New Delhi: The Karnataka police on Wednesday, April 5, said that five vigilantes – including Punith Kerehalli – who are accused of killing cattle trader Idris Pasha have been arrested from Banaswara in Rajasthan.
The self-styled gau rakshaks, who are members of right-wing groups, had “intercepted” Pasha and his associates while they were transporting cattle late on March 31. Despite having the necessary documents, they were accused by the vigilantes of illegal trade and assaulted. Pasha’s body was found on April 1.
The driver of the truck was taken to the Sathanur police station by the vigilantes, where they sought a case to be registered under the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020. The law gives special immunity to persons “acting in the interest of cow protection”, which critics have said enables vigilantism.
As The Wire has reported, Kerehalli is the president of a “far-right Hindutva outfit called Raastra Rakshana Pade (literally, ‘national security organisation’)”, which was involved in campaigns against halal food and demanding the expulsion of Muslim vendors from areas near Hindu temples. On his social media platforms, Kerehalli shared several photos of him with prominent BJP leaders like Tejaswi Surya, Kapil Mishra, K. Annamalai, and C.T. Ravi.
A total of three FIRs were registered in connection with the episode by the Sathnur police – one for the alleged murder of Idris Pasha; a second for the attack by the vigilantes; and a third under the Prevention of Slaughter Act.
According to the Indian Express, Kerehalli and the four other vigilantes “disappeared” after the Pasha’s body was discovered. The Ramanagara police said the vigilantes had been arrested in Rajasthan after a “hot pursuit across several states”.
The other accused have been identified as Gopi, Pawan Kumar, Suresh Kumar and Pilling Ambigar, according to The Hindu.
Hindutva extremist Puneeth Kerehalli arrested in Rajasthan. He has been absconding after he was accused of murdering a cattle trader five days ago. pic.twitter.com/jcWoY54dLx
— Prajwal (@prajwalmanipal) April 5, 2023
“In regards to Sathnur PS Cr No. 54/23, the death of Idris Pasha, the accused Puneeth Kerehalli and four others have been arrested by our team at Banswara, Rajasthan. We would like to thank the Rajasthan and Gujarat State Police for their help in nabbing all the accused,” Ramanagara SP Karthik Reddy said in a tweet.
“They were continuously on the run since the incident. They travelled via Belagavi to Maharashtra, Gujarat, and to Rajasthan. Our team has arrested them and they will be brought back from Rajasthan on a transit warrant,” said B.R. Ravikanthe Gowda, inspector general of police (central range), the newspaper added.
According to Indian Express, the police were still investigating the “exact cause of death” of Pasha. The post-mortem examination did not reveal serious external injuries and doctors attributed the death to a cardiac arrest. “Police sources said medical experts were still investigating what caused the cardiac arrest in the absence of any tell-tale signs of physical force,” the report said.