In Pehlu Khan's Village, Fear, Dismay and Anger Linger

Muslims in the region said they have decided to move away from cattle-based occupations after seeing what happened to Khan.

Muslims in the region said they have decided to move away from cattle-based occupations after seeing what happened to Khan.

Pehlu Khan's mother (R). Credit: Murali Krishnan

Pehlu Khan’s mother (R). Credit: Murali Krishnan

Nuh, Haryana: A pall of gloom hangs heavy in Pehlu Khan’s village, Jaisinghpur in Nuh. The 55-year-old dairy farmer was beaten to death by self-styled cow vigilantes last month.

Though a month has passed since the horrific incident, many from the Muslim community are apprehensive. Eighty percent of the population in Mewat, Haryana is Muslim and is ethnically ‘Mev’ or ‘Meo’.

Pehlu’s sons’ Irshad, 24, and Aarif, 19, are distraught. They were with their father when they were attacked by self-appointed cow vigilatnes (gau rakshaks) in Alwar’s Behror area on April 1. They said they could do nothing while he was mercilessly beaten up. Pehlu died two days later in a private clinic.

“There were two cows and two calves in the truck. Irshad, I and another villager were in the other pickup truck which had three cows and three calves,” said Aarif, who still can’t pluck up the courage to speak.

Pehlu sat in the hired truck, with two cows and two calves. Irshad carried three cows in his pick-up van and drove with his neighbour and friend Asmat.

Irshad, who still has eye injuries, claimed they had receipts to show that they had purchased the cows. But the vigilantes were not bothered. They were robbed of their wallets and cellphones and close to Rs 100,000.

“I will stop tending cows or buffaloes. They (vigilantes) were only after money. My father was killed because he had a beard,” exclaims Irshad. Family members and villagers in Jaisinghpur say most families keep cows or buffaloes and many sell milk for a livelihood.

“But in the last few months, we are looked upon suspiciously. Mahaul karab hain (The atmosphere is bad),” bemoans says Yasin Khan, a village sarpanch.

Ironically, the Rajasthan police first registered a First Information Report (FIR) against Pehlu and his companions under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995.

Pehlu’s uncle, Hussain Khan is livid.  “What have we got? Nothing and we don’t’ think we will ever get justice.”

Azmat who was also injured in the attack, only wants to walk again. “We are just dairy farmers. Who kills cows?” he asks.

His nephew, Mohammed Rafiq, is still bedridden, suffering a broken nose and a leg fracture for over a month.

“There is a big fear. I will never, ever get back to dairying. There are lumpen elements at large and they will do anything,” says Rafiq.

In Haryana, the Gau Rakshak Dal claims to have 5,000 members who patrol highways and stop trucks carrying cows at a whim.

There is a bigger worry that afflicts pockets of Mewat. Many Muslim households have lost their livelihoods or given up being cow herders because of sheer fear. Late last month, the Meo Muslims of Alwar led by the head of the Meo Panchayat, Sher Mohammad, announced that they will start surrendering their cows to the district administration on a daily basis as a sign of protest.

The community has warned that unless the government guarantees safety and security to farmers and bovine owners, more than 900,000 Meos in Alwar district will surrender their cows to the district administration.

Muslims who constitute a majority in Nuh town are wary, especially after Pehlu’s murder. Talk to anyone and it is apparent.

Biryani stalls that pockmark the highway and many street corners and which usually sell buffalo meet are absent. Now they offer only chicken biryani which is more expensive. Sales have dipped by as much as 50% ever since officials started collecting samples last year.

“Teams of the state police, supported by non-state cow vigilantes, collected samples of biryani sold by locals on the highways to Alwar and Gurgaon to test whether these contained cow meat. It happens periodically,” says Ramzan Chaudhry, a lawyer from Nuh.

A drive across Mewat reveals that the number of biryani sellers has decreased. A couple of months ago, a number of biryani vendors were spotted at every intersection, dotting the entire maze of highways crisscrossing the district.

“We hate what we are doing. Our sales have come down drastically,” says Ahmad Khan, a biryani seller in front of Nuh’s bus stand.

In his estimate, the policing was less to do with beef and more to do with instilling fear in the community.

It all started last year when Mohammed Akhlaq, a resident of Bisada village in UP’s Dadri district, was lynched by a mob for allegedly storing beef in his freezer. It has only gotten worse since then.

According to Human Rights Watch, since May 2015, a vigilante campaign against beef consumption has led to the killing of at least ten Muslims, including a 12-year-old boy, in seven separate incidents of mob violence.

In July 2016, in Gujarat, vigilantes stripped four Dalit men, tied them to a car, and beat them with sticks and belts over suspicions of cow slaughter. In a number of cases, the attackers have also robbed their victims of cash and cellphones, and damaged their property.

The ordeal of Pehlu’s family continues. His widow Jebuna Begum has just come out of the customary 40-day mourning.

For all those days Jebuna had shuttered herself from the outside world, interacting minimally with close relatives as her shattered family still reconciles itself to the tragedy that befell them.

Pehlu’s mother, Ankuri Beegam is inconsolable. She is blind and almost 80 years old. And she breaks down anytime that her son’s name is mentioned. Pehlu was her only son. He had eight children.

“They took my son away. Why did they kill him? Why,” she implores.

“He was a good man. He did not hurt anyone.”

Last month, she along with her family members staged a sit-in demonstration to demand justice for him at Jantar Mantar, the iconic rallying site in the capital.

But has anything happened? The state administration has done precious little. No compensation for Pehlu’s family or even arresting the mob squad that attacked him.

The fear is palpable in Nuh. The vigilantes have their way.