Over a dozen police personnel stood guard at the Hayat Rabbani hotel in Jaipur on Tuesday morning. Three sat on the stairs leading to the 28-room property, which has now been sealed. Four huddled close to the reception at the entrance of the building. Another group sat inside a police van stationed outside the building, which is located in a narrow lane in Kanti Nagar behind the inter-state bus terminus in Jaipur’s extremely congested Sindhi Camp.
“Since Sunday evening, police have been guarding the area in two shifts,” said a constable. Senior officers had given them strict instructions to keep a tight vigil. As a result, the otherwise-crowded lane looks like a curfew zone. It has been this way since Sunday.
Around 50 metres away from the hotel, another police team stood near an open area outside a local park where residents of Kanti Nagar have been throwing garbage for a few months now as there is no designated garbage dump nearby.
“Initially, residents and hotels in the locality used to dump garbage outside their buildings,” said Ravi Agarwal, a resident of Kanti Nagar. “Around seven months ago, the municipal corporation pushed back the boundary grilles of a local park to create this dumping area, and asked people to dump garbage there instead of dumping it on the streets. The accumulated garbage was picked up by a truck everyday.”
Garbage dump incident
On Sunday, the garbage dump was where 19-year-old Qasim, who works at the Hayat Rabbani hotel, was assaulted by a group of cow protection vigilantes who had seen him throw a plastic bag of discarded meat in the dumping ground. The vigilantes claimed that bag contained beef.
Soon after Qasim was assaulted, the group of 10-15 cow vigilantes, which swelled into a mob of 50 to 60 persons, gathered outside the Hayat Rabbani hotel, calling out for the owner, Naeem Rabbani. Soon, the police and journalists also reached the spot. When the mob realised that Rabbani was not around, they physically assaulted 30-year-old receptionist Waseem as the police looked on. Qasim was arrested.
While Qasim is a migrant from Bihar’s Katihar district and had started working at the hotel barely two months ago, Waseem is a local resident who has been working at the hotel for the past three or four years.
Samples of the discarded meat have been sent to a forensic laboratory for tests to ascertain if the meat is beef. The slaughter of cows, calves, bull or bullocks is banned in Rajasthan as is possession and transport of their flesh. But it is legal to kill buffaloes and eat their meat.
The Kanti Nagar locality within Sindhi Camp has around 40 budget hotels. Visitors often prefer to stay in this area as it is not as congested and noisy as the rest of Sindhi Camp. Out of the 40 hotels in Kanti Nagar, only four, including Hayat Rabbani, are owned by Muslims. These four hotels specialise in non-vegetarian food though some Hindu-owned hotels too offer chicken and mutton dishes on their menus.
All of Kanti Nagar’s hotels dump their garbage at the spot near the park. “What materials the hoteliers dump in the garbage area has never been a matter of dispute till Sunday,” said Agarwal.
On Tuesday morning, Agarwal monitored two labourers who were erecting a five-foot-high wall around the garbage dumping area. “Residents have collected money for this wall,” said Agarwal. “After Sunday’s incident they have planned to get rid of this dumping zone.”
Who was the mob leader?
Both hoteliers and residents of Kanti Nagar said that they had never heard of Sadhvi Kamal Didi, who directed Sunday’s assault. Kamal Didi said that she was present at Sindhi Camp on Sunday to attend to some cows that were unwell.
“The sick cows were to be rehabilitated in a cow shelter and I, along with some gau rakshaks, were helping municipal workers to load the cows into trucks when I caught the boy [Qasim] red-handed throwing meat,” said Kamal Didi. “There were several cows in the area that approached the discarded bag of meat. We shooed away the cows but held the boy.”
The proprietors of Hayat Rabbani hotel have been accused of not only serving beef, but also feeding beef to the cows, which eat the garbage all day. The owners have denied the allegations. They have also said that the hotel does not have a proper restaurant, and its kitchen is mostly used to cook food for its employees.
The Mayor of the Jaipur Municipal Corporation contributed to the beef rumours by posting a text message in Hindi on a WhatsApp group that has several municipal officers and journalists as members. The message said that the Hayat Rabbani hotel was sealed because they “had the audacity to feed beef to the cow”. According to a report in The Indian Express, he later admitted to having forwarded the message.
Kamal Didi insisted that it was local residens who had informed her about so-called beef parties taking place in the hotel. She claimed that the mob that eventually surrounded the hotel on Sunday mostly comprised locals. However, the hotel workers and two residents of the area who witnessed the assaults said they did not spot anyone from the immediate neighbourhood as part of the mob.
While the hotel employees alleged that a business rival had played an active role in the crowd, the two residents said that they spotted a few youths from a nearby slum area, and not people who lived in the immediate neighbourhood and used the dumping area.
“If the locals had any problems with me, they would have come to me and complained either politely or rudely,” said Naeem Rabbani, who started the hotel six years ago. “Why would they take help of a cow vigilante group? This is clearly a pre-planned act.”
Rabbani and his relatives own three hotels in the city, all close to the Sindhi Camp area. He said that he had never received any warning from any cow vigilante groups and, like other hotel owners in the area, never sensed if there was any tension regarding the dumping ground either.
In mobile video clips shot during the incident, Kamal Didi can be seen delivering a speech after which her followers chanted slogans like “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and Narendra Modi zindabad”. She claimed that she was not affiliated to any political party, and nor was she interested in politics. “Politics and activism cannot work together,” she said.
In another video, Kamal Didi was seen conducting an on-the-spot opinion poll in which she asked the crowd outside the hotel whether its kitchen, or the entire building, should be sealed.
The municipal corporation eventually sealed the hotel for allegedly flouting licence norms.
Gajendra Luniwal, president of the Hotels Association of Jaipur, said that the Hayat Rabbani wasn’t the only hotel in the city to be operating without a licence.
He said that after 2006, due to a few court orders, the city’s municipal corporation virtually stopped issuing commercial licenses to hotels. “Presently there are at least 150 budget hotels in the city, mostly near Sindhi Camp and the Railway Station Road, that are operating without the required license,” said Luniwal. “Rabbani is not the only one.”
He added: “None of the 575 members of the association had seen this coming. This is the first such incident we have witnessed in Jaipur till date.”
Later on Tuesday, Hemant Kumar Gera, Commissioner of Jaipur Municipal Corporation said that he would take up the matter at the next high-level administrative meeting, and ensure a fair investigation.
Police action baffling
The police reaction in the case was baffling. It filed a first information report against unidentified persons under different sections of the Indian Penal Code including deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.
The police also arrested Qasim and Waseem by the powers it has under the Code of Criminal Procedure to arrest without orders from a magistrate, and without a warrant, to prevent the commission of cognisable offences. Both were released on Monday evening.
Jaipur Police Commissioner Sanjay Agarwal did not respond to phone calls and text messages when reached for his comments on the matter.
On Tuesday afternoon, Rabbani, his friends and relatives, several civil right groups, political activists and student groups organised a protest outside the Police Commissioner’s office in Jaipur.
“The protesters submitted two memorandums – one at the Police Commissioner’s office and the other at the Mayor’s office,” said Kavita Srivastava, president of the Rajasthan unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, who has been leading the protest with regard to this case. “The demands are immediate closure of the police case, action against concerned police officers including the concerned Deputy Police Commissioner for dereliction in duty, allowing the hotel to resume business and registration of a fresh case on the basis of the complaint filed by Rabbani.”