Mewat region continues to be in throes of cow vigilantism

The gruesome killing of Junaid and Nasir who were allegedly abducted from Bharatpur, Rajasthan,  by Bajrang Dal ‘Gau Rakshaks’ from Haryana before being set afire in Loharu area in Bhiwani, Haryana has left the entire nation shocked, writes Aayush Goel

“We are doomed. He was the only breadwinner in our family and would take care of us and his brother’s family. All I can see now is darkness. The government has announced compensation but tell me can it replace my husband? Will it be enough for me and my 6 children to spend our entire life?” says teary-eyed Sajida, widow of Juniad. Living in fear of cow vigilantism for years, the village of Ghatmika in Bharatpur, Rajasthan is engulfed in angst and gloom. 35-year old Junaid and 27-year old Nasir were allegedly abducted from Bharatpur by Bajrang Dal ‘Gau Rakshaks’ from Haryana and their charred skeletons were found in their car set afire in Loharu area in Bhiwani, Haryana.

The gruesome killing has left the entire nation shocked and terrified and yet again highlighted the rampant cow vigilantism in Mewat region spanning across Haryana and Rajasthan. The area has been repeatedly been reporting instances of lynchings and torture in the name of cow protection. “This is not the first time that such an incident has happened. Earlier, we witnessed the brutal killings of Pehlu Khan, Rakbar Khan and Ummar Mohammad in the Mewat region, and now we have lost two more people. This time, the Haryana police helped murderers to kill them. Everyone in this village is scared and we want action, so that no one dies this way in future,” says Jubair, a relative of slain Nasir.

The latest gruesome murder where even Haryana police has been accused of connivance has stirred the debate over a 15,000 strong army of Gau Rakshaks in Haryana, their unchecked power and political patronage they allegedly enjoy. “If your police are done with the meat of Biryani on Eid, then tell me when will the killers of Junaid-Nasir be arrested? When will those who spew venom in the Mahapanchayat go to jail? If even the burnt corpses of Junaid-Nasir could not wake up your conscience, then it is the same whether you are Chief Minister or not,” AIMIM supremo Asaduddin Owaisi said while addressing Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar.

The Loharu immolation

The nation woke up to a terrible news on February 15 as skeletons of two men were found in a charred Bolero in Loharu in Bhiwani. The duo were allegedly abducted from Ghatmika village in Bharatpur a night before by Gau Rakshaks. The family went ahead and filed an FIR and a tale of horror unfolded. The investigation of Rajasthan police revealed that a gang of around 10 Gau Rakshaks had picked up the duo accusing them of cow smuggling.

One of the victims, Junaid had a bovine smuggling history and was wanted by the police. The Gau Rakshaks brutally thrashed the duo and took them to Nuh police seeking their arrest but when they refused they allegedly set the duo on fire with their vehicle. Celebrated Gau Rakshaks from Haryana including Monu Manesar were named as accused in the case and police have managed to nab one. “Investigations are on. We have arrested one accused, Rinku Saini who helped us identify eight other accused. He has confessed to murder saying victims died due to thrashing and to eliminate evidence they burnt them,” says IG Rajasthan Gaurav Shrivastav. “I would say that the law will take its own course. These anti-social elements who work in the name of Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad are dishonest people. The Prime Minister has himself said that these are anti-social elements. It’s high time that the Haryana government realises this and controls this vigilante force,” said Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot.

The Gau Rakshaks

Soon after the murder, the Bajrang Dal member, Monu Manesar became a celebrity with his name trending across Twitter. 27-year old Manesar resident Mohit Yadav alias Monu Manesar  is a polytechnic graduate, known for posting videos of chase and ‘capture’ of cow smugglers. With over two lakh YouTube subscribers, his pictures with police and government officials were widely circulated.

This was no surprise as he is a key member of the Haryana government’s cow protection machinery. The state today has a loosely knit ‘force’ of about 15000 men with affiliation to mainly three outfits – Bajrang Dal, Goputra Sena Haryana and Goraksha Dal – which are active as cow vigilantes across the state.  The men equipped with an I-card of Gau Rakshak have free toll access across Haryana and get priority arms licences. These men probably have the biggest intelligence network using which they reportedly fight cattle smuggling and nab cattle smugglers. The rise of Gau Rakshaks started in 2015 with implementation of Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan Act in Haryana.

Their influence and power grew unimaginably post 2021 when  Haryana’s BJP government notified  the setting up of a state level Special Cow Protection Task Force (SCPTF) committee comprising several senior officials, to prevent the smuggling and slaughter of cows, rehabilitate stray cattle, and take legal action against those found to be involved in such activities. Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar said recently in Vidhan Sabha, “We have formed a task force for each district. Non-official members are also included in the task force which is headed by a DSP so that police take action on the information received through the task force. Neither does anyone have the right to take law into their hands nor can such a right be given to any one”. 

The worth and power of Monu Manesar like Gau Rakshaks is evident from the fact that the entire state has united to support him. A series of Hindu Mahapanchayats have been held seeking CBI probe and even threatening to not let Rajasthan police return on their feet if any Gau Rakshak is arrested. The Gau Rakshak supporters even went ahead blocking Delhi-Jaipur highway to stop Rajasthan police fro entering Haryana. A day later, Meo Muslims went ahead blocking Alwar- Gurgaon highway seeking arrest of the accused. 

“We have sympathy for the deceased. But it is wrong to accuse and arrest a person without evidence in the name of communal hatred. There should be a CBI inquiry into this matter. Till anything is proven, we will not let them touch a single Gau Rakshak”, said Pawan Kumar, President Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Haryana. The patronage can be fatal feel various leaders in Mewat. Ferozpur Jhirka MLA Mamam Khan has time and again raised the issue and accused the Khattar government of promoting vigilantism. “This kind of patronage has given them courage to set two men ablaze. If these guys are to arrest and impart justice then what is police for? Videos of these men brandishing multiple guns, dragging thrashing men and women in Mewat go viral everyday but the government does nothing. It’s ironic that the vehicle used to abduct Junaid and Nasir was a state government vehicle,” says Khan.

The war of cops

The incident meanwhile has pushed both Rajasthan and Haryana police in a tug of war. The Crime Investigation Agency (CIA) Ferozpur Jhirka team has come under scanner as the victim’s family alleged that they were hand in glove in murder. In contrast to initial claims of CIA team aiding in the abduction it was revealed that the accused brought Juanid and Nasir to them but rather than help dying victims they turned them away.

“Had they stepped out of the police station and got the victims to a hospital they could have been saved but they did nothing. We have found that all accused were informers of Haryana police and had several whatsapp groups with them where they regularly posted their videos of torturing men,” said an investigator of Rajasthan police. The police also alleged that while they were camping in many areas of state, they were not getting much help from local police to arrest the accused. Meanwhile, the Haryana police has questioned Rajasthan police over inaction for 18 hours after an abduction complaint was filed.

“The families rushed to them, and for 18 hours they were made to run from one police station to another. They sent no message, sought no information from Haryana police till bodies were found”, said a senior Haryana cop. As Rajasthan police initiated an investigation in this regard, Nuh police also filed an FIR against them. The Rajasthan police was accused of brutally thrashing the wife of accused Gau Rakshak leading to miscarriage of 9 month old foetus. The police have ever since been denying any involvement in the same. “We have registered a case and foetal viscera for examination. We will be quizzing cops about allegations,” said Varun Singla, SP, Nuh.