“My friends pleaded for mercy. They kept screaming that they were transporting buffaloes and not cows. All this fell on deaf ears.”
That is how cattle trader Mohammad Latif recalled an attack on three of his friends late on Saturday night near Kalkaji temple in southeast Delhi as their truck carrying 14 buffaloes was stopped by men claiming to be members of an animal rights organisation called People for Animals. The men beat up the three cattle traders, leaving them bleeding from their noses and foreheads. The men alleged that the cattle traders were taking the animals to be slaughtered – an act that is perfectly legal.
The three men in the truck, who have been identified as Rizwan (25), Ashu (28) and Kamil (25), were travelling from their village of Pataudi Haryana’s Gurgaon district to Ghazipur mandi in East Delhi. Rizwan was driving the truck. They were followed by friends in three other vehicles.
Latif and his cousin Anees were in one car, behind the truck. Zahid and an unidentified relative were in another, while a third vehicle was occupied by Bijender Kumar and Mohammad Ashfak. Except for Kumar and Ashfak, who had been in Delhi for sometime to attend a wedding, the others were travelling from Pataudi.
When the cow vigilantes intercepted the truck and started assaulting its occupants, the cattle traders behind them decided not to intervene, fearing that they would be attacked too. “At one point, the crowd became very aggressive,” said Anees. “We were so scared that we fled the spot and parked the car around 200 metres away from where we could still get a glimpse of what was happening.”
Latif and Anees later followed the police van in which their injured friends were taken to AIIMS Trauma Centre. Kumar and Ashfak chose to take a rather long diversion. “By the time we returned to the spot, which was in another 15-20 minutes, there was no one around,” said Kumar. Zahid and his relative, meanwhile, fled the spot and returned only on Sunday morning, when he joined his three injured friends at Kalkaji police station.
All the witnesses have maintained that Rizwan, Ashu and Kamil were assaulted by a group of men alleging that they were transporting cows for slaughter.
Here is a video shot by an NDTV staffer who was at the site shortly after the assault.
Victims in custody
Until Sunday evening, the police had not been able to arrest any of the members of the mob, who, the authorities initially claimed, belonged to an organisation called People for Animals. Though they made little headway in identifying the assailants, the police did register cases against the three men who were beaten up. The authorities charged Rizwan, Ashu and Kamil under Indian Penal Code provisions for killing and maiming cattle and sections of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
They were granted bail by Sunday evening.
They had been booked after the police registered a First Information Report on the basis of a complaint by a man named Gaurav Gupta, who introduced himself as a member of People For Animals, which is chaired by Union Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi. However, Gandhi denied all the allegations that the NGO was involved in the incident. The police seem to have taken her word for it.
Another First Information Report was registered on the basis of a complaint by Rizwan alleging criminal assault and wrongful restraint. But the police failed to make any headway in the other case till Sunday evening. “We are yet to ascertain identities of the accused men who are involved in the attack,” Deputy Commissioner of Delhi Police (south-east) Romil Baaniya said. “Teams have been formed for that.”
In video clips aired by news channel NDTV, some men can be seen claiming that they had followed the truck from Haryana. Though the assaults had abated by the time the videos were shot, the police are visible in the images. Despite this, the police say they weren’t able to make any arrests.
Baaniya said that by the time an emergency response vehicle reached the spot, the people who had witnessed the attack and most members of the People For Animals NGO had already left. “At the spot, there was no means to verify who was involved in the attack,” Baaniya said. “But there is no cow vigilante group involved in the incident.”
The police claimed to have acted on the basis of distress call from Gaurav Gupta. When Scroll.in contacted Gupta on Sunday morning, his brother Saurabh Gupta picked up. He said that he had rushed to the spot with Gaurav Gupta but by the time they had arrived, the assault was over. “How can the police even allege that the attack was carried out by members of People for Animals?” Saurabh Gupta said. “We are totally ready to cooperate with CCTV footage and whatever the investigators ask for.”
Activism or vigilantism
Despite the police claims that People for Animals were involved in the incident, the organisation’s chair, Maneka Gandhi, denied that the organisation had anything to do with it. In fact, she claimed that the organisation does not have a separate unit for Delhi. However, on Sunday morning, the organisation’s website listed the names of both Gaurav Gupta and Saurabh Gupta (as well as three others) under the head “PFA Delhi”. By Sunday evening, though, the page had been taken down.
Gauri Maulekhi, a trustee in People For Animals, said that website’s contact page had not been updated for a very long time and that the Delhi unit ceased to exist in 2014. “Every unit of PFA is registered as a separate trust but we presently have no unit in Delhi,” she said. “But anyone can become a member of PFA on paying a membership fee of Rs 100. Delhi has around 10,000 members but any misconduct on their part cannot be attributed to PFA.”
She said that several units of the People for Animals were closed down between 2014-’16. “While the Delhi unit was closed down after the close down of a monkey shelter it was looking after, two more units in Dehradun and Haryana had to be closed down for misconduct in the garb of activism,” Maulekhi said. “While the Dehradun unit was indulging too much into vigilantism, the Haryana unit was found to be working in cahoots with some mafia groups.”
Not a first in Delhi
While media reports flashed throughout the day suggested that cow vigilantism had finally reached the national capital, interviews with Zahid, Anees, Latif and other cattle traders suggetsed otherwise. “We are often harassed by such groups and they snatch away both our money and cattle,” alleged Zahid. “Many a time they physically assault us too but most such cases go unreported.”
In June 2014, half a dozen trucks carrying cattle were damaged and one was set ablaze in Central Delhi’s ITO area allegedly by a group of men belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and People For Animals. A news report on The Hindu quotes Saurabh Gupta commenting on the raids.
Vigilante attacks in Delhi were reported in 2015 too. In one case a trucker carrrying buffaloes from southwest Delhi’s Najafgarh area to Ghazipur mandi was beaten up by vigilantes. In the other, an East Delhi transporter was beaten by locals in Chilla village, accusing him of smuggling cows.