When Shagufta Ansari saw her nephew Afaan Abdul Ansari’s body, his nose was fractured, a large bruise was visible on his forehead, his fingers were twisted backwards, his hand was fractured, both his ears seemed to have been hit by an object and he had multiple injuries all over.

But all that the postmortem report said was death by “haemorrhage shock due to blunt trauma to abdomen and case of head injury”.

Ansari, 32, a resident of Mumbai, was a father of two girls, the oldest aged six. On June 24, he was killed by a group of cow vigilantes off a highway in Nashik, Maharashtra, while transporting 450 kg of meat in a car, the police said. The vigilantes suspected it was beef.

His friend Nasir Qureshi, 24, who was travelling with him, was also beaten up. He suffered internal bleeding in the brain and multiple wounds, and is currently admitted to Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial hospital.

The police have arrested 11 people in the case related to the attack on the two men.

But they have also filed a case against Ansari and Qureshi for killing an animal under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

Samples of the meat found in their car have been sent for forensic analysis to check whether it is carabeef – the meat of a water buffalo – or beef from a cow or bull.

While the sale and consumption of carabeef is legal in Maharashtra, since 2015 the state has banned the slaughter of bulls, bullocks, ox and oxen, in addition to cows.

Meat traders and transporters say this has encouraged Hindu vigilante violence against their workers. When cut in small pieces, carabeef is not easy to distinguish from cow or bull beef. “This leads to harassment,” said Shafiqullah Qureshi, Nasir Qureshi’s uncle and a transporter of meat.

The attack on Ansari and Qureshi comes within a fortnight of another cow-related killing in rural Nashik. On June 10, Lukman Ansari was killed for transporting cattle by members of the Hindu outfit Rashtriya Bajrang Dal.

At Mumbai’s Deonar abattoir, Asia’s largest slaughterhouse, Shahid Shaikh, the president of the transport welfare association, said drivers now fear for their life. “Two incidents of lynching have occurred in two weeks,” he said. “There is no one to protect when vigilantes intercept our vehicles.”

Afaan Abdul Ansari was lynched by a mob of cow vigilantes on June 24. He is survived by a wife and two young daughters.

Beaten with iron rod

Afaan Ansari worked as an air-conditioner technician in Mumbai and adjoining Kalyan, and lived in Kurla with his wife and two daughters. Struggling to earn enough, he decided to switch to transporting meat four months ago, said his aunt Shagufta, who raised him.

His friend Nasir Qureshi worked as a driver at the Deonar abattoir, where he ferried cattle and meat for traders within Mumbai.

On June 24, Nasir got an order to transport meat to Mumbai from Sangamner, a city in Ahmednagar district, about 220 km away. He borrowed a Maruti Swift car from an acquaintance. “This was the first time he was transporting meat over a long distance,” said Ghulam Hussain Qureshi, Nasir’s father. “He was going to earn a few thousand rupees.”

Nasir asked Ansari to accompany him. The two left Mumbai early morning on June 24 and reached Sangamner by afternoon. They loaded 450 kg of meat in the car trunk and on the backseat, covering it with a plastic sheet.

Nasir’s father said when he asked him about the consignment, he told him it was buffalo meat. “But he was given no paperwork by the trader to prove it,” Ghulam Qureshi added.

Nasir Qureshi, aged 24, suffers from blood clots in brain. His condition remains serious.

The two left Sangamner after 3 pm. At 5.30 pm, near Ghoti toll plaza on Samruddhi highway, their car was intercepted by a few men. While the police claim a toll plaza staffer informed the local cow vigilantes about the suspected beef, both the men’s family suspect the tip-off came from residents of Sangamner itself.

Qureshi in his police statement said that he sped away in panic but motor bikes and cars began to chase them on the highway. They were stopped a short distance away, dragged out of the car, moved into another car and taken about 7 km away from the highway into the sparse forest adjoining it.

Qureshi told his father that in the forest, he was tied to a tree trunk. Ansari’s hands were tied behind his back and he was forced to kneel down. For the next two-and-a-half hours, the two were brutally assaulted.

The cow vigilantes were carrying iron rods, pipes, ropes, sports shoes with studs, said Mohammad Ansari, Afaan Ansari’s uncle. “We could see the stud marks on Afaan’s face,” he said. “His and Nasir’s cheek bones were crushed. It is clear these men repeatedly hit their faces with their shoes.”

The two, still tied by rope, were dropped back to their car, still parked on the highway. The cow vigilantes smashed the window panes of the car and left. Shortly later, passersby stopped to help the two. Some also shot videos.

“We got a call at around 10 pm from local police,” said Ghulam Quereshi. By the time the family reached Nashik at around 1 am on June 25, Ansari had died and his autopsy had been done. Qureshi was admitted in Nashik government hospital. From there he was shifted to a hospital in Mumbai on June 25.

Qureshi has sustained internal bleeding and blood clots in the brain. He is currently in the intensive care unit of KEM hospital.

The police have arrested 11 men, aged between 19 and 42, for causing grievous hurt that could lead to death, rioting, carrying weapons, and unlawful assembly. All are residents of nearby villages in the Sinnar and Igatpuri talukas in Nashik.

Cow vigilantes at toll plazas

The attack on Ansari and Qureshi has sent panic waves in Qureshi Nagar, the Mumbai neighbourhood where the two men lived. Ahead of Bakri-Eid on Thursday, when goat and buffalo cargoes peak, traders have decided to stop transporting meat.

“There is so much fear,” Shafiqullah Qureshi said. “Traders are scared to operate even legally.”

While larger vehicles are deployed at a cost of Rs 30,000 to transport livestock, when it comes to transporting meat, he said, smaller vehicles are preferred. “To reduce the cost, we cut the buffalo meat into smaller pieces,” he explained. “This reduces the size and transport cost can come down to Rs 5,000.”

Regardless of the size of the vehicle, the worry was of being intercepted by cow vigilantes.

Shafiqullah said cow vigilantes post informers at crucial points on the highways to keep an eye on passersby and report vehicles suspicious of transporting cattle or beef.

“All the toll plazas connecting important routes have informers stationed,” he said. “When the vehicle stops to pay a toll, they check it and send messages on local WhatsApp groups. Locals reach the spot immediately from nearby villages.”

He added: “On the highway, a car can still speed away. But at a toll plaza, the vehicle slows down making them easy targets.”

His vehicles are routinely stopped by cow vigilantes at Uttur toll plaza near Kolhapur and Ghoti toll plaza in Nashik district. “Sometimes the vigilantes extort money and let my drivers go,” he said. “Sometimes the driver is beaten up despite having all the paperwork in place.”

Shafiullah added, “We don’t mind inspections. If there is anything illegal, action should be taken. But it is wrong for cow vigilantes to take the matter in their own hands.”

Afaan Ansari's aunt Shagufta Ansari and uncle Mohammad Ansari saw multiple bruises on his body.

Shagufta, Ansari’s aunt, said the cow vigilantes should have allowed the police to investigate the nature of the meat. “I don’t know whether it was beef,” she said. “No one can tell by just looking at it.”

“The police would have taken the right action,” she said. “But they (cow vigilantes) brutally beat our children up. Look at the video someone shot of them. They are hardly recognisable.”

“Who gives them the right to kill our child?” asked Mohammed Ansari, Ansari’s uncle. “Who will look after his family?”