Mob violence

'He said he was Hindu, they let him go': How one man escaped an attack by cow vigilantes in Alwar

But five others, all Muslim, were thrashed for transporting cattle on Saturday. One of them died of his injuries.

“He fled immediately, leaving the truck there, and was not seen again,” said Irshad Khan, remembering the young man who was lucky to escape the attack that killed his father, 55-year-old Pehlu Khan.

On April 1, Pehlu Khan and his two sons, Irshad and Aarif, were returning to their village, Jaisinghpur, in Haryana’s Mewat district after attending a cattle fair in Hathwara on the outskirts of Jaipur in Rajasthan. They were travelling with Azmat Khan, a young man from the same village. The men had purchased five cows and five calves. They were bringing them back in two pickup trucks.

“We had purchased the cows so that we could sell more milk,” said Azmat Khan, who is a dairy farmer. Pehlu Khan and his sons were also dairy farmers, supplying milk to a bigger farmer. Said Irshad Khan: “We were looking out for a buffalo to produce enough milk for the family and sell the excess if possible. But we could not afford one. So we settled for two cows.”

The decision to buy a cow proved costly.

When they reached a highway intersection in Alwar in Rajasthan, the group were stopped by a group of cow vigilantes, pulled out of the trucks and thrashed – even though they had documents to prove that they had bought the cattle legally.

Only one person managed to escape: the driver of one of the trucks who identified himself as Arjun, and told the attackers that he was Hindu. “Some members of the mob asked him his name and set him free,” said Irshad Khan.

Making identifications

The driver of the other truck, Rafique, a neighbour of the Khan family, was not allowed to escape.

The mob identified the group as Muslims by their appearance, said Azmat Khan. Three of them, including Pehlu Khan, had beards and two were wearing white kurta pajamas. “At one point they asked me to identify everyone by name but by the time I could speak up, they started thrashing us,” he added.

Pehlu Khan, Irshad Khan and his brother Aarif, Azmat, and the driver of the other truck, Rafique, were all beaten mercilessly. All five were later admitted to a private hospital in Alwar where Pehlu Khan succumbed to his injuries on Monday. The others left the hospital alleging they were not receiving proper treatment.

Ramesh Sinsinwar, the station house officer of Behror police station in Alwar, said the police had not come across anyone who had escaped.

Azmat Khan explained, “By the time the police reached the spot, they [the vigilante group] had spared Arjun, the driver, after he pleaded for mercy saying he was a Hindu.”

Azmat Khan said Arjun worked for a transporter based in Haryana’s Dausa. According to Irshad Khan, the driver is a resident of Chomu in Rajasthan. When Scroll.in called Arjun on his mobile phone, it was switched off.

Several recent attacks

The attack in Alwar comes in the wake of reports from across the country of gau rakshaks or cow vigilantes routinely checking vehicles transporting cattle and beating up even those conducting legitimate business, accusing them of being cow smugglers.

In March, cow vigilantes laid siege to a hotel in Jaipur on suspicion of serving beef and even managed to get it sealed. Meat traders in Uttar Pradesh have also complained of harassment at their hands in the wake of Chief Minister Adityanath’s order last month banning illegal slaughterhouses and meat shops.

Mewat – the Haryana district from where the five victims of Saturday’s attack hail – had made headlines last year with a crackdown on biryani shops on suspicion of serving beef ahead of Bakr-Eid. A special drive monitored by the Cow Protection Task Force of the Haryana Police had raided highway stalls and tested food samples in August.

Valuables stolen

Recalling Saturday’s attack, Irshad Khan said, “It was around 6.30 pm on Saturday. We were heading back home from the livestock fair when our vehicles were intercepted by three to four motorbikes near Jaguwas crossing at the national highway in Alwar. They asked us to step out and started questioning us. While we insisted we had purchased the cows for the dairy, they alleged we were cow smugglers. Within seconds, we were surrounded by scores of unknown faces.”

Apart from the assault, the mob also robbed them. “They took away all our cash, tore the documents pertaining to the cows purchased, and snatched our mobile phones,” he said. “While I had around Rs 40,000 left, Azmat had Rs 35,000 in his bag.”

Both Irshad Khan and Azmat Khan said the assault continued for nearly an hour before the police arrived.

No arrests even as videos surface

Several video clips – taken by the public and shared with the police and media – have surfaced in which a crowd of around 50 to 60 people can be seen thrashing the five men. The footage shows Pehlu Khan being chased by a crowd before being cornered and beaten severely on a pavement, while two others are thrashed at a spot closer to the trucks. The mob is armed with sticks, rods, bricks and other indiscernible objects. In one video, a group can be seen vandalising a white truck, chanting “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”.

The police have registered a case of criminal assault, wrongful restraint, attempt to commit culpable homicide, unlawful assembly, theft and causing damage to property, later adding the charge of murder as well. But no arrests have been made so far. “We have identified some of them [assailants] and arrests will be made soon,” said Ramesh Sinsinwar, the station house officer.

A report in The Indian Express quoted Sinsinwar as saying that the cow vigilantes were affiliated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal. The report went on to say the police have registered another first information report, this one booking the transporter under the Rajasthan Bovine Animals (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.