regime. They are systematically distorting historical events aiming at creating divisions between various communities by spreading hatred against each other and fomenting disharmony and social strife. One of their major permanent planks has always been to demonise the Muslim community.

In view of the recent killings, the Mewat region can be taken up here for a concrete grasp of their overall covert designs. Mewat region is located in the Aravali hills spread over Rajasthan and UP besides Haryana. The Meo community has an important presence in certain parts of Madhya Pradesh also. Meo Muslims overwhelmingly inhabit this contiguous geographical entity although more than 20 per cent are Hindus. In some areas, both communities are in equal numbers also. Brij is the language spoken by all here. Meo Muslims preferred to stay back and refused to migrate to newly partitioned Pakistan even in the face of desperate communal provocations from Hindu Mahasabha and rulers of Alwar and Bharatpur. At the insistence of Comrade Abdul Hai, a popular CPI leader, Mahatma Gandhi came to Ghasera village and exhorted all Meos to stay in the land of their forefathers. President of All India Meo Panchayat Abdul Hai was the comrade-in-arms of renowned historians Dr Kunwar Mohammad Ashraf and Sayeed Mutalavi Faridabad.

Mewat has a glorious history of struggles against subjugation and tyranny of various regimes. Raja Hasan Khan Mewati supported Rana Sanga when his army fought against Babar in the battle of Kanwa and became a martyr. They also trace their lineage to Rajputs. It is said that Mewatis got Shivaji out from the custody of Aurangzeb. Meos are known to have fought against the excesses of the Mughal regime and the Britishers. Six thousand Meos were martyred in the First War of Independence in 1857.

Mewat as a society is a unique composite cultural mosaic. Hindus and Muslims have been practising many common cultural traditions and festivals. Hinduism as a faith is dominated by the impact of the Bhakti movement stream and Islam by Sufism, meaning people of both faiths abhor fundamentalism. Being cattle rearers themselves, Meos trace their lineage to Shri Krishna, who is a mythological symbol of cow keeping. Farmers of Mewat successfully conducted a big indefinite morcha at the Haryana-Rajasthan Junehra border. On certain occasions, even women of Mewat took part in the mahapanchyats held at the border and addressed by national leaders of Samyukta Kisan Morcha. 

The traditional social panchayats called ‘Pals’ are based on village clusters and not on religious identities. In Ghatmika village, there is an overwhelming Muslim population, and only four to five families belong to the baniya community. Still, Ram Avtar (a baniya) is elected sarpanch for the past 20 years. In many villages of Nuh district, jats, who are very few in number are elected sarpanch in many Muslim-majority village panchayats. It is precisely this syncretic socio-cultural milieu that the fundamental and communal forces find to be a big obstacle in their virulent political project of Hindu-Muslim polarisation. 

Panchayats are held and violent threats are given to teach lessons to Muslims. Not even an FIR is registered despite written complaints and videos of highly inflammatory speeches going viral. A writ filed by CPI(M) is pending in Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking directions for registering police cases. Scaring away with provocative attacks on Muslims peacefully offering Namaz in Gurugram by Hindu fundamentalists has been made a regular phenomenon. The indifference of the local administration is not surprising in view of the public utterances of the Haryana chief minister that Namaz is not allowed in public spaces. 

Haryana Gau Samrakshan and Samvardhan Act 2015 was ostensibly enacted to use it for communal polarisation, and this was consequently proved with the creation of the cow task force of police and gau rakshak gangs authorised to keep arms and work in tandem to persecute Muslims branding all traders and dairy farmers as cattle smugglers. 

One simple question here is why anyone should smuggle cows in the first place. Do we have cows scarcity or are these already in abundance posing a big threat to the crops of farmers in the form of stray cattle? Had there been real smuggling going across the state borders then why have 94  per cent of the police cases so far registered under the Haryana’s draconian act been rejected by the courts and there has been no single conviction since the enactment of the Act?

The fact of the flourishing dubious extortionist business is well known to all and further corroborated by a sting operation conducted by a TV channel recently in which both police officers and the communal gang leaders have emphatically confirmed the illegitimate nexus. Let it be recalled that PM Modi himself had condemned the activities of these so-called cow protectors by publicly saying on August 7, 2016 that 70 to 80 per cent of those masquerading as gau rakshaks during day time were indulging in gorakh dhanda during the night. Why he subsequently went silent on this is not difficult to grasp. 

Coming to the main theme, the Mewat region is kept totally backwards in all spheres including agriculture, industry, education, railway and road communication, employment etc. The main occupation is agriculture with dairy farming. Agriculture continues to be totally backward and dependent on rain in the absence of canal or tube well irrigation. Education in general and girls' education in particular, are left dependent on Madarsas. The employment situation is terribly abysmal. Except for police personnel who find it lucrative to be posted here, any other government employee posted in Mewat treats it as a penal action. Making false police cases of thefts etc is rampant for extorting money.

Dairy farming being the mainstay occupation of almost all rural households, cattle or cows are invariably found in Mewat villages. One reason for cow preference is that it is cheaper than a buffalo and maintenance of cows is also affordable for poorer people. The cattle trade is obviously very much prevalent here. 

So the false propaganda of cattle smuggling had been carried out by Bajrang Dal, VHP, Gauraksha Dal and scores of other communal gangs to incite violence. They instigate the people having feelings of reverence for the cow by accusing Muslims of slaughtering cows and eating beef. The same BJP leaders are found seeking votes in North East by promising cheap beef if voted to power. They are not bothered by the huge number of ill-fed and ignored cows dying in gaushalas despite being given massive government grants. What a hypocrisy it is to claim to be gau bhakts that the BJP supporters have no hesitation in putting on fire the house of a CPI(M) supporter and burning down three cows in the aftermath of the election results of the Tripura assembly.

One should understand that with the murderous activities of the cow vigilantes with the patronage of BJP governments, the cattle trade is on the verge of collapse. It is no coincidence that foreign and domestic corporations are striving hard to take over the Indian dairy market. So the tacit linkage between the BJP-supported gau rakshak hoodlums and the corporate sector is not a secret now. This is another feature that the present ruling communal corporate alliance is identified with.

In this situation, it is necessary to isolate the communal elements by exposing the divisive agenda during the fight in defence of livelihood and in fighting back against the onslaught of democratic rights.