Nuh: For 25-year-old Lukman Khan, who was beaten by a mob of eight to 10 men with hammers for transporting meat in Gurugram, life may never be the same again.
On 31 July, on the eve of Eid-al-Adha, Lukman survived being lynched by self-proclaimed cow vigilantes who had apprehended him as he was transporting buffalo meat to Gurugram’s Sadar Bazar.
Now, he cannot move without wincing and doesn’t know when he will be able to feed himself again, let alone walk.
“They beat me for what felt like three hours. Better to have left me dead than in this condition,” he told ThePrint.
Lukman’s face and ribs are bruised from where he was kicked and struck with a hammer. His legs, arms and head are heavily bandaged, and an inky stain — a mixture of blood and medicine — marks the place on his forehead where he was hit by his attackers.
He had been working as a meat transporter for a year and would earn about Rs 3,500 a month, but Lukman swears he will never take it up again.
“I think about what happened a lot. They hit me so badly. I will never do this work again,” he said.
The slaughter and sale of cow meat have been strictly banned in the BJP-led state of Haryana since 2015 and self-proclaimed cow vigilantes have often used violent methods to defend this law.
“They must have asked me to chant ‘Jai Shree Ram’ some 50 times. When I said it wasn’t in my religion and called Allah’s name instead, they beat me harder,” Lukman said.
The mob allegedly drove him to a road in Sohna Chowk before taking him to a cremation ground to burn him alive. It is at this point that the police finally intervened.
“I heard them say ‘he’s a Muslim, burn him’ and then I passed out,” he said.
According to Lukman, the incident made one thing clear: “Being a Muslim is a crime in this country. I’ve learned this first hand now.”
Four people have been arrested in Lukman’s case so far. The Station House Officer (SHO) of Badshahpur was also transferred after a viral video showed policemen watching the violence unfold without intervening.
A microcosm of mob violence
In Haryana’s Nuh — where dairy farming, agriculture and cattle trade are primary sources of income — cow-related mob violence is nothing new. The tehsil’s population is made up of several Muslims who are engaged in meat transportation.
Even within his village of Ghasera, Lukman isn’t the first to be attacked by cow vigilantes.
A year ago in June, Shahid Qureishi, a 35-year-old meat transporter, had travelled the same route, to the same market in Gurugram, where he suffered the same fate.
“When I heard of Lukman’s case I wanted to cry. I still get flashbacks from the time I was attacked,” Shahid told ThePrint.
He can no longer get up or walk without help. He often feels dizzy and his legs are still swollen from the attack.
According to Shahid, he was stopped and beaten by a mob under a flyover in Islampur village, ahead of Badshahpur, where Lukman was attacked.
“The state of my body is a daily reminder of what happened to me. I registered an FIR with the Sadar Police Station but no one was arrested. I don’t have the energy or resources to chase the cops,” he added.
Shahid’s case did not attract the kind of media attention that several other lynchings and instances of mob violence have.
Workers and shop owners from Gurugram’s meat market told ThePrint that drivers transporting meat were routinely harassed by cow vigilantes and that most cases flew under the radar.
The irony of the attacks on Lukman and Shahid becomes starker when looked through a historical lens. Shortly after the Partition in 1947, Mahatma Gandhi had travelled to Ghasera and had implored the Muslims of the village not to move to Pakistan.
A sizeable proportion of the Muslims in Nuh are Meo Muslims, who follow a version of Islam that incorporates Hindu practices. Gandhi promised the Meos, whom he called the “backbone” of the country, a life of dignity in India.
“Gandhi made a mistake when he said we would be accepted in India. He didn’t know the Modi government would rise and would want to get rid of Muslims,” Lukman’s father, Bilal Khan, told ThePrint.
Bilal added that his family has lived in Ghasera for at least a hundred years without any conflict with their minority Hindu neighbours.
Meat suppliers protest, but no hope for justice in village
Since the attack on Lukman, local meat suppliers have stopped their operations, both out of fear and protest.
Haroon Qureishi has been supplying meat to Gurugram’s Sadar Bazaar for the past eight years. However, he told ThePrint that he wouldn’t supply meat until Lukman and his family received compensation or justice.
“I only cut buffalo meat. I have never slaughtered a cow,” said Haroon. “I respect the law. I would not break it to risk anybody’s life.”
A delegation of meat suppliers and shop owners from the Gurugram market met the police Tuesday to demand that all perpetrators in Lukman’s crime be charged with attempt to murder and ample medical services be provided to him.
However, at home in his village, hope for justice has waned.
“Nothing will come of all this. Look at what has happened in other lynching cases. Victims are hardly assured justice,” said Bilal.
Justice for lynching victims has been elusive in Haryana
Bilal’s statement rings true when one considers the situation of Pehlu Khan’s wife Jaibhoona who has experienced first hand the lack of justice for victims of mob lynching.
Pehlu Khan was killed by a group of around 200 self-styled cow vigilantes on the suspicion that he was carrying cattle for slaughter, despite showing the crowd the permissions he had been given for dairy farming.
He was on his way back from Jaipur when he was killed in Alwar, Rajasthan.
The case led to public outrage and exposed the vulnerability of Muslims involved in dairy farming and meat supply. Three years after his death, only two teenagers have been arrested.
Six others, all of whom Pehlu named before he died, were acquitted of their charges in 2019.
“My focus is on getting the two children left married. There is no point going after justice anymore,” Jaibhoona told ThePrint, who lives in the village of Jaisinghpur, 24 km away from Ghasera.
Of her eight children, six have married and moved out of the house. Jaibhoona has not received any financial support or compensation from the government and doesn’t expect it either.
“I keep it out of my mind. I go to court whenever I am summoned. Otherwise, I am milking the buffalos to earn something.”
Gau rakshaks emboldened under Modi govt: Report
A fact-finding report by civil society group People’s Union of Democratic Rights (PUDR) said cow vigilante groups are often “armed, patrol highways, have an organised network with personnel stationed at key points, and engage in criminal acts”.
According to a report by the Human Rights Watch, a New York-based international NGO, these vigilantes have been emboldened since the Modi government came to power in 2014. Between 2015 and 2018, at least 44 people were killed in these attacks. Of these, 36 were Muslims.
The report added the gau rakshaks mostly target Muslims and Dalits — historically beef-eating communities.
The National Crime Records Bureau has not released data on lynching cases and, therefore, the conviction rate of these cases is not known.
When asked how cow vigilante groups operated in the state, Gurugram’s Additional Commissioner of Police for the Crime Branch Pritpal Singh, told ThePrint, “These are neither state nor political bodies. They fashion themselves as protectors of cows but act in criminal ways by intimidating and harassing those involved in meat trade.”
Singh denied cow vigilantism was an issue in the district, “This is the only case that has come to our notice. There have not been any issues apart from this case,” he said.