Killing for cow

Killing for cow: In the skin of a gau rakshak

News18 reporters spend a night with gau rakshaks in Alwar, travel to the cattle market from where Pehlu Khan had bought cows on that fateful Saturday, and find out how cow vigilantism is hurting the milk economy

'No one killed Pehlu Khan, but we can kill for mother cow'

Suhas MunshiSuhas Munshi | suhasmunshi

Published: April 17, 2017

IN ALWAR, around 50 kilometers from Behror where a Muslim dairy farmer was beaten to death, Dr KK Gupta sits with his colleagues discussing the case. Gupta, a surgeon, is also zonal vice-president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and with him are the members of Bajrang Dal, VHP's youth wing.

"The boys named in the FIR are completely innocent. They were not even at the spot when Pehlu Khan was killed. And this is not the first time that police are harassing our workers," says Gupta.

Sitting with Gupta are Bajrang Dal members Yogesh, Vijay and Devender; and Vishal Ji, who introduces himself as a senior leader of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Gai kategi to qasai bhi katega, aage aur bhi katega. Aur zayada maarenge. (If cows are slaughtered then butchers will be slaughtered, even more so. We will attack them even more.)

— Rajesh Bansal

All three Bajrang Dal members claim to be colleagues of the youths named in the police FIR. "Police are always after us because they get bribed by cow smugglers like Pehlu Khan, and such incidents plug their illegal incomes," says Devender. He is an automotive dealer and spends time, like Vijay and Yogesh, hunting for "cow smugglers" on highways.

"We never use violence, although it pains us that these smugglers slaughter 'mother cow'. That day also our colleagues had just caught a group of cow smugglers and had peacefully gone to a gaushaala with the police (he emphasises) to release the impounded cows. When Pehlu Khan got thrashed, our boys were at the gaushala. We have the proof," says Vijay.

When asked about the proof, he produces a note written on the letterhead of 'Shri Raath Saarvajanik Gaushala' in which the manager testifies that the accused named in the FIR were with him at the time of the incident.

  • Note on Gaushala letterhead

    Note written on 'Shri Raath Saarvajanik Gaushala' letterhead (Photo: Suhas Munshi)

Dr Gupta also produces an unnamed and unsigned pamphlet 'The truth behind the cow smuggling incident'. It refers to the accused in Pehlu Khan murder case as 'social workers' and dares Rajasthan Police to trace the location of mobile phones of the accused to find out where they were at the time of the incident. Hundreds of such pamphlets are being distributed in the region to rally public support behind the accused.

'We will do it again'

Close to Rajasthan-Haryana border, in Naugaon, the head of Rajasthan VHP's Hindu Helpline, Rajesh Bansal, says he and his colleagues will carry out more attacks, like the one that killed Pehlu Khan, in future.

Hindu Helpline is a 24x7 phone line run by VHP to "help Hindus in distress". Bansal gets a lot of calls about "illegal" cow transportation. What does he do then?

Without getting beaten up, people from the minority community don't learn.

— Rajesh Bansal

"We have a huge network. About 1,500 workers are spread across the region and we have got informants who tip us when they see a vehicle carrying cattle. We get also get calls from Hindu Helpline. As soon as we get the information we immediately dispatch our teams who then intercept cow smugglers and do the needful."

"Gai kategi to qasai bhi katega, aage aur bhi katega. Aur zayada maarenge. (If cows are slaughtered then butchers will be slaughtered, even more so. We will attack them even more.)"

Bansal boasts of being named in 23 criminal cases and claims to be involved, with his colleagues from VHP, on a regular basis, in "beating cows smugglers".

"Our workers are beating more cow smugglers than ever before. That's because these people have been expanding their business. This has incensed the cadre on ground. The anger is spreading and will only increase in future. Now see how the Behror incident sends shivers up the spine of cow smugglers. They won't be seen around for quite some time," Bansal says.

Walking around his ancestral village Naugaon, he says, "Without getting beaten up, people from the minority community don't learn."

A night with gau rakshaks

Around 15 kilometres from Naugaon, a dozen gau rakshaks assemble at a tea shop in Ramgarh around midnight.

The local MLA from Ramgarh is BJP's Gayndev Ahuja. In an interview to News18, Ahuja claimed that the police were framing innocents in the Pehlu Khan case and declared himself to be a proud gau rakshak.

