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A Long Night of Terror: Eyewitness Recalls Rakbar Khan’s Lynching

“I was hiding in the hope that when they left Rakbar on the road, I would pick him up. But they did not leave him.”

Updated
India
6 min read
A Long Night of Terror: Eyewitness Recalls Rakbar Khan’s Lynching
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When gaurakshaks hunted them, Aslam managed to run, but Rakbar was caught. Hiding in the fields nearby, Aslam says he witnessed the mob assault his friend for hours on end as he begged for his life. In an interview with The Quint, he shares the chilling details of the night in the hope of bringing Rakbar's murderers to justice. This is his story.

Recalling the moments Aslam's worst fears came true, he said, "When I reached my village in the morning, saw the crowd and sensed the commotion, I knew they already knew. Rakbar had died."

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The two friends, 27-year-old Aslam and 35-year-old Rakbar, grew up together in Koalgaon village, located in one of the most backward districts in India, Haryana's Mewat. Eight years apart, Rakbar was like his 'bada bhai.' A Class 2 drop-out, Aslam often travelled to adjacent states for mazdoori (labour) while Rakbar became a dairy farmer. The milk in Aslam's home was bought from Rakbar's house, 100 metres away.

It was on 20 July 2018 that Rakbar dropped by to ask him to help him bring back two cows and two calves he had already bought from a village that was 12-13 km away. Aslam readily agreed and the two friends set out together.

On their way back, the clouds that had now grown dense cast a shadow on the fields. Rakbar tried to stop two drivers for a lift, he even offered to pay the second one Rs 100-Rs 200 extra, but concerned about the cows they refused to offer them a ride. The fear of being waylaid by goons who wanted to extract money was very real in Mewat even a year ago.

"Would he be alive if any of those drivers had stopped?" Aslam wonders.

They moved on to their original plan of bringing the cows back on foot.

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The sun had already set when they heard the sound of a few bikes coming their way. Five or six men with sticks and torches in their hand were on the bikes. "Unhone humein bola hum gau kasaai hai. Humnein bola ye gaay doodh dene waali hai, bachda bhi hai aur hum gareeb hai. Par unhone thaan hi liya tha ki aaj inko peetna hai.  (They accused us of being cow slaughterers. We said we had bought these cows to milk them, two calves were with it as well, and we were poor. But they had made up their mind to thrash us.)

At this moment, Aslam broke his grip and ran away in to the fields. "I found a moment where their grip on me was weak and dashed into the fields. It was dark and raining. I hid in the fields and looked towards the commotion in front of me. I could not leave."

Hiding in the fields, Aslam says, "I was mindful of who these men were. They had torches through which I could see their faces and hear them take each other's names. One of those the police is passing off as a witness in court, his name is Naval Kishore. He beat Rakbar up while he begged for his life. He is no witness."

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Despite his soiled and soggy clothes, and feet sticking into the deep mud, Aslam waited in hiding.

"I was hiding in the hope that when they left Rakbar bruised on the road, I would go and pick him up. But they did not leave him. A car came and took him away," he said. He is quick to follow it up with, "I was scared that if I got up they would kill me too. I was petrified."

Aslam froze in fear, he says. He stayed in the same spot for a while, before walking deeper into the jungles. At times he felt he was being followed, as he drifted into the most disconcerting thoughts about Rakbar, and at other times he was ridden with guilt.

"After what seemed like hours had passed, I found a home which I knocked on. I entered and found a woman who was feeding her child. She did not say anything. When I looked away and asked if anyone else was home, a man came out. He asked me what the problem was and I told him my tractor's wheel had got stuck in the field."

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Aslam said he felt compelled to lie because he realised the man of the house was a Hindu. "I did not bring up the cow cause I was scared of being misunderstood again. I was scared but did not want to leave in a hurry either."

The man asked Aslam if he wanted food, tea or water. "He even offered me clean clothes to change into. But I refused all help as I was scared."

Aslam sat in a stranger's house in complete stillness while it continued to rain. "I just sat there. My heart grew heavier and heavier as each moment passed. What had happened to my brother? Was he going to live? I couldn't stop myself. I did not try."

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Aslam does not remember anything about this couple, "I do not remember their names or the village they were from. I just know that they gave me some comfort in the form of shelter when I was shaken."

After a few hours the man reluctantly came upto Aslam and requested him to leave. "He told me it was getting very late. Directing me to a particular route, he said I should be able to walk straight and find my village within a few hours." Aslam agreed and left for home.

At the crack of dawn, Aslam says he found his surroundings familiar. "I did not stop anywhere. I did not sleep all night. I did not eat anything."

Familiar faces from his village stared Aslam down as he walked in soiled clothes. "I did not want to look at anyone. I wanted to stop only when I reached home." On reaching the village he saw the crowd and commotion, he knew the news reached them before he could say anything. "Rakbar had died."

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"The sarpanch from another village had called and informed them. Rakbar had died at night itself," he said. "While I descended deeper into the village... and in my home."

For three days Aslam did not talk to anyone. "I did not know what to say. Looking at Rakbar's family made me feel so weak and scared. I did not feel well. I broke my silence in front of the media who surrounded me for interviews in the aftermath of his death. Some insisted I go to the fields where the incident happened and give interviews," he said, wearing an expression of fatigue and despondency.

As he testified in court in the hope of bringing Rakbar's murderers to justice, he received death threats in the courtroom as well. "While identifying the culprits, one of the accused, Vijay threatened to kill me. After he was taken into custody, the judge warned me from going into that area as the accused may kill me. How long do I stay home? I have not worked a single day. I have asked for protection which has been repeatedly denied."

He was taken to the village doctor who prescribed medication. "I have not had a night's sleep since the incident. My heart feels heavy," he says repeatedly. "I was thinking about him that night, I am thinking about him now. It has been a year since I lost my friend and brother in Rakbar."

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Mewat   Cow Vigilantes   Mob Lynching 

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