Video producer: Debayan Dutta
Video editor: Purnendu Pritam
Around 6 AM on 23 April, Tahira (25), a resident of Sheikhpur village in Nuh’s Firozpur Jhirka tehsil was walking towards her house’s gher (courtyard) to milk a buffalo when she saw 7-8 men sprinting towards her with pistols in their hands.
Scared, she dropped the empty steel can, ran towards her houses and bolted the rusty old gate. Tahira’s scream woke up her mother-in-law, Mobina (61). The men, hurling abuses, forced the two women to open the door to the house.
“They searched the room and the kitchen and hurled abuses at my daughter and daughter-in-law. They then jumped over the wall at the end of our house. One of them fired 2-3 rounds,” said Mobina.
At first, Mobina thought that the men were from the police. “I noticed later that they were wearing chappals and one of them had a big maala (religious necklace) around his neck. I have seen police before. This is not how they dress,” she said.
Terrorised Villagers by Firing Shots and Beating Them
When The Quint visited Sheikhpur village on a few days after the incident, several residents and eyewitnesses spoke about seeing 20-25 men in plain-clothes brandishing pistols. They were allegedly traveling in four cars, one Scorpio and three