Naval Kishore, head of VHP's Ramgarh cow vigilante unit, describes the terror of VHP's signature saffron stoles among the cow smugglers: "We have attacked so many of them, that now when they see saffron stoles from a distance, they change direction and make a run for it. Some of them have even tried to pass themselves off as Hindus but we found out their religion and taught them a lesson."

Contrary to popular belief, almost no member of these outfits is unemployed. News18 came across several businessmen, accountants, hoteliers, public sector employees and teachers who are members of VHP's cow vigilante force.

Members of this militant cow vigilante force aren't just literate and well-to-do, they are also armed with deadly weapons. While interacting with News18, many of them, in Ramgarh and elsewhere, were more than eager to flaunt their weapons - from guns to swords to batons to even makeshift tyre busters - in full public view, within two days of the huge public outcry following Pehlu Khan's death.

"When we get information on cow smugglers, we set up spike tyre busters and position ourselves on one side of the road. As soon as the suspected vehicle comes, we pull the tyre buster and once the vehicle is immobile, we take control of it," Naval Kishore says.

  • Gaurakshaks with spike tyre buster

    Gaurakshaks (cow protectors) posing with a spike tyre buster (Photo: Suhas Munshi)

How did Kishore and his colleagues react when last year, a few weeks after video of cow vigilantes beating up Dalits in Gujarat went viral, Prime Minister Narendra Modi castigated them on public forum? "Modi Ji said 80% gau rakshaks are fake, which is true. Not everyone has the courage we have. To be a real gau rakshak, you need to have the gall to put your life on line. Not everyone has that," Kishore says.

Investigation officer changed, 'mob' blamed for murder

According to news reports, in his dying declaration, Khan had told police that he had heard his assailants claiming to be members of VHP and Bajrang Dal. But Alwar Superintendent of Police, Rahul Prakash, says, "We have recovered no documents or facts that would suggest that the accused are in any way linked to either VHP or Bajrang Dal."

Some distance away from Ramgarh, in the office of Alwar district magistrate, Ramzan Chaudhary, an advocate and a friend of Pehlu Khan, accuses the cops of converting an "open-and-shut murder case" into a case of "mob fury".

He had come with other villagers from Nuh, where Khan lived with his family, to submit a memorandum to the magistrate. "Police have mentioned the presence of some 200 people in the FIR. This is untrue. Everyone has seen the video and there are hardly 20-25 people beating up Pehlu and others. And when Pehlu had specifically identified his attackers, why are cops trying to convert a murder case into a case of mob fury?" Chaudhary says.

The identities of hooligans behind these attacks are known to everyone, including us and the police.

— Sher Mohammed

He adds that the manner in which police have gone on to register an FIR against Pehlu Khan for trafficking cows, soon after his death, shows their "skewed priorities".

Members of Alwar's Muslim community say they are deeply unhappy with police transferring the case from a police officer, who had immediately arrested the accused, to a senior cop who has shown little interest in taking the probe forward.

"We were initially satisfied with the manner in which the investigating officer had lost no time in getting a statement from the victim and arresting the accused. But the case has been snatched away from him… All this raises questions about the state's intentions," said Sher Mohammed, a leader of Alwar's Muslim Meo community.

  • Gaurakshaks on the prowl

    Gaurakshaks (cow protectors) on the prowl (Photo: Suhas Munshi)

Sher adds that violent attacks on them have been carried out in the past as well. "Muslims have been attacked in the same manner several times earlier as well. We just met police officers to ask them how such attacks will be prevented in the future. The identities of hooligans behind these attacks are known to everyone, including us and the police."

But the Alwar SP says the investigation has been transferred to a senior officer considering the sensitivity of the case. "We have made five arrests in the case and are going to make more arrests. It is a very sensitive case because of which the case has only been given to a senior officer. There should be no reason for anyone to be suspicious," says Prakash.

Political fallout

Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Singh Kataria, while talking to press on Sunday, had claimed that Khan was killed because he was transporting cows illegally. "Whoever breaks the law, will be punished. He must have transported the cows illegally… the people, then, took the matter in their own hands. With the power that I have been conferred with, I will try to take action on both sides," he had said.

Some Opposition leaders have tried to rake up the case into a national political issue but without much success.

Ironically, the murder and the subsequent arrests have only helped in mobilising VHP and Bajrang Dal cadres, who are publicly owning up to the April 1 episode. On Tuesday, VHP organised a solidarity rally in Alwar which was attended by 2,000 people.

