'No one killed Pehlu Khan, but we can kill for mother cow'
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).
— 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 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?
— 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 (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.
— 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 (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.
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."
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.