New Delhi: A video showing a mob jeering and abusing an elderly Muslim man, suspecting him of selling beef in a weekly market in Assam’s Biswanath district, made it to news on April 8.
Local police told The Wire on April 9 morning that five people were picked up for the act based on two FIRs filed by the victim’s family and by another person, a Hindu, who was also allegedly abused by the same mob on Sunday afternoon. They were later allowed to leave after signing a good behaviour bond under Section 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
This is the second beef-related incident reported from Assam after the BJP-led coalition formed a government in the state in May 2016. In April 2017, Jorhat police had arrested three people, including a minor, for possessing beef meant for consumption following a complaint by a local BJP leader, accusing them of hurting the religious sentiments. They were later released as possessing beef for consumption is not a criminal offence under the state’s Cattle Preservation Act.
In the video circulating on social media sites since April 8, the mob is seen asking the man, identified by the police as 68-year-old Shaukat Ali, why was he selling beef. Sitting on mud and visibly nervous, Ali is seen looking at the people circling him and asking in Assamese how many years has he been selling beef for, and whether he has a licence to sell it. “Does your mahaldar (manager) know that you sell beef in the local market?”
Assam’s Cattle Preservation Act, 1950 allows slaughter of cows only over 14 years of age or those incapable of breeding. As per the Act, a fitness for slaughter certificate (loosely referred to as license) must be granted by a veterinary doctor. However, consuming or selling beef is nor a cognisable offence in the state.
Ali was also asked about his nationality: “Are you a Bangladeshi? Do you have your name in the NRC (National Register of Citizens)?” The mob was referring to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) being updated in the state as per the electoral rolls of 1971 to sieve citizens from “illegal Bangladeshis”.
He was also allegedly forced to eat a piece of pork.
Police said two FIRs were filed in the Biswanth Chariali police station after the incident. Aside from an FIR by Ali’s brother, the mahaldar, Kamal Thapa, also filed an FIR against “unknown miscreants”. Police officials didn’t term it a communal act, stating that the mahaldar, who was also heckled by the mob, is a Hindu. Ali has been running an eatery in the local market for over three decades. For some time, though, he has been suspected of selling beef in his eatery by a section of the local market committee members. Two members of the committee were among the five people picked up by police for Sunday’s incident.
According to latest reports coming from the state, local police arrested one person in the case. In a tweet, Assam police said, “All efforts are on to apprehend the other culprits at the earliest.”
The video has caused widespread condemnation from the people of the state. Some have also related it to the ugly battle being witnessed in the Tezpur Lok Sabha constituency between the Congress and the BJP for the last few weeks. The constituency has been in the news for some time as the sitting BJP MP, R.P. Sarmah, was denied a ticket allegedly at the behest of BJP’s regional strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma, as he wanted to contest from the seat. This had led Sarmah to openly revolt against Sarma.
The BJP national leadership, however, denied a ticket to Sarma. On March 21, BJP national president Amit Shah tweeted that Sarma was denied a ticket as he was needed to oversee the performance of the party in the Northeast. Instead of Sarmah, Pallabh Lochan Das, said to be close to Sarma, was given the party ticket. An aggrieved Sarmah, from the Nepali community, said he and his supporters would not back Das.
Das has also reportedly used derogatory words against Congress’s M.G.V.K. Bhanu, a retired senior bureaucrat of the state belonging to Andhra Pradesh, and termed him an ‘outsider’, apparently to consolidate the Assamese votes for his party. Aside from the tea tribe, the constituency also has a substantial number of Muslim voters.
The Tezpur constituency will go to polls on April 11.