When News18 sought an official comment from the VHP on the issue, this is what its national spokesperson, Vinod Bansal, said, "VHP and Bajrang Dal have been protecting mother cow for the last several decades and are proud of their work. As far as this case is concerned, it is under investigation. One shouldn't draw conclusions from what is being said on the streets."

Ironically, the murder and the subsequent arrests have only helped in mobilising VHP and Bajrang Dal cadres, who are publicly owning up to the April 1 episode.

VHP isn't the only patron of cow vigilante forces in Alwar. Several groups operating across Rajasthan-Haryana border, in places like Behror, Naugaon, Ramgarh, Kishangarh and Karoda, are based out of Alwar.

Some of the organisations that support these cow vigilante forces are Shiv Sena, Shakti Vahini, Hindu Yuva Vahini and Rajasthan Gau Raksha Dal.

The Supreme Court has also sought a report from the Rajasthan Government and Union Home Ministry on the incident. The apex court has also asked BJP-ruled states, including Rajasthan, to explain why cow vigilante forces shouldn't be banned.

Pehlu Khan's ghost haunts Jaipur cattle fair, business drops by a half

Tushar DharaTushar Dhara | @DharaShukoh

Published: April 17, 2017

At the onset, Hatwara pashu mela looks like any other cattle fair in Rajasthan. Cows lying down on a dusty field, half empty cattle pens, buffalos chewing cud, buyers and sellers haggling over price and a pungent smell of dung and dust.

On April 1, Pehlu Khan came to this market from his village in Haryana to buy three cows. It was supposed to be a big day for the dairy farmer and his 5 family members who travelled along. After striking a deal, the family loaded the cows onto a mini truck and began the journey to home, dreaming of ways to expand their small dairy business and prosperity that would follow on. None of them could have even dreamt of the horror that was awaiting on the way.

Musalman ka naam aa gaya toh gaye kaam se (If you are found to be a Muslim, you have had it)

— Nawab Khan

Almost midway, at Behror crossroad in Alwar, their vehicle was stopped by gau rakshaks, who accused them of being cow slaughterers and assaulted each member of the family. A video recorded on mobile phone of a passerby shows the family being kicked, punched and beaten with belts. Pehlu Khan's ribs were broken and he was admitted to a nearby hospital. The 55-year-old died two days later.

On April 8, a week after the murder that has shaken the conscience of the nation, News18 visited the cattle fair on the outskirts of Jaipur to find a sense of fear, vulnerability and anger among the buyers and sellers, most of whom are small farmers.

The Hatwara cattle market is one of the largest in Rajasthan. Every Saturday, buyers and sellers from neighbouring states - Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat, and sometimes from as far as Telangana arrive at this market to deal in livestock.

  • Cows in the market

    Cows at the Jaipur Cattle Market in Hatwara (Photo: Tushar Dhara)

Huddled in small groups, men were sipping chai and murmuring about the fall in business. Traders said business has come to a half within a week because the buyers are scared of assaults from the cow vigilantes.

"The gau rakshaks don't ask, they don't listen, even when we have valid purchase and sale documents. And god help anyone who is transporting cows," said a man who refused to give his name fearing backlash from vigilantes.

"Musalman ka naam aa gaya toh gaye kaam se (If you are found to be a Muslim, you have had it)," said Nawab Khan, a thickset man. He's part of a group of men from Tonk district who come here every Saturday.

"Ours is a country of farmers, and farmers depend on cattle. If not for them, where will you get your grain, milk and ghee from?" another man in the group asked rhetorically.

The fear of cow vigilantes is knocking this hub-and-spoke economic model out of kilter.

Livestock is crucial part of the village economy. Cows and buffalos are economic assets because the milk they yield is an additional source of income for farmers at a time when farm incomes are either dwindling or failing to keep pace with inflation. Even during best of times, farm income accrues over a long period, depending on the crop cycle. Dairy farming ensures steady returns to run household expenses. Further, milk and its byproducts are important source of protein for rural families.

Far from rampant cow smuggling for the purpose of slaughter, most of the breeds sold at the cattle fair are Jersey and Holstein. They are expensive and can yield milk worth as much as Rs 20 lakh over the course of their productive years, which could be 20-22 years. They are preferred over the Indian breeds because of higher productivity.

Such markets, operating across rural India, are important nodes for trading cattle. The fear of cow vigilantes is knocking this hub-and-spoke economic model out of kilter. Traders, buyers and transporters are all scared of what might happen on the roads, where cops have either been replaced by or are working in tandem with self-styled cow protectors.

  • Waiting at the edge

    Cattle traders resting in the shade at the Hatwara market (Photo: Tushar Dhara)

The Hatwara market attracts people from all communities: Jats, Muslims, Gujjars, Meenas, Brahmins and Rajputs. Even as they disagree over whether this cattle fair is "biggest in the world" or "in Rajasthan", they all feel that their source of livelihood is under threat. "Why won't people be afraid… they broke all his ribs," said a farmer from Sikar district.

Most farmers prefer buying buffalos over cows because their milk contains more fat. The market, where sellers have to pay an entry fee of Rs 10 for each cow and Rs 20 for each buffalo, is run by the Jaipur Municipal Corporation (JMC). There is also an "unloading" charge for the animals, which are then led to the cattle pens where they are fed and put on display. After a deal is struck, the buyer hires a transporter to haul the cattle away and is given a ravanna raseed (departure receipt)' by the JMC as a proof of the transaction.

But everyone this correspondent spoke to said that the gau rakshaks lurking on the roads refuse to take cognisance of these receipts. Many alleged that the gau rakshaks demand 'bribe' to let their vehicles pass. Further, incidents of harassment, intimidation and abuse have become common.

Most farmers prefer buying buffalos over cows because their milk contains more fat.

"Everyone knows about Pehlu Khan because he died," said Rameshwar Jat from Jhunjhunu, taking a puff from a bidi. "Two weeks ago, I was transporting 7 cattle and was stopped by 15 men. They extorted Rs 7,100 from me. I am a Hindu, still they took money from me," he said.

Such extortion cost comes on the top of the already high cost of cattle. The base price of a Jersey or Holstein cow is Rs 50,000. A healthy specimen, which yields close to 40 litres milk per day, can cost up to Rs 75,000. Buffalos range between Rs 30,000 and Rs 40,000. The desi varieties of cows cost a measly Rs 12,000, but yield only about 5 litres of milk.

  • Man with cattle

    Babu Bhai, a cattle trader, with his buffaloes (Photo: Tushar Dhara)

The traders buy cattle from villagers in the surrounding countryside - Sikar, Jhunjhunu, Churu and other parts of northern Rajasthan. Mohammad Akram is one such trader from Jaipur. He couldn't sell a single animal on April 8. "We make a profit of about Rs 2,500 per animal, but now we may lose money," he said.

At the entrance of the market sat the municipal corporation officials, inspecting trucks and issuing receipts. When asked why cops were not protecting people who carried valid receipts, Sunil, a municipal corporation officer, said, "Business here has fallen by 50%."

As this correspondent walked out of the market, Ram Avtar accompanied him to the nearby bus stop. Liquor stores and food joints dot the road outside the market. "It would be a pity if this market was to close," he said, taking a swig from a small plastic bottle of country-made liquor. "It has been here for the last 33 years and is a part of our lives," he said while wiping his face and rushing back to the market.

The intricate link between your cup of milk and the Alwar incident

Tushar DharaTushar Dhara | @DharaShukoh

Published: April 17, 2017

CATTLE PLAY a vital role in the village economy, which Mahatma Gandhi described as the "soul of India". Laying out the agenda for an ideal village, Gandhi once wrote: "Our worker will have to keep a careful eye on the cattle wealth of his village. If we cannot use this wealth properly, India is doomed to disaster and we also shall perish."

Almost every rural family in India has a few head of cattle that yield milk. And it's through this decentralised model that India has emerged as the world's largest milk producer. The big dairy cooperatives source some milk from the small farmers, which reaches cities through a complex supply chain.

An equally complex, but more fragile, supply chain exists on the other side, of which cattle trade is a crucial part. However, the ongoing cow vigilantism has threatened to disrupt this informal sector. On a hot April day this week, News18 travelled around rural Alwar to understand the economics of dairy farming.

The eastern parts of Alwar district are part of Mewat, which straddles northeastern Rajasthan, southern Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh. Pehlu Khan, the dairy farmer who was assaulted by gau rakshaks in Behror on April 1, was a Mewati from Haryana.

Kittur village, 10 km outside Alwar, is a dry region where farming is not very remunerative. Most families own a few bighas of land and some cattle, whose milk supplements the paltry farm income.

