The communal riots in Nuh on July 31 and in Sohna and Gurugram on August 1, 2023, wherein six people were killed, was the result of an ecosystem built on frequent hate speech targeting the minority communities and that has been nurtured in the country in the recent past, concluded the fact-finding report of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS).
The CSSS regularly monitors communal violence in India. The fact-finding team looking into the communal riots in Nuh, Sohna and Gurugram consisted of Vikash Narain Rai, former director of the National Police Academy, Hyderabad and former DGP (law and order) Haryana; Dr Sandhya Mhatre (executive council member of the CSSS); and Neha Dabhade (executive director).
Elaborating on this ecosystem, Dabhade told this author that the Meo Muslims, who are agriculturists and dairy farmers living in the Mewat region spanning Haryana, Rajasthan and UP, were continuously badgered by cow vigilantes – interested more in extortion rather than the protection of cows – ever since the Haryana government passed the Cow Promotion and Protection Act in 2015.
The cow vigilantes, who describe themselves as “gau rakshaks”, have sprung up since the election of the BJP with an absolute majority at the Centre in 2014, as they enjoy impunity with the tacit patronage of those in power.
The ever-increasing and exorbitant extortion demands by the cow vigilante networks have made it nearly impossible for the Meo Muslim agriculturists to pursue the only livelihood available to them – agriculture and dairy farming with diminishing returns.
“The communal riots in Nuh that took place on 31st July 2023 is intricately linked with the systematic and blatant targeting of the Muslims in the region with no prospect of justice from the state. The residents have been aghast and resentful about how easily Muslim youth are kidnapped or abducted and murdered with the state doing little to ensure that the culprits are brought to justice,” states the report.
The CSSS’s report cites the instance of Haji Jamat Ali, a man whose cattle wealth of 56 cows, kept in a farmer’s field in Bai Kheda in Gurugram district, was allegedly seized and taken away by vigilante youth wearing saffron scarves and shouting communal slogans on June 30. Ali’s only livelihood was dairy farming.
The report states that Bittu Bajrangi was booked for snatching the cattle; however, there are little prospects of proper and effective prosecution of the offenders, who, if Ali’s allegations are true, have committed dacoity.
The report says that there were six other instances in which seven people were murdered by cow vigilantes from April 2017 to February 2023.
Among those the report says were killed by vigilantes are Pehlu Khan; Umar Mohammad from Ghatmika village; Rakbar Khan, a resident of Kolgaon; Asif Khan, a resident of Kher Khalilpur village; Waris, aged 22 years; and the last two murdered were Nasir and Junaid from Ghatmika village, who were abducted from Bharatpur, beaten to death and later burnt in their car.
Monu Manesar, who is accused of being involved in Nasir and Junaid’s abduction and murder on February 16, 2023, and who Waris’ family said was behind his death, was still moving about freely on July 31, 2023, when the riots occurred.
All those murdered by the vigilantes were done to death brutally – Asif Khan, for instance, was allegedly stabbed in the eyes and his bones broken.
In many other instances, the vigilantes, without any fear of the law, made videos of their brutality and uploaded it on their social media sites. The chilling videos were uploaded to instil fear in the minority community so that they could run their extortion racket.
All this resulted in growing anger against the state and the police among the minority community, and a feeling of helplessness.
“The Meo Muslim community fought the Mughals and opposed [the] partition of the country, and Mewat was called “Bharat ki reed ki haddi” [Hindi for ‘backbone of India’] by Mahatma Gandhi”, said Dabhade.
Being an agricultural community, Meo Muslims are well-integrated into Mewat’s local customs and cultural traditions, and are hardly distinguishable from other residents of the region. They follow Lal Khan Meo, popularly known as Baba Laldas to the Meo Muslims, who preached cow-worship, vegetarianism and chanting Lord Ram’s name, states the report.
The report states, “[t]here are many oral epics in this region where Muslim jogis have popularised epics like Gopichand, Bhartrihari and Pandavon ka Kada, indicating their affinity with Hindu religious traditions … their folklore, which attributes their … origin to Arjuna, Krishna and Rama; they celebrate Hindu festivals like Holi and Dussehra; their marriage customs combine nikah with Hindu ceremonies; their mixed names such as Fateh Singh …”
The report states that while there was a green revolution and networks of canal irrigation in Punjab and Haryana, the development of the Mewat region – which remained rainfed with scant rainfall – was ignored. The Muslim youth have no prospect of non-agricultural livelihoods, as there are no higher educational institutions or industrial units in the area.
Some Meo Muslims used to sell biryani – which was famous – along the highway. However, under pressure from vigilantes or out of their own prejudice, police seized their cooking equipment, vessels and biryani, accused them of using beef and sent their biryani for testing in laboratories. The community had to abandon their business due to the harassment and seizures, which led to heavy losses.
Some Muslim youth took to cyber fraud. However, this time the police was proactive in arresting them – and rightly so – unlike the treatment given to crimes committed by cow vigilantes.
This pent-up feeling of frustration was further aggravated when Bittu Bajrangi and Monu Manesar posted offensive and provocative videos on social media announcing their arrival on July 31 to Nuh along with the Braj Mandal jalabhishek yatra led by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). They challenged the ‘manhood’ of the Muslim community to receive them.
Some Muslim youth fell into the trap and were prepared to meet the situation should they spot either of them. In their anxiety, the Muslim youth who were prepared to receive the two miscreants spotted a white car and believed that Monu Manesar was in the car, the report states.
A Muslim boy was knocked down as the car reversed and sped away. The car was chased and stopped, and Bittu Bajrangi was pulled out, states the report. This led to the attack by a group of Muslim youth and the consequent alleged firing. Two home guards and three other Hindus were killed in the violence.
The report also quotes eyewitness stating that provocative slogans targeting the Muslim community were being shouted, including “Mulle kate jayenge, Ram ran chillayenge” (‘As Muslims will be slaughtered, they will chant the name of Lord Ram’).
Some participants in the procession were carrying arms. The participants attacked and destroyed property and businesses belonging to the Muslims in Nuh as well, a fact that has been largely ignored by the media.
Sandhya Mhatre, a member of the fact-finding team who was in Nuh on August 28 – when the VHP had threatened to take out the jalabhishek yatra once again – told this author that in contrast to the near inaction and failure of the police on July 31 in preventing and controlling the riots, the team on August 28 witnessed heavy police deployment and checkpoints in every nook and corner of Nuh town.
Police were checking every vehicle and every stranger to ensure that outsiders did not enter the town.
This meant that the Haryana police were capable of preventing the riot on July 31 if they had possessed the same determination. However, on that day, police presence was scant and they utterly failed in discharging their duty.
After the riots, police came down heavily on the Muslim community, arresting a large number of the community’s youths. They could see only women, children and old people in their homes – young and able-bodied men had run away to escape being falsely and indiscriminately accused of rioting.
The police were egged on to act indiscriminately by public statements given by the chief minister and the home minister of Haryana to teach rioters a lesson. The vindictive action included the demolition of more than 750 homes, most of which reportedly belonged to Muslims, although some members of the jalabhishek procession were also involved in rioting.
The report demanded an impartial probe into the violence by a special investigation team under judicial supervision, bringing to justice all rioters irrespective of their religion, and the release of those youth against whom there is no evidence.
The report further demanded strict action against cow vigilantes to ensure rule of law and the dismantling of their extortionist network. The report also demanded reparations to the survivors of the riots, making good their losses and the restoration of the properties that were demolished by the state.
Irfan Engineer is Director, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism.