In a small room packed with grieving relatives, Shama Parveen recounted the brutality of a video shot on mobile phone that showed her father being beaten to death by a mob on the suspicion of transporting beef. “Some people were beating him with rods while others were making sure they captured it on video,” said Parveen. “In the middle of the beating, one man even snapped my father’s head towards the camera so that they could capture his face.”
Parveen was animated and angry – sometimes breaking into sobs but then recovering right away. Her mother, Mariam Khatoon, on the other hand, sat on the bed in a daze, her eyes puffy and face flushed. She had been crying earlier but wasn’t anymore.
Early on Thursday morning, Khatoon’s husband, Alimuddin Ansari, had left his village, Manua in Jharkhand’s Ramgarh district, in a van. He was attacked in Ramgarh town by a mob of at least 10 people and his vehicle set on fire. As in earlier instances of cow vigilantism, the attackers took vidoes and photos of the violence and distributed it on social media. “They said he was carrying beef – but it wasn’t,” said Khatoon quietly.
Khatoon’s shock resonated through Manua, Alimuddin Ansari’s village, which was reeling from the sudden brutality of violence that had burst out.
“Fights over meat have become common now for the past 2-3 years,” said Kamruddin Khan, who had come over from a neighbouring village to attend Alimuddin Ansari’s funeral. “But now it is reaching new heights. The administration wants to rule us by fear, that much is clear.”
Jharkhand has seen a spate of mob violence in the recent past. Alimuddin Ansari’s death came a day after more than a 100 people attacked a Muslim dairy farmer in the state on the rumour that he had slaughtered a cow. On June 18, Jharkhand Police had arrested a school principal following allegations that she had eaten beef within the school’s premises. Seven people were beaten to death over rumours of child-lifting in May. Last year, two Muslim cattle traders, one as young as 15, were killed by a mob and hanged from a tree.
Anger over the spate of killings was compounded by what Manua villagers see as the impunity with which cow vigilantes operate. “Think about it – not only did they kill a man in broad daylight, they shot a video of the act and distributed it themselves,” said Mohammad Hadees, a resident of Manua.
The police have made one arrest in the case but have not revealed the identity of the man. In the complaint, Ansari’s family has named 12 people who they say are members of a cow protection group and the Bajrang Dal, a part of the Sangh Parivar, the family of Hindutva organisations of which the Bharatiya Janata Party is a part. The police has also initiated an inquiry under the Jharkhand Bovine Animal Prohibition of Slaughter Act, Indian Express reported. The state law prohibits the slaughter of cows and the sale and consumption of beef. Inspector General of Police, ML Meena, told the newspaper: “We have to find out from where the victim had brought the meat.”
“Yahan Bajrang Dal ko poori chhoot hai prashaasan se,” alleged Waris Araki standing outside the cemetery where Ansari was being buried. The administration has given the Bajrang Dal [a part of the large Sangh Parivar] full leeway to do what they want. “Everyone knows the Bajrang’s Dal’s [Ramgarh district president] Chhotu Verma is behind these fights around meat but the police does nothing”.
Nadeem Ansari, 21, had come from Palamu village to take part in Ansari’s funeral. “They should declare a Hindutva state and kick us out,” he said heatedly. “It would be better than killing us off like this one by one”.
Nadeem Ansari wasn’t the only one seeing his grief turn to rage. As the funeral prayers got over and the crowd spilled out onto the street outside the cemetery, anger erupted amongst the younger men in the crowd. Slogans were shouted and calls given to gherao the Ramgarh police station even as the older men tried to calm everyone down. Age won: after 15 minutes of agitation, the young men calmed down.
Outside Manua, a 50-strong company of Jharkhand Police had anticipated the anger and waited in full riot gear, blocking the one lane which leads out of the village. Groups of policemen and riot-control vehicles were placed along the highway leading to Ramgarh town. Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prohibits an assembly of more than four people, had been imposed by the administration all across Ramgarh district as well. “We have announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs two lakh for the family,” Ramgarh Deputy Commissioner Rajeswari B told Scroll.in.
“They offered us two lakhs, why should we take two lakhs,” seethed Parveen. “Are we beggars?”
“Remember, my father was beaten with the lathi of the police in front of the police,” said Parveen. “People from the Bajrang Dal were present there when my mother went to the Ramgarh police station – they took her picture, they laughed at her. But these groups have so much power the police couldn’t do anything.”
Ansari’s family claimed that the hysteria around beef is now being used by people to settle personal scores with Muslims. “Some people from our village hated my father, so they called these [cow vigilante] groups when he set out from the village carrying the meat,” claimed Parveen.
This is a pattern that was seen earlier in Giridh, also in Jharkhand, on Tuesday, when a villager slit the throat of a cow, which had died of an illness, to create the impression that a Muslim dairy farmer had killed his own animal. A week earlier, a fight over seats in a local train in Haryana soon descended to one party – which happened to be Muslim – being accused of eating beef. A 16-year old Muslim boy was killed in the altercation.
“Beef was just a bahaana, an excuse, that they used to kill him” said Mariam. “They killed him because he was Muslim.”