“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.