Yet another instance of cow vigilantism, involving the alleged lynching of a Muslim dairy farmer, Rakbar Khan, 31, in Alwar district of Rajasthan on the night of July 20 led to nationwide outrage and prompted both the Central and State governments to take urgent measures to control the situation.
Rakbar and his friend Aslam were herding two cows on foot through a forest area in Ramgarh’s Lalawandi village, when a group of villagers stopped and attacked them around midnight on the suspicion that they were smuggling the cows to their native village in Haryana. While Mr. Aslam managed to escape, Rakbar sustained severe injuries and died on the way to hospital.
The incident comes just over a year after another dairy farmer, Pehlu Khan, was lynched by a mob near Behror in Alwar district on April 1, 2017. Pehlu Khan and four others were transporting cows in vehicles to Nuh district in Haryana when they were stopped and assaulted. In another incident, a mob killed Umar Khan near Govindgarh in November 2017.
What did the govt. do?
After the quick arrest of three accused, Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria visited the spot of the alleged lynching, met Rakbar’s family and promised a fair probe and an initial ex gratia of ₹1.25 lakh. Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and the Waqf Board also announced assistance of ₹5 lakh and ₹3 lakh respectively to the victim’s family.
Mr. Kataria admitted that Rakbar had died in police custody and there was a delay in taking him to hospital, as the policemen first made arrangements for taking the cows recovered from him to a ‘gaushala.’ For this “error of judgment,” an assistant sub-inspector was suspended and three policemen were sent to the Police Lines.
Four inquiries were instituted in the case in four days, and the investigation was shifted from Alwar to Jaipur. The government’s swift response seems to have been guided by political compulsion and pressure from the Opposition, as the Assembly election is due later this year in Rajasthan.
How is Rakbar’s village coping?
There is a palpable fear and unease in Rakbar’s native village, Kolgaon, situated in the Ferozepur Jhirka region of Haryana. Rakbar’s family, comprising his wife and seven children, faces a bleak future with no permanent source of livelihood.
The Meo community inhabiting the region, which has been rearing cows for dairy occupation for several generations, feels that it is being targeted.
A huge panchayat held at Kolgaon on July 29 by the Rakbar Insaaf Committee, comprising about 40 prominent people from five villages, sought a Supreme Court judge-monitored investigation into the alleged lynching, ex-gratia of ₹50 lakh for the family of the victim and the arrest of BJP MLA from Ramgarh Gyan Dev Ahuja on charges of criminal conspiracy in the case.
Activists and family members also believe that a “deliberate attempt” is being made to shift the blame on to the police and let the lynch mob escape.
The accused arrested so far are reportedly affiliated to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
What lies ahead?
With civil rights groups demanding that both the Rajasthan and Haryana governments chalk out a plan for protection of dairy farmers in the Mewat region, the ruling BJP in these States has a task cut out to deal with both alleged cow smugglers and mobs.
The extortion rackets being run in the garb of cow vigilantism are now under the police radar. Besides making attempts at communal harmony, the police are finalising the chargesheet to be filed in Rakbar’s case. The police in Alwar district are also in the process of identifying miscreants after examining their criminal record.
Jaipur range Inspector-General of Police V.K. Singh says this will be followed by preventive measures, including arrests, to stop the recurrence of violence.
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