The wrinkled face of Shahbuddin has a story to tell. The eyes of Umar Khan’s septuagenarian father well up with tears — he is at his wits' end when asked about how the family is raising the eight children Umar has left behind.
Umar Khan, a resident of Ghatmika village in Rajasthan's Bharatpur district, was killed allegedly by cow vigilantes last year, when he was traveling with two companions — Tahir and Javed — in Alwar's Govindgarh. He was reportedly shot at, and his body later thrown on the railway track in Ramgarh. Tahir and Javed fled — Umar was not so fortunate.
Umar's has been one of the several incidents of Muslim men allegedly being lynched in the name of the cow in Rajasthan's Alwar district.
Pehlu Khan, Umar Khan, Rakbar Khan — the list includes men who were bread-winners for their families, and were allegedly lynched to death on the suspicion of being involved in cow smuggling.
As Rajasthan elections draw nearer, on Ground Zero in the Mewat region, a sense of unease is palpable.
Many in the minority community feel they need to vote, taking into consideration the incidents of lynching and mob violence of the past couple of years. The incidents have led to an atmosphere of distrust and mutual suspicion, causing palpable polarisation along communal lines.
"No one helped. BJP is instigating ahead of elections. It will impact (the elections). We will vote for Zahida. We will not give (vote) to the BJP,” says Shahbuddin, speaking to India Today.
Cattle trade is now in the slumps. (Photo: Reuters)
Several people India Today spoke to in the Mewat region, which falls under Bharatpur district, mentioned that the cattle trade is now in the slumps — since the BJP came to power, young men from the Meo community fear venturing out to other areas with cows.
"Earlier, we used to vote in large numbers for the BJP. Then, they did this to us. They snatch away the cows, sell them, file cases against us, kill us," says Sarjit Khan, a resident of Bharatpur resident. "They have made cow smuggling an issue, level charges against Meos. They instigate the Hindus,” he adds.
A young man, Shabbir Khan—resident of Ghatmika in Bharatpur district— feels the BJP has done nothing in terms of job creation for the youth, and the confidence of right-wing organisations, such as the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, the Shiv Sena, has gone up under the present dispensation.
"We will vote only for Zahida and no one else. Others are doing this (lynchings) only to instigate. There is no other reason. They raise an issue, level accusations against Muslim and snatch away (cow) to sell it to them. No cases are filed against them. What jobs do we have over here? We work for the Zamindars. We get the cows for milk for our children. We keep buffalo and sell the milk. There is no other job over here. Only their (VHP, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena people) confidence has increased under BJP. Earlier, no such incidents occurred. There was no such need (for vigilantism). We are showing everything (in terms of proof). Even then, they are indulging in murder. Why is it being done if not to instigate?” questions Shabbir.
Mewat region sprawls across parts of Rajasthan and Haryana and comprises of Firozpur Jhirka, Nuh, and Hathin in Haryana, and Ramgarh, Laxmangarh, Kishangarh Bas in Alwar and Pahari, Nagar and Kaman region in Bharatpur in Rajasthan.
India Today travelled to Ramgarh in Alwar district and Bharatpur and found that several cases of mob lynching and violence that have led to the killings of Muslim men have been registered. However, the right wing is primarily unhappy, as it feels that the Rajasthan Government is responsible for several of its men being booked under the law.
District administration is hoping that polarisation won't have any adverse impact on the polls. (Photo: Reuters).
"The nearby police stations are proof of the fact how much restraint has been imposed on the cow smugglers. Some days ago, the Home Minister had said that we have imposed 100 percent curb on cow smugglers. That is a complete myth — a lie. A person in a ministerial position should think before saying that there has been a total curtail on cow smugglers when the reality is totally different. Everyday cow smugglers have been mushrooming here with impunity,” Naval Kishore Mishra, VHP leader, told India Today.
Gearing up for the upcoming elections in Rajasthan, the district administration is hoping that the polarisation along religious lines due to mob lynchings do not have an adverse impact on the polls to be held on December 7.
"We have implemented confidence-building measures in each and every village so that there is no fear left in the voters ahead of polling. There are very few vulnerable pockets in the district, and that we have tackled (the fear) through the interactions with the public, and also bringing down the elements that can affect the polling,” says Prakash Rajpurohit, District Collector, Alwar.
However, the district police admit that they have had their hands full in dealing with alleged cow smugglers and so-called “cow protectors” — even as they do not wish to comment on how the fear-factor amongst the Muslims has vitiated the atmosphere before the upcoming elections.
"I don't think there is any fear. We are working hard to ensure the same. We have compiled a list of cow smugglers, and yes — no doubt, it is a very big problem for Alwar. Almost 5000 criminals are wanted in Alwar and of these, 500 are involved in cow smuggling — it is a very big number as far as Alwar is concerned. But we are taking both sides into account,” says Rajendra Singh, Superintendent of Police, Alwar.