With three lynchings in 16 months by alleged cow vigilantes, Rajesh Asnani and Siddhanta Mishra find that Rajasthan’s Alwar district has become highly polarised, with Muslim Meo community contesting cattle smuggling charge and alleging that economic rivalry is being given a communal twist
When Rakbar Khan of Haryana’s Nuh village was beaten to death, allegedly by cow vigilantes, in Rajasthan’s Alwar district on the night of July 21, an alarming sense of dread and déjà vu gripped the Meo community spread over the two states. This was the third time a member of the community, which has been cattle herders for centuries, was killed by gau rakshaks in the district in the last 16 months.
The incident has put the spotlight firmly on Alwar, located about 150 km south of Delhi, raising questions as to why the district has become a hotbed of activity for gau rakshaks. There are two different narratives coming from the two sides in this battle — one that says it’s the Hindutva brigade trying to spread the virus of communal hatred and the other, which alleges that cattle smuggling has become such a big menace in the area that it’s eliciting extreme reactions.
The bitter communal politics over cow in Alwar has a complex socio-economic matrix and geographical dynamics. The Alwar district, as well as parts of the Bharatpur district in Rajasthan and the Nuh district in Haryana, form part of the Mewat region that is known for cattle rearing and trade. Nuh is alleged to be a hub of smugglers who come to Alwar and Bharatpur in search of cows.
With the complaints of cattle smuggling rising, the BJP promised opening of cow police stations in the run-up to the 2013 Assembly elections. Over a dozen such police stations have been opened in Alwar and Bharatpur since the party came to power. Every year 100-150 cases of cow smuggling are registered in Alwar alone, highest in the state.
The smugglers allegedly lure the cows with rotis which are then herded in vehicles. A monthly amount is paid, allegedly to gaushala owners and police stations, to ensure that the vehicles carrying the smuggled cows can pass through Ramgarh, Lallavandi, Aawara, Choma and Sheikhpur. Once they enter Haryana, they are in safe haven.
The drivers of the vehicle are paid anything between Rs10,000-Rs20,000, and the people who help in the loading of the cows in the vehicles are paid Rs 2,000-Rs 4,000. The smugglers allegedly sell the cowhide for Rs 1,200- Rs1,500 and cow meat at Rs 100 per kg. There are two people on motorcycles who act as guides and alert about police presence.
With the opening of the cow police stations, increased police patrolling and a network of informers in the area, the cow smugglers are now allegedly operating at night and taking kutcha (unpaved) roads to avoid getting caught.
Cops substantiate the charge of cow smuggling and say the situation is getting “out of hand”. “Last month, I and my team intercepted cow smugglers near the border and tried to stop them when they opened fire at us. Earlier, a few people suspected to be smuggling cows in a jeep damaged our PCR and fled,” said a police constable at Noh Gaon police post before adding hurriedly that the lynching of smugglers and Hindus taking law in their hands was wrong.
Cotton farmers in the region also allege that the cattle being smuggled damage their crops, which is feeding their anger.“Due to these smugglers, villagers like us have faced a loss because when cows are taken through kutcha roads and farms, they eat out our crops. This smuggling mostly happens in the monsoon season. When there is a storm or heavy rainfall, most people stay inside, which is when Lalawandi and adjoining villages are used as routes for cow trafficking,” said Surendra Singh, a gym owner near the entrance of Lalawandi village. Referring to the Rakbar case, he said, “It is sad that the police and the administration are looking at only one side of the story.”
The Meo, however, feel the matter cow smuggling charges are just an excuse to give a communal twist to the whole issue so that politicians can milk it to suit their electoral interests. The Meo community has been into cattle rearing for centuries. While some people may be indulging in cow smuggling, the whole community is being tainted and targeted.
They allege that actually it’s because of the competition between cattle rearing communities among Hindus and the Meos that these planned attacks are happening in order to bully the Muslims out of the business.
As both Meo Muslims and Hindus — mostly Rajputs and Yadavs — are into agriculture and cattle rearing, there is frequent buying and selling of land and animals among them. “Often, when people from these two communities sell cows to the Meos, they inform the fringe elements. The buyer is then cornered and has to cough up money, which is divided between the police and the gau rakshaks. Sometimes, if the person is unable to pay at least half the amount to the vigilantes, he is beaten up,” said a person in Lalawandi village.
In Rajasthan, however, the cow smuggling charged is repeatedly harped on by BJP leaders and Hindutva hardliners. The networks of informers that the police have created in Alwar are mostly associated with Right-wing organisations and are said to have the support of politicians. In the Nuh region, roadside eateries are alleged to serve beef and Saffron activists allege cows are smuggled and killed for meat.
The Meos feel all these allegations are leveled to whip up communal passions, especially now that elections are approaching. “Traditional issues like Ram Mandir and Jammu and Kashmir, which the BJP used to divide the people to garner votes, are no longer working from them. On both sides, majority of people, be it Hindus or Muslims, do not identify themselves with these issues any more.
So, the BJP is now out to find a new issue to create a divide in society. The so called gau raksha has emerged as such a big matter only in the last three years. One can see the political reactions and statements made by Right-wing elements; they are justifying such acts,” said Sher Mohammad, president of Meo Panchayat of Alwar region. The community accuses the state machinery in Rajasthan of looking the other way when it comes to series of attacks on the them.
The allegation in not unfounded. From Rajgarh MLA Gyandev Ahuja to state BJP chief Madan Lal Saini, all have made statements directly or indirectly blaming the victims. Even the state Congress leaders have failed to go beyond cursory condemnation. No wonder then that the approaching poll season is making the community jittery.