Rights

Justice Denied: A Road Accident That Wasn't, a Lynching That Was

The Haryana police covered up the August 2013 murder of three young men by a mob of cow vigilantes. Five years on, the sole survivor is a wreck but the families of the murdered men still want justice.

Kherla (Haryana): ‘That drunkard? The one with a plastic leg? Arrey, mad Murshida’s husband, na?’  

There are many ways in which Taufeeq is identified in Kherla, a small village with a population of 3,000 people, in the Punhana tehsil of Nuh district in Haryana.

This is the region where one year before Narendra Modi became prime minister and cow vigilantism slipped into high gear, a violent mob attacked four men, killing three, on suspicion of smuggling cows for slaughter. The man who survived was Taufeeq. But did he really?

Five years back, Taufeeq was full of the ‘chirpiness and ambition of youth’ as his uncle, Fateh, describes. When he was three, his mother passed away. His father turned blind when he was five. Fateh, his father’s brother, stepped in to bring him up.

He lives in a mud hut on the land that belongs to his ancestors. “There are so many inheritors now that if it gets divided, Taufeeq won’t even get land the size of his cot,” says Fateh.  

Taufeeq had wanted to construct his own brick house one day just as he was doing for others as a sought after mason five years back. But not any more. “It seems like the Taufeeq I brought up is lost. So much has changed in five years,” says Fateh.

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In 2011, since he had no land or money, he was married off to Murshida, a beautiful 17-year-old girl who is said to have spoken to a jinniri that year. A jinniri is a female jinn, a supernatural creature from Islamic mythology. For some reason, the jinniri is only visible to Murshida and so when Murshida talks to her, it seems like she is talking to herself. Everyone thought that marriage would fix Murshida’s jinniri problem. She would cook, clean and have children and then the jinniri would go away from Murshida’s life. But that never happened. And within two years, Taufeeq tasted hell.  Courtesy the jinniri, say the villagers.

Taufeeq had the habit of hanging out with friends every evening. Most of them, just like him, had aspirations for a better life and more money and so they would keep coming up with business plans and giving them a shot. One such plan changed life forever.

On August 6, 2013, just two days before Eid, four friends – Sahroon, Fareed, Sher Singh and Taufeeq – decided to travel to Delhi to buy clothes that they could sell to Eid shoppers in the Punhana market. It seemed like a great idea.

They bought clothes worth Rs 30,000 from Lajpat Nagar, a well known retail market for budget shoppers in south Delhi. It was already past midnight. To save money on the fare for the cargo back home, they took a lift in a pick-up truck in Badarpur that was bound for Nuh. As they drove on, a car started trailing them. This continued for 15-20 km. At 2am, as soon as they approached Ankeer chowk near Surajkund in Faridabad district, they saw four cars with 20-30 policemen. Their truck slowed down because the driver had saved on the toll tax and was scared of being caught. Just then, they were hit by a dump truck from behind. The pick-up truck turned turtle on the adjacent footpath.

As they struggled to get out of the truck, Taufeeq and his friends heard slogans which became louder and louder. ‘Kill the cow smugglers! Don’t spare the cow killers! Catch the butchers! Don’t leave the Musalmans! Gai mata ki jai!’

The mob of about 50 people ran towards them with lathis, swords, guns and sickles. The driver, still in the front, managed to run away. The mob charged at them. The assault which lasted ten minutes felt like an eternity. “We begged them to stop. Asked them to check the truck. But they kept calling us ‘cow thieves’ and ‘butchers’ and beat us like there was no tomorrow,” Taufeeq recalls in a detached tone.

They split Sahroon’s head, broke Sher Singh’s ribs and legs, broke Fareed’s jaw and fired at his head. He recalls, “I could see Fareed’s entire set of teeth in his hand. We were four bodies lying in a pile on top of each other. I was right at the bottom of the pile. Probably that’s why I survived.” He adds,“The policemen, 30 of them, stood there and watched. They did not save us, did not stop the mob.”

Fareed was crying, ‘Allah, maar dihin. (Allah, they have killed me)’, Taufeeq recalled. But the mob wasn’t done. They chopped off his left leg from below the knee. “I fainted, and woke up in hospital at 6 in the morning. By then, the other three were dead. Sher Singh and Fareed had perished at the spot. Sahroon died in the hospital,” he says.

Taufeeq’s head was split open, five of his ribs were broken, he had a fracture in his right hand, his jaw was dislocated and he had several injuries on his chest and left hand.

