Gurgaon: In what is probably one of the first instances of Haryana’s draconian new anti-beef law being invoked in the national capital region, three Muslim men were arrested from the Wazirabad area of Gurgaon in Haryana on February 1 on the charge of selling ‘cow’ meat.
The men – who now face the prospect of a five-year jail term – insist the meat was buffalo, which is still legal to slaughter and sell in Haryana. But in what could become a pattern in such cases, the evidence collected by the police was sent for quick testing and then destroyed, leaving the accused with no opportunity to prepare their defence.
The case is also significant because of the involvement of cow protection vigilantes in the ‘discovery’ of the alleged offence, and the accusations made by the families and neighbours of the arrested men of the police’s brutality and high-handedness in effecting its arrests.
The police acted on a complaint filed by Manish Yadav, member of Wazirabad Gau Raksha Dal. The three young men were produced before the district magistrate on Tuesday, who sent them to Bhondsi Jail, Gurgaon. They have been charged under the Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan (HGSG) Act, 2015, [PDF] and the offences are non-bailable.
Tough law made tougher still
The HGSG Act, brought in by the Bharatiya Janata Party government of Manohar Lal Khattar last November to replace the Punjab Prohibition of Cow Slaughter Act, 1955, [PDF] defines ‘cow’ to include bulls, bullocks, oxen, heifers or calves, as well as disabled, diseased, or, barren cows. The slaughter of cows and the sale of beef – so defined – was already prohibited under the earlier Act. The new law includes beef “contained in sealed containers”, thus banning the sale of canned beef. In addition, the new law – which received presidential assent last November – prohibits the keeping or storing of beef for sale (though, unlike Maharashtra [PDF], it does not outlaw mere possession). Finally, the maximum penalty for cow slaughter has been increased to 10 years. For selling beef, the prescribed maximum jail term is five years.
The Act enables any police officer above the rank of a sub-inspector, or any person authorised by the government, to enter, stop and search any vehicle used or intended to be used for the export of ‘cows’, and also enables a police officer to enter and search any premises used or intended to be used for slaughter.
Role of cow protection group
Investigating Officer Sushil Kumar from the Sushant Lok police station told The Wire, “On receiving a phone call from the complainant on the morning of February 1, the SHO took a team of policemen to Wazirabad to search the premise of a resident, Muzamil Ahmed, for cow meat.”
The complainant, Manish Yadav, told this correspondent, “Even before the police arrived, we got the meat checked by the veterinary doctor associated with our cow protection organisation. He immediately certified it to be cow meat. The SHO later took the meat to a government vet who, within an hour’s time, also certified it as cow meat.”
Kumar said, “Muzamil was arrested with the meat he brought from Faridabad to sell to the Muslim residents of Wazirabad area. We also arrested another young man, Ameen Ali, from the same premises for helping Muzamil abet the crime.” A third colony resident, Shafikul Ahmed, was also arrested later in the day “for assisting Muzamil.”
The investigating officer said the seized meat was no longer with the police “as it was already certified to be cow meat by a government vet as per the HGSG Act.”
In fact, the Act only says that the government “shall establish laboratories for the differentiation of beef from the meat of other animals.
So where did the meat seized from Wazirabad go? To the complainants. “The police handed over the seized meat to us on request. The slaughtered animal was our gau mata. So we ritualistically buried the meat,” Yadav told The Wire.
Asked for his assessment of procedures the police followed after seizing the meat, Sanjay Hegde, a senior advocate in the Supreme Court said, “Statutes like the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act allow two samples to be taken of a seized good. While one is sent to the laboratory for testing, the other is kept so that an accused or someone else can use it if he/she wants to challenge the first result. But there is absence of such a provision in the HGSG Act. This, therefore, doesn’t fully protect the rights of an accused, which is the inherent basis of our legal system.” He added, “Sooner or later, the court will have to take a look at the lop-sidedness of the Act. Someone will have to challenge it in the court.”
Refuting the contention of the police, family members of the arrested men and some Muslim residents of their neighbourhood, insist that the seized meat was buffalo flesh. “Muzamil has been selling buffalo meat for some time now. Selling cow meat has been illegal in Haryana for years, so why would he risk selling it?” asks a family member.
“We buy buffalo meat from him because he sells it at a lesser price than the others. Ameen and Shafikul used to go to his house only to buy meat, like many of us. They live in the colony, so we know that they are not meat sellers. Shafikul works as a driver for a family living in a Gurgaon apartment,” said a neighbour.
“Ameen tried to tell the police that he had nothing to do with the meat business but they didn’t listen to him and began thrashing him, so much so that he had to be admitted in Sadar Hospital for a night after his arrest. All of us are now scared that we can be targeted by the police on someone’s allegation,” said another. All three refused to give their names to this correspondent because of the “fear of being targeted by the police for speaking to the media.”
On condition of anonymity, yet another neighbour narrated, “Police came to Shafikul’s house around 11 a.m. on Monday looking for him but he was at work. They said Muzamil confessed to them that Shafikul is also his accomplice. On not finding him at home, they took away his mother. She refused to get into the police van, so she was thrashed and kicked. There was no policewoman present. In the evening, Shafikul went to the police station where he was arrested and the mother was allowed to go home.”
The investigating officer denied this allegation. “At least, I don’t know of her detention,” he said.
Beyond beef, garden variety prejudice
Yadav said that for some time he and his Dal members were “suspicious” of Muzamil. “Monday morning, I was going to the temple and noticed that Muzamil was carrying something which looked like cow meat. So I raised an alarm and seized the meat and informed the SHO of Sushant Lok Police Station, who supported us and acted immediately.” He said, “Though Wazirabad is a Yadav dominated colony, for some years, the number of Muslims has grown quite a bit. They now openly eat cow meat and do namaz everywhere. We complained about it to the police before also but nobody listened to us then. Only this time, they acted.”
The Wazirabad Gau Raksha Dal, Yadav said, “has been active for some time.” A Facebook post of the Dal laments, “Seventy thousand Indians reached Australia to watch a cricket match. Just think, when will that day come when 70,000 Indians come forward to save the cow?”
After Monday’s arrests, the families of the three men had to vacate their rented accommodations in the colony. Said well-known public intellectual and historian Dilip Simeon, “It looks like the new law is being used to push the Muslim residents out of that colony. This incident will lead to fear and others will also now think of moving out. Such acts will cause further marginalisation of poor Muslims.”
Simeon equated the state’s cow protection law with “the blasphemy law in Pakistan where anyone can accuse anyone of blasphemy and send that person to jail. One can easily use the HGSC Act too to settle scores and send someone to jail for years.”
He added, “With executive bias, the Act can also be used to go after a community whose staple is meat, including buffalo meat, which is otherwise allowed by law.”
Last October, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar told the Indian Express:
“मुस्लिम रहें, मगर इस देश में बीफ़ खाना छोड़ना ही होगा उनको”
(Muslim rahein, magar is desh mein beef khaana chhodna hi hoga unko).
“Muslims can be Muslims [another meaning of the phrase ‘Muslim rahein’ is that ‘Muslims can live here’] but they will have to stop eating beef in this country.”
Since the Narendra Modi government came to power in the Centre and the BJP stepped up its campaign against beef, five Muslim men have been killed by mobs or the police in incidents of suspected cow slaughter or smuggling. Of these, two took place in Haryana.