Karwan-e-Mohabbat: How arrest of gau rakshaks impacted lynchings in Gujarat
Dispatches of Harsh Mander who is on a journey across India to raise awareness about lynchings.
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The Karwan is approaching the end of its journey. The team of travellers is experiencing weariness not just of the body but of the soul too. The exhaustion has set in due to bearing witness to so much hate, cruelty and oppression in state after state. And yet we remind ourselves over and over again that even though it is so gruelling to deal with just listening to stories of hate violence; we must be always mindful that it is infinitely harder for families that have to live with and endure the loss of loved ones to hate violence, living every day with memories and persisting every day realities of hate, supported by the state.
Today, the Karwan visited the family of Mohammed Ayub, an auto-rickshaw driver, who was lynched by gau rakshaks or cow vigilantes a year ago. His family had observed the first anniversary of his death just a day before our visit. They were just two brothers, and Ayub was elder of the two. Their father was an alcoholic, and lived away from home, paying nothing for their expenses. Their mother raised them with great hardship, working as a domestic helper. The two men dropped out of school early to support their mother and sister. Ayub had married, and had two children.
Before Bakra-eid in 2016, he decided to earn some extra money for his family by transporting animals from neighbouring Rajasthan. They were returning from Rajasthan with some cattle in a pick-up van when a group of around eight gau rakshaks chased their vehicle in cars and on motor-cycles. They sped as fast as they could but the vigilantes pursued them, overtook them and blocked their path on the highway. The driver and other loader managed to escape. But the gau rakshaks caught Ayub. They fell upon him, pounding and pulping him until he was knocked unconscious. Then they left him in the middle of the road, hoping that he would be run over by some vehicle, and his death would pass off as an accident and not lynching.
Fortunately, a police patrol jeep found him, and admitted him to a hospital. The family showed us a photograph of Ayub in the hospital bed. His face and every limb seemed pulverised. He fought for three days before he died.
The FIR of murder against the gau rakshak killers of Ayub offered some solace to Ayub’s family.
In what is almost a rule in every state that we visited, the police first registered criminal charges against Ayub for violating the stringent laws related to cow slaughter in the state. A second FIR was filed against him for rash driving. A third FIR was registered against an anonymous mob for attacking Ayub. But the family and other human rights activists accessed CCTV pictures from cameras in shops and homes near the highway, which established clearly the identities of the gau rakshaks who lynched Ayub.
After he died in hospital, seniors of his community mobilised a crowd of over a thousand people and surrounded the hospital. They refused to accept the body until an FIR with charges of lynching was filed. They demanded the FIR mention that the lynch mob comprised not anonymous people but a small group of motivated gau rakshaks. They asserted that there were a number of CCTV cameras in the area which had captured the faces of the accused, and the supporters of the family had identified the men.
The police held off for as long as they could, but the protesting crowd swelled and refused to budge. There were many negotiations, and the police secretly shifted the man's body to their house. Ayub's family still refused to relent. They added that they wanted the men arrested quickly. The police finally gave in to all of the demands. A new FIR was filed under Section 302 (murder) of the IPC. The FIR mentioned targeted lynching and named some gau rakshaks. The family finally tearfully buried the body of their loved one. The gau rakhaks whose faces were recorded by CCTV were arrested but they were later released on bail.
Of all the families we met in this long Karwan, this one had been the most successful in fighting the consistent and shameful attempts of state administrations everywhere to protect the men who lynch, and criminalise the victims.
The long and courageous battles for justice for the survivors of the 2002 communal massacre in Gujarat had set new traditions of human rights resistance by survivors of hate violence against their attackers protected by malevolent and communal state administrations. Gujarat has not seen any lynch attacks in the name of the cow in the year since Ayub's lynching. Our speculation is that arrest of the gau rakshaks, who murdered Ayub, deterred other hate mongers.
The FIR of murder against the gau rakshak killers of Ayub offered some solace to Ayub's grieving mother, his young widow, his brother and sister. But a year later, they could not still come to terms with the brutality with which their loved had been snatched away from them and from life.
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