Rohtak: It was a routine day for 24-year-old Naushad Muhammad on 19 January. He was heading to sell buffaloes when he was stopped en route allegedly by a cow vigilante.
"It was around 8 pm. We had reached Rohtak's Bhalout village when I was waylaid by one Jashpal Gumana, who had chased me his scooter," Naushad said, adding that Gumana overpowered him as soon as he got off the pick-up jeep he was in and shouted "cow smuggler" to attract the attention of nearby villagers.
Soon after, several youths arrived with sticks, tied him to a pole, stripped him and beat him mercilessly.
"Before I could understand what was going on, I was bleeding from the nose, ear, legs and back. One of the cow activists tortured me by burning a beedi on my skin and branding me a 'cow smuggler'," he said.
Naushad said policemen arrived at the site after he was beaten for two hours and took him to the police station.
"I was handcuffed and made to sit on the floor. I was tied to a bed with a chain while I was in pain. I kept pleading with the police to take me to a doctor," he said.
Naushad's ordeal ended only after civil society members based in Rohtak heard of the assault. They reached the police station the next day and the questioned the officers for the grave injustice meted out to Naushad.
Advocate Rajkumari Dahiya said Naushad was in a half-conscious state when they reached the police station, and the accused, Gumana, was sitting on a chair, having tea with the police.
The activists then took Naushad to a government hospital for treatment, and the police finally registered his complaint, she added.
Naushad worked at a dairy for a decade
Sunil Kumar, who runs a dairy at Charkhi Dadri village in Haryana, said Naushad had worked for him for the part 10 years.
"I had hired him to sell buffaloes at a cattle fair. We run our livelihood through this trade. On 19 January, too, he was ferrying a buffalo and two calves, not cows, as the cow vigilante groups alleged," Sunil said.
He further pointed out that there is video footage from when Naushad's vehicle got scanned at the Haryana-Uttar Pradesh border by the police to corroborate that he was ferrying buffaloes in his jeep, not cows.
Station House Officer Inspector Manjeet Mor said the police had registered a case against Gumana and other villagers for attacking Naushad. Based on his complaint, the police lodged a case under sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 341 (wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code.
But the police have also booked Naushad and his two aides under Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and under the Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan Act, 2015, on Gumana's complaint, Mor said.
Superintendent of Police of Rohtak Jashandeep Singh Randhawa said a Special Investigation Team has been formed under Assistant Superintendent of Police Masood Ahmad to look into the matter and get to the bottom of the case.
Gumana's version of events
The man accused of provoking the assault on Naushad claimed he had tried to intervene when local youths began to thrash Naushad, but he could not stop them.
"I am a devout cow worshipper and regularly make donations at cow shelters anonymously. On 19 January, I was on my way home around 8 pm when I heard cows bellowing from Naushad's jeep. I then chased his vehicle and stopped it. When I saw cows in his jeep and raised an alarm, some local youths started beating him with helmets and bats indiscriminately. I tried to intervene but to no avail. The youths tortured him, and he was saved only after local police took him to the police station in their vehicle, Gumama claimed.
Gumama added that he was not affiliated with any cow vigilante group active in town, but was only a cow worshipper. My only fault was trying to save cows from being slaughtered, he said.
In August 2018, villagers had thrashed one Yameen Khokkhar of Rohtak's Titoli village on the suspicion that he had slaughtered a calf on Bakr-Eid. Given the threat to his life, he was forced to flee the village with his family. In this case, too, the police had registered a case against the villagers who had thrashed him and Yameen.
In a case of mob lynching, on 2 August, 2018, a man was beaten to death in Haryana's Palwal district on the suspicion of cattle theft.
In July 2018, an agitated mob allegedly lynched 28-year-old Akhbar Khan in Rajasthan on suspicion of cow smuggling.
Senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Inderjit Singh said self-styled "gaurakshaks" were "openly taking law into their hands with the patronage of the ruling BJP", and that this was why the administration was not taking action against vigilante groups. "As a result, cattle trade, a crucial livelihood of farmers, is on the verge of collapse as the traders feared these antisocial elements," he said.
Haryana AAP convener Naveen Jaihind said it was not possible for cow vigilante groups to take law into their hands without support from their political bosses. "It is sad that cattle traders are being harassed at the behest of BJP government leaders," he added.
Congress leader and former home minister Subhash Batra condemned the attack on Naushad and said it had come to this day, when people are taking law into their hands, because of divisive politics. "The police was expected to act as per the rule book, but the chilling details narrated by Naushad points towards a harsh reality, he added.
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