  • Gaurakshaks on the prowl

    Mewat region on the map (Image: Soumyadip Choudhury)

In nearby Pahara village, News18 met 26-year-old Ismail Mohammad, whose family owns 4 bighas of land and has 3 Holstein cows, which provide 60 litres of milk per day. The family sells half the milk to Saras Dairy, the Rajasthan government's dairy cooperative, and keeps the other half for consumption in the form of curd, buttermilk and ghee. For a family which is used to crops being ruined because of lack of rain, the sale of milk fetches a steady income of Rs 700-800 per day. But since Pehlu Khan's murder, families like this don't want to venture out to cattle markets to purchase livestock.

Many in the nearby villages have stories to tell about the thugs who suddenly feel empowered under the garb of cow protection. "A month ago, I purchased two cows in Jaipur and was getting them home. I was stopped by gau rakshaks at a check post," said Israel of Jajor village. Within minutes, Israel was slapped and punched. "They stopped the violence and allowed me to pass only when I paid them Rs 25,000." This happened despite Israel having documentary proof of the transaction.

Such stories are common in this part of Mewat. People say cops are hand in glove with the vigilantes. A glimpse of this could be seen at a police check post in Chikani village, outside Alwar, where the signboard reads: 'Gau Rakshak Police Chowki'!

  • Gauraksha Police Post

    Gauraksha Police Post, Chikani village, outside Alwar (Photo: Tushar Dhara)

Rajasthan is the second largest milk producing state in India, after Uttar Pradesh. It is also one of the most drought-prone regions in India. Livestock helps people survive these droughts. Its 2015-16, the state's milk output was 18.5 million tonnes. Dairy farmers travel to cattle markets - like the Saturday market in Jaipur - or cattle fairs like Pushkar and Nagaur to purchase cattle. Cows, especially foreign breeds like Jersey and Holstein which are crossbred with native varieties, and buffalos are bought for their milk yielding potential. Desi cows are less preferred because of their low milk yield.

Milk from individual homes is sold to the village pool, which resells some of it at the local level and the rest to a dairy cooperative, which operates at the tehsil or district level. The business model of large cooperatives like Saras in Rajasthan, and Amul in Gujarat, relies on thousands of individual milk suppliers in the hinterland.

I don't know what will happen to me if they find out that I am a Muslim.

— Hasan Khan

The Mewatis are puzzled by the insinuation of the gau rakshaks that the only reason they purchase cows is for slaughter. The animals they purchase are expensive, costing anywhere between Rs 50,000 and Rs 75,000. An exceptionally productive animal could also be worth Rs 1 lakh.

"Would anyone slaughter such an animal?" Taiyyab, a Jajor resident, asked with a disbelieving nod of his head. He pointed to his cow pen, which housed three Holsteins, a buffalo, a desi cow and two calves. It had a curtain made of chiks to protect the animals from the heat and two fans attached to the ceiling to keep the summer heat at bay. Unlike the desi varieties, the foreign breeds are sensitive to heat.

  • Villager with cow

    Israel with his cows (Photo: Tushar Dhara)

"I keep my animals in better condition than my children," Taiyyab said. "Would I slaughter such fine animals? Each animal will earn me Rs 1.5 lakh per year over 10 to 12 years," he added.

Each Jersey/Holstein cow requires 10 kg of fodder per day for an output of 30 litres. The cost of maintaining the animals comes to around Rs 9,000 per month while the earning from milk sale is around Rs 12,000.

The main crops in this parched region are wheat, onions and mustard, the latter two of which are cash crops. Part of the wheat grown is sold by the farmers and the rest retained for consumption. The bran and husk become part of the cattle feed.

Wheat, being a winter crop, is ripe by this time and one could see stacks of freshly harvested wheat lying beside the highway, in homes and in the fields. The land will be left fallow for some time before the next crop is sown. Since water is scarce -wells strike water only at a depth of 1,000 to 1,500 feet - and the land is getting increasingly fragmented, farming is not remunerative.

I keep my animals in better condition than my children. Would I slaughter such fine animals?

— Taiyyab

Driving trucks and heavy commercial vehicles is the other livelihood option. Hasan Khan, a resident of Kittur, pointed to the two trucks parked outside his home. He owns 5 bighas of land on which he grows wheat and mustard. He makes just about Rs 25,000 a year from farming. Driving commercial vehicles supplements his income, though he doesn't own the trucks.

"With all this cow protectionism on the highway, I am scared of driving the truck, even if I am not transporting cattle," Khan said. "I don't know what will happen to me if they find out that I am a Muslim."

(More News18 Immersives)