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“If police implicates our husbands in false cases, we women will go and protect our cows. We can sacrifice our lives for gau raksha,” says Santosh Sisodia, as the other women gathered in her courtyard nod along in agreement.
Santosh’s husband, Rakesh Sisodia, is one of the two men who were arrested on charges of lynching 39-year-old Qasim and critically injuring 65-year-old Samiuddin in Hapur, Uttar Pradesh.
Rakesh and Yudhisthir Singh were arrested on the basis of an FIR filed at the Pilkhuwa police station by Samiuddin’s brother, Yasin.
‘Madapur People Opened Fire On Us... My Husband Has Been Falsely Charged’
The police claim that the incident is a case of “road rage” and that Qasim and Samiuddin had a fight with unidentified bike-borne men, following a minor bike accident.
However, residents of the two villages – the Thakur-dominated Bajhera Khurd and the neighbouring Muslim-dominated Madapur – insist that the brawl broke out over cattle.
Santosh told The Quint that her husband had been framed. “Our farms are close to one another. A few men from our village had gone to get fodder when they saw some men from the other village huddled in one place. They found a calf and a goat tied to a tree. They suspected something was wrong, so they came back to the village, they assembled 5-10 men and went back to the spot," she said.
"There was a brawl, but by this time the news had spread in our village and more men rushed to the spot. People from Madapur gathered, too, and they fired upon us first after which our men retaliated by thrashing Qasim and Samiuddin,” she added.
Santosh said her husband was at home when the mob dragged the two men for a stretch of 500m, from the fields to the Devi temple, near Bajhera village.
“My husband went to calm the crowd down, and even called the police, but they arrived 1.5 hours later. Now they are framing a false case against my husband,” Santosh alleged.
‘Attempts Made to Erase Evidence’
Rakesh’s daughter, Neha, said the intention of the villagers was not to attack the men – but to protect the cattle.
The cow is the symbol of Hindu religion. The cow is our mother. What kind of a son is he if he saw his mother being slaughtered in front of his eyes? On one side we slogan about gau raksha, on the other hand, how can we see our cows being slaughtered?Neha, Rakesh’s daughter
Neha alleged that when the police visited her village on the night of the incident, the people from Madapur attempted to erase all evidence against them from the fields – so as to paint the case as an accident and bury the real issue.
However, when The Quint visited the field on 20 June, we found a pair of torn slippers and blood stains at the spot where the incident occurred.
Samiuddin’s nephew, Abdul Kalam, pointed to the slippers and said they belonged to Qasim.
‘They Left Cows to Wander on Purpose so They Could Accuse Samiuddin’
Samiuddin, who was critically injured, was admitted to Dev Nandini hospital in Hapur. His nephew Abdul said that on the fateful day, Samiuddin had left home with his friend Hasaan Ali to get some fodder for their cattle.
Hasaan Ali and my uncle were in the fields with two other men that day. I don’t know why Qasim had come to meet them. But a cow and a calf had strayed into the fields, and our men were trying to shoo them off when a mob from the other side attacked them. Hasaan Ali and the other two men fled the scene while Qasim and my uncle were thrashed and dragged to the temple. My younger brother, who was playing in the fields, followed the mob to rescue my uncle but the crowd kept swelling.Abdul told The Quint
Samiuddin's niece, Arifa, alleged that the “Hindu men deliberately left the cows stray into the field so they could accuse our men of planning to slaughter them”.
She said: “The Hindu men were saying our men were slaughtering cows. But these are elderly men, how can they slaughter cows?”
Mob Did Not Disperse Till Police Arrived: Temple Priest
Ikadishi Giri, the priest of the Devi temple, said he was taking his afternoon nap when he was woken up by a commotion.
He said the mob dragged one man till the gate leading to the temple and another till the fields surrounding it.
“The mob did not disperse till the police arrived,” he said.
He claimed that two cows were left near the temple for a few hours. Later, the police came and took the cows away. When asked if the brawl broke out over cattle, the priest refused to give a conclusive answer.
‘No Cows Involved... They Denied Qasim Water Because He Was Muslim’
Qasim’s family had a different story to tell.
“There was no cow involved,” Qasim’s younger brother, Mohammed Salim, insists.
Salim said that Qasim, a cattle trader from Saddikpura village, visited Bajhera Khurd for the first time that day. He said Qasim left the house at around 11 am that morning after he received a phone call. “He often used to go to nearby villages to sell cattle, so none of us paid attention that day. A few hours later, the police informed us that he has been rushed to a hospital after being brutally assaulted by a mob in a nearby village”.
This is a matter of "communal enmity," Salim alleged. “Hindu men gathered and killed my brother because he was a Muslim. There was no cow involved. They are bringing up the cow issue to hide their crime. Even in the video, you can hear that they refused my brother water because he was Muslim.”
In the video that went viral after the incident, Qasim can be seen lying in the fields, bruised and blooded, as he begs for water. A few men can be seen standing around him, while a voice can be heard asking the mob to calm down, saying that the man had been beaten enough. “If we’d reached here some time later, they would have killed the cows,” another voice can be heard saying.
The Uttar Pradesh police, on 21 June, apologised after a photograph showing Qasim being dragged by locals, led by police men, went viral. Hours after investigating officer, Ashwani Kumar – the man seen objecting to the photograph being taken– told The Quint that he had asked the villagers to help him lift Qasim from a pit, the UP Police published an apology statement on its Twitter handle. The statement also said that the three police officers seen in the picture have been transferred to Police Lines.
‘Inhuman to Kill Someone on Basis of Suspicion Alone’
As relatives gathered at Qasim’s house to mourn his death, his wife and eldest son sit in silence near a window.
Qasim was the sole bread-earner for my children and me. Who will take care of us now?Nasheem, Qasim’s wife
Outside his house, a few community elders sit around, talking amongst themselves. “Is it human to kill someone on the basis of mere suspicion,”one of them asks.
Which rule book or religion asks you to kill an innocent person? Since when has taking law in our hands become a norm?Qasim’s neighbour
Meanwhile, two teams of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PACs) have been deployed in Bajhera Khurd and Madapur to maintain peace among the two communities.
(This story was first published on 21 June, 2018 and has been updated with the apology statement by the UP Police.)