Badshahpur, Gurugram: For 20 long minutes last Friday, Fakhruddin watched as a man he knew, Lukman Khan, lay on the ground, writhing from blows delivered by a group of eight to ten men who also used a hammer to beat him.
Lukman was nearly beaten to death by the group on the eve of Eid al-Adha at Sadar Bazaar in Gurugram’s Badshahpur area. Fakhruddin tried to help, but was told by a man from the group that he would be shot if he dared to come any closer.
“I don’t know if they (the group of men) had a gun or not, but in that situation, who will actually come forward?” Fakhruddin told ThePrint Sunday afternoon.
Fakhruddin, who prefers to use only his first name, has lived in this locality all 26 years of his life. He works in one of the bazaar’s meat shops, which stand in a small lane nestled between a mosque and a temple. Every year for the last six years, he said, Eid celebrations have been marred by veiled threats and abuse by local cow vigilante groups.
“This may have been the first time someone was actually grievously injured, but we are used to threats and abuses. Someone or the other comes around this time of year to tell us they will shut down the market and accuse us of trading cow meat,” Fakhruddin said.
A case in point occurred in 2016, when Izhaar Qureishi, who works in his father’s meat shop in the same market, was transporting meat — he was allegedly cornered by a group of vigilantes and shot at.
“I dodged the bullet and got out of there. They accused me of transporting beef, when everyone knows we don’t deal with anything illegal. We didn’t bother filing a case because I wasn’t injured, but even if we did, nothing would have come of it. The law is in their hands, no one will stop them,” Izhaar said.
The attack and police response
It was Friday morning when Lukman was transporting the meat of three buffaloes to Sadar Bazaar from this home town in Nuh, about 40 km away, just as he had been doing for the last two years or so.
“He was coming from Sohna Road when the vigilante group told him to stop. Instead, he sped off towards the market,” Devender Kumar, sub-inspector at the Badshahpur police station, told ThePrint. “They caught up with him there and beat him up.”
Tahir Qureishi, pradhan of the market and an eyewitness, said he tried calling the police five to six times, but to no avail. When they finally did arrive, they stood around doing nothing.
A viral video of the attack shows a group of assailants kicking Lukman and assaulting him with a hammer. Uniformed policemen can be seen watching from the crowd, without trying to stop the violence. Public outcry led to the transfer of Badshahpur Station House Officer Deepak Kumar Saturday.
Tahir Qureishi said: “About a hundred people gathered by that time. After beating him, they put him back in his own truck and drove off in the direction he came from. It was about 10 men on five bikes. He was screaming for help, and saying it wasn’t beef but buffalo meat. None of them listened.”
He added: “They’ve done this many times. They’ve shot at us, they’ve chased our cars. This isn’t the first time by a long shot.”
After turning back on to Sohna Road, SI Devender Kumar said, the assailants stopped and beat Lukman one more time before the police intervened. “They hit the police car and broke some glass. Lukman was taken to hospital, and one person has been arrested in the case.”
The arrested man is 28-year-old Pradeep Yadav, who according to Devender Kumar, doesn’t have a history of cow vigilantism, nor is he associated with any political group.
Asked why the police hadn’t intervened earlier, Devender Kumar claimed they were “trying to catch the assailants”.
Gurugram’s Additional Commissioner of Police Prit Pal told ThePrint an FIR had been registered, and that an investigation was on to find the other assailants. The meat from Lukman’s truck will be sent to laboratory for testing.
ThePrint tried to contact Lukman, but his number was unavailable till the time of publishing this report. He is recovering in a hospital in Nuh.
‘Even long-established markets are coming under threat’
Ahmed Khan, the 70-year-old imam of the Jama Masjid adjacent to the market, said Muslims working in Sadar Bazaar in the predominantly Hindu town of Badshahpur have faced discrimination over the years, but he has given up hope for justice.
“Why should this stop when it’s endorsed by the incumbent government? It won’t. Nothing can stop this, and nothing will. It’s beyond our control; all we can do is keep our heads down and continue with our work,” he said.
Like several others, Ahmed Khan has lived in Sadar Bazaar all his life, and seen its social equations transform over the last six years. “Those who work with us in the market are co-operative, but when incidents like this occur, no one feels safe,” he said.
Even among those in the meat trade, the people transporting meat tend to be the most vulnerable, according to Sultan, another worker in the market who chose not to reveal his last name. “Now even long-established markets like ours are coming under threat,” he said.
Rise of cow vigilantism in India
Since the BJP-led government came to power at the Centre in 2014, many human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch have said cow vigilantism has taken on a new fervour.
Various state governments, including the Haryana government, have joined the “fight against cow smuggling” by setting up gau raksha committees and helplines to “catch” cow smugglers.
A report by Human Rights Watch found that 44 people had been killed by cow vigilantes from 2017 to 2019.
In 2015, 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched on the suspicion of cow slaughter by a mob in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh.
In 2016, a mob accused Mohammed Mazlum Ansari, 35, and Imteyaz Khan, 12, of selling cow meat and beat them to death in Jharkhand.
In 2017, Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer from Nuh, the same district as Lukman, was killed by 200 vigilantes for transporting cattle in Alwar, Rajasthan.
Several traders and residents of the Sadar Bazaar area in Badshahpur say Lukman’s case is a “reminder” that the prejudice hasn’t gone away, even if the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown provided a brief distraction.
“They tell us to go to Pakistan, accuse us of selling cow meat, and threaten our lives. This time it was Lukman; the next time, it could be any of us,” Fakhruddin said.