Nai Majra, Saharanpur: Mother-of-four Phool Bano, sitting in a dark room, struggles to talk. Her face is emotionless, but her eyes are filled with hurt. Surrounded by sisters-in-law and children, she is reluctant to share her pain. Twenty-five-year-old Bano’s husband, Mustain Abbas, was killed – allegedly by Gau Raksha Dal (cow protection group) members in Kurukshetra, Haryana. “He used to pamper the kids, take the youngest one, two (years old), with him on his shoulders when he came back from work in the evening. They look for him now, ask me questions about him, where he has vanished all of a sudden. I have no answers for them,” says the soft-spoken Bano, holding her children close.
Abbas, 27, left Nai Majra, a village in the Gangoh tehsil of Saharanpur, on March 27 with some money taken from his father to buy cattle from Kurukshetra. He was accompanied by four other people from his village. He couldn’t buy a buffalo, but bought a bull for ploughing the fields.
When Abbas and his companions were on their way back to the village, they saw that a police vehicle and 10-12 armed men had blocked the Shahbad-Delhi road with tractors. They realised that the men were Gau Raksha Dal members, but before the driver could reverse the Mahindra pick-up, the men had fired bullets and burst the car’s tyres. Abbas and his friends tried to flee. He was injured while running, but everyone else managed to escape.
The others reached Nai Majra the next day and informed Abbas’s family about the incident. His family went to the Gangoh police station to file a missing person’s report on March 8. They then also filed similar reports in the Shahbad and Peepli police stations.
The police, according to the family, did not pay much heed to their complaint. Abbas’s father Tahir Hasan even said the police officer at Peepli police station told him to forget the case before he and his other family members also vanish. A similar threat was made at Shahbad police station. After dealing with a completely unhelpful police, the family moved the Punjab and Haryana high court on March 16.
The high court ordered the immediate transfer of the Kurukshetra district magistrate, superintendent of police, deputy superintendent of police and station house officer of the Shahbad police station “to a far-off place with inconsequential posting(s)”. The court also transferred the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on May 9. The state government’s appeal to stay the CBI probe was rejected by the Supreme Court, but the transfer of the officials was put on hold.
No significant progress has been made in the case, though four months have passed. The family received notice from the CBI and one officer came around to question them. No arrests have been made.
Hasan, 53, has no hope from the police investigation, particularly after the response he received at Shahbad and Peepli police stations. The police have still not given the post-mortem report to the family. The hopeless father remembers the harassment he had to go through at the hands of a police force meant to help them. The only respite came from the court.
Almost a month later, on April 2, the family finally received a call from Shahbad police station asking them to identify a body they recovered from a drain near Masana village in Kurukshetra. Abbas’s body had countless stab wounds, his face was mutiliated, his limbs were broken and his clothes were not the same as the ones he was wearing when he left home on March 5.
Hasan alleges his son was not killed immediately but rather abducted and then tortured for a month. “He had torture marks all over his body. He had sword wounds. Even his clothes were not the same. They did not even give him a chance to say anything. Even if he was carrying a buffalo, for instance, should they not have handed him over to the police instead of killing him mercilessly?” he said.
Abbas’s mother, Alezehra, while trying to console her daughter-in-law, finds it hard to hold back her tears. Alezehra says she doesn’t want to break down in front of the children. “I want to fight for my son and their father. I have hope that we will get justice. My son was innocent. Why should an innocent man be killed? The culprits have to be punished.”
While the family is determined to fight the case till the end, Abbas is not the first one in the village to lose his life to rumours of beef consumption. In December 2015, during the local panchayat polls, Khushnood Khan was killed while he was going to vote, allegedly by Gau Raksha Dal members on the suspicion that he had consumed beef.
Although consuming beef is not banned in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), there have been several incidents of this kind in UP and other states. The cycle of ‘beef killings’ started with the murder of Muhammad Akhlaq in Dadri in September last year, after which tensions have been simmering across the country. Another beef killing took place in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, when Zahid Ahmed, 19, was attacked by a mob on the Jammu-Srinagar road for allegedly slaughtering cows. Ahmed was set on fire in his own truck on October 9, 2015.
Similar incidents of killings and violence have been reported from Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and other states as well. The most recent incident was reported from Rajasthan, where a Muslim man was stripped naked and beaten ruthlessly by a mob for carrying cattle.
While beef remains a volatile issue in the country, what the families of Abbas and others want the law to handle such cases properly. Alezehra says, “Even if my son was doing something unlawful, shouldn’t he have been handed over to the police, rather than being tortured and killed like this? What is the police for then? They could have jailed him, given him punishment but he would have lived to come back to us and his kids someday. Why did they have to kill him?”