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"What authority did they have to take a life? The law says that the police needs to be informed in case of any suspicion. A similar incident took place in Igatpuri a few weeks ago," said Mohd Asghar, cousin brother of Afaan Ansari who was lynched by a mob of cow vigilantes in Maharashtra's Nashik on Saturday, 24 June.
For the past three days, Afaan's house in Mumbai is swamped by visitors and local leaders. The 32-year-old meat trader from Kurla's Qureshi Nagar, along with his relative Nasir Hussain Shaikh were brutally thrashed by a group of 15-20 men on the suspicion of smuggling beef on a highway in Nashik.
Afaan, a meat trader by profession, succumbed to the injuries on the way to the hospital on Saturday. Nasir, the driver of the vehicle, is said to be in a critical condition and was transferred to Mumbai' King Edward Memorial (KEM) hospital the next day.
"The gau rakshaks have been claiming that it was cow meat but we have never traded in cow meat. They were taken to the forest, tied, up, and thrashed," Asghar claimed.
How the Duo Was Chased, Intercepted on Highway
On the evening of 25 June, Afaan and Nasir were traveling back to Mumbai carrying about 450 kilograms of meat in a Swift Dzire car when the group intercepted them.
According to the complaint filed, the duo were beaten by the 15-20 men using "wooden sticks and metal rods."
After taking a statement from Nasir at a Nashik hospital following the attack, the police registered an FIR and arrested 11 people in the case, all residents of Igatpuri and Sinnar talukas of Nashik.
Narrating how the vigilantes traced the victims, Nashik DCP Shahji Umap told The Quint: "One of the toll plaza employees saw bloodied meat water dripping from the car door and called one of his friends to alert him. The car was apprehended by three people first on the highway and then others gathered later. The toll plaza employee is also one of the accused."
The accused were produced in a court in Igatpuri on Monday and were remanded to police custody for seven days.
DCP Umap further said that there is no clarity yet if the accused are associated with any particular Hindutva organisation. It also remains unclear if the meat they were carrying was indeed beef.
"We have received their custody from the court for seven days. Whether or not they are associated with any organisation will be revealed," he said.
'The Attackers Would Often Demand Extortion Money'
Nazir's uncle, Shahid Ali Qureshi, said that his family came to know about the attack only when they saw the clip that went viral on social media.
"My nephew has been in the ICU since he has been brought to Mumbai. The doctors are saying there might be some injury to his brain," Qureshi said.
He further claimed that the vigilantes would extort money from the duo to allow them to transport meat.
"There was no cow meat. They were traders, they traded meat, and these people (attackers) would extort money from them. But their business wasn't doing well off late and they had not been able to pay them the extortion money. They were demanding for Rs 50,000 which they were not able to pay," he said while speaking to the media a day after the attack.
"We want justice. There was no beef involved. The lab results will show it," he added.
DCP Umap, however, told The Quint that no extortion angle has surfaced during the investigation so far.
'Who Authorised Them to Kill?'
Afaan is survived by a wife and two daughters aged 5 and 3. His last call last call was to one of his friends to tell him that there are some goons chasing their car, Asghar said.
Toufek Shah, another relative of Afaan said that if there was any kind of suspicion, the vigilantes had no right to take law in their hands.
"Whether it was beef or anything else, that's a secondary issue. But is there no rule of law? Whether they were smuggling anything or not was for the police to probe. The police would have conducted an investigaton and punished as per law if they were guilty. There are laws in India and there's the Constitution, they would have been punished lawfully if guilty. Nobody has the right to take a life," Shah said.
"Is an animal's life worth more than a man's? One man has been killed, what can possibly be the compensation for it? There should be proper investigation in the matter and strict action should be taken against the attackers," he added.
The incident, in the backdrop of rising concerns on the state leadership's perceived support to right-wing groups, is the second such attack reported from Nashik this month.
Lukman Suleman Ansari (20), a resident of Padgha, Bhiwandi was killed allegedly by members of the Rashtriya Bajrang Dal on 8 June. The alleged attack took place when Ansari and his associates Aqueel Gavandi and Pappu Paddi were carrying cattle in a vehicle. Six people were arrested in the case.