The next day, both the local media and the police described the vitims as ‘cow smugglers’. Newspapers announced that three cow smugglers had died in a road accident in Faridabad. The FIR filed in the case by one Vijay Bhadana from Anangpur village in Faridabad claimed that the pick-up truck had stolen four of his cows from the village. When followed by their car, the truck in a bid to escape, lost its balance and turned over. Vijay Bhadana and some local Gujjar ‘youth’ tried to stop them.  In the accident, three out of the four cow smugglers died. The FIR also claims that two out of four cows cows died in an accident. Within a matter of hours the mob lynching officially was declared as an ‘accident’ by the police.

The headline says three cattle smugglers die in a road accident. The truth is that they were killed by a mob even as the police stood by watching. Credit: Neha Dixit.

Bhagwan Das, Sher Singh’s father, who is a landless Dalit and lives in Paimakheda village, 15 km from Kherla contests the claim. Sher Singh was the eldest son and the sole earning member in the family. He made a living as a jalebi hawker and had two kids. He says, “The pictures from the sight of the accident had no cows. The mob beat them up on mere suspicion of cow smuggling.” None of the families have been given post mortem reports. “In the last five years, I have been to BK hospital every month to ask for the post mortem report. They abuse us and send us off because they don’t want us to present evidence in the court that these boys died because of lynching and not in an accident.,”he says.

Bhagwan Das says he is not fighting for compensation. “I want the police who stood watching while the mob killed these boys [to be made accountable] – the cops who lied and made the case of lynching a road accident on paper,” he says.

Fareed’s wife, Najma, who now works as a farm labourer to raise three of her children, also asks, “He had a bullet injury in his head and his legs were broken. How does that happen in a case of road accident?”

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The incident took place in 2013 when the Congress-led coalition was in power at the centre. Haryana too was ruled by a Congress government. In the name of cow protection, violent cow vigilantism was prevalent even then. But such activities gained new legitimacy and ideological currency during the BJP’s campaign leading up to the 2014 general elections. And even more so after the party came to power at the centre, and in the state, with a huge mandate.

In April 2014, just a month before general elections, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi said that he fears a ‘pink revolution’. This was in reference to the expansion of the  meat export industry. The campaign promised that when the party comes to power, it will stop subsidies to those who engage in cow slaughter. This statement clearly indicated communal overtones targeting Muslim exporters. Similarly, in October 2014, just before the Haryana assembly elections, the party released a manifesto that said ‘if voted to power, BJP will take steps for stricter implementation of the laws against cow slaughter. The chairman of the manifesto committee, Ganeshi Lal, said cow slaughter will be equated with culpable homicide.’ The BJP came to power in the state the same month.

The first case of cow vigilantism  to come to light after the 2014 elections was that of Mohammed Akhlaq, a 52-year-old man who was beaten to death by a mob with rods and sticks on accusation of slaughtering a cow and consuming beef on September 28, 2015. While an investigation concluded that he was not consuming beef, one of the key accused in the case was the son of a BJP politician. Since then, the number of attacks on Muslims have swelled.

According to a report by IndiaSpend, Muslims were the target of 52% of violence centred on bovine issues over nearly eight years (2010 to 2017) and comprised 84% of the 25 people killed in 60 incidents. As many as 97% of these incidents were reported after the Modi government came to power in May 2014, and half of the cow related incidents – 30 out of 60 – were from states governed by the BJP until June 25, 2017. In June 2018, while listening to a petition on cow vigilantism, a Supreme Court bench acknowledged that instead of putting down the activities of cow vigilante groups, there had been an increase in attacks. Observing that cow vigilantism was not “permissible”, the court had said that “there has to be some kind of action”.

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It is dusk. Taufeeq does not have a phone. “He is usually found lying on the cot outside his house, drunk,” replied a villager when asked where could one find him.

“He is elusive. It seems like he enjoys the chase. Some sadist pleasure, I think,”says Aarif, a local human rights activist who has known Taufeeq for five years.

Taufeeq turned up two hours later at his house. His body and his mud hut look alike. Worn out, chipped but surviving. He has a prosthetic right limb, his body is a little tilted towards the left and he has a swollen belly and a rod fitted stiff right hand. He has very angry, kohl lined eyes that turn red when he is angrier than his usual self. Mostly, when children run away with his plastic leg when he is sprawled on the cot, drunk. Which is almost everyday. And at other times, when too many questions are asked. Which is rare, like this evening, because not many dare to ask him questions any longer.

“People say that Musalmaans do not drink alcohol because it is haraam but Taufeeq is also setting a world record here,” his uncle joked. Taufeeq was humiliated. “I don’t drink for pleasure. My body hurts so much. Alcohol is the only relief, ” he said.

He has lost many friends in the last five years. Firstly because of illness and immobility but more so because anyone who accompanies him will be declared a cow smuggler. Regardless of whether they are Hindu or Muslim. Some say ‘Sher Singh lost his life because he was friends with Muslim boys.’
Sher Singh’s father, Bhagwan Das, says that ‘gau raksha’ is a political issue to divide people on religious lines and break the Mewati unity. Mewat is referred to a geographical region with parts of UP, Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. It has a distinct culture and dialect. Nuh district is also part of Mewat “The fact is that they hate Mewat. It is not about cows. They killed Pehlu. Was he killing a cow? They did that with Junaid too. He was on a train. Was he killing a cow? I am a Dalit but I know this is all a communal agenda. For votes.”

Ramvati, mother of Sher Singh, killed by cow vigilantes on August 7, 2013, with a picture of her son. Credit: Neha Dixit

Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer from Nuh district was lynched by a mob in Alwar on March 31, 2017. Junaid, a 17 year old boy from Ballabgarh was beaten to death on board a train from Delhi by a mob on July 1, 2017.   

It took Taufeeq three and a half years to recover and stand up on his feet. Activists like Aarif got a disability certificate for him to be able to procure a prosthetic limb.  

He refers to the incident as ‘hadsa’ –  a calamity, a misfortune. And rarely talks about it. Perhaps, the retelling reignites feelings of anguish.

Did he ever think about filing a complaint, demanding an enquiry against the police

Never. I don’t want to talk about the hadsa nor do I want to go to the police. Nothing will happen. This is my life. This is how it is meant to be,” he says with a stoic resignation.

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Dr. Himanshu Mohan Kumar, an international health consultant with expertise in mental health says that Taufeeq has typical symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.  PTSD can make the task of maintaining mental stability extremely daunting. He says that Taufeeq’s situation is similar. “The first kind of psychological issue people like Taufeeq face is that of fear and dejection. When no social support comes to fight the injustice they face. The personality that they have built over the years starts degenerating after facing this kind of trauma. Anyway, this personality is not strong for people like Taufeeq who face social marginalisation since their childhood on account of their religion and deprived financial background. They face second grade citizenry that makes the foundation of their personality really soft and vulnerable. Over a period of time, they become social isolates.”

Since Taufeeq’s miseries were also attributed to Murshida’s jinniri and the bad luck it brings, it needed a fix. As a result, she bore a son who is now three years old and a daughter who is one now. Murshida, 23, is even more delirious now. “She sits the whole day in the sun talking to the jinniri. Her hair is matted and her clothes unwashed. She does not even take care of the children,” says Fateh.

And Taufeeq has no interest in his children either. “When he recovered, there were days when he would come up with job ideas because he could no more work as a mason or a farm labourer due to the prosthetic limb. Now, he just does not talk. And mostly opens his mouth to abuse and throw barbs at Murshida or to beat up the children,” says Jamaal, his cousin. The children are at the mercy of the neighbours and distant relatives. “Allah knows, what they will turn out to be to see a mad mother and abusive father. Local activists bought a fruit cart for Taufeeq to make a living but he has instead rented it out to someone else and spends all the rent on alcohol. There is no money for food and no talk of constructing the brick house either.

Dr. Himanshu says that clinically, Taufeeq has gone through a period of acute anxiety. “In such a condition, they see no positivity around them and start thinking about how their future is spoilt, they have lost alignment with society and financial worry also sets in. This acute anxiety goes away in some time when they emerge as a survivor temporarily. It is in this period, they start recounting what actually happened to them. Event by event. That makes them feel let down by society. That’s when depression sets in.”

Taufeeq tells Aarif, “It is better for people who die. Survival is not good.” He walks away and does not return.

Meanwhile, his village, Kherla, referred to as ‘the hub of criminals’ in newspaper reports, is being developed as a tourist village in Haryana. This year, NGO workers in collaboration with state government are painting stars, moons, twigs and flowers on the village walls as a sign of liberation and freedom. One depicts a girl on a swing, the other shows birds flying out of cages. This February, Taufeeq chased away some painters who tried to paint his mud hut by hurling  stones at them, yelling, “Leave my broken mud hut alone. Stop the drama!”

Fateh says Murshida’s jinniri is slowly taking over Taufeeq too.

This article is part of a fellowship from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) to undertake field-based investigative research on issues relating to the marginalised communities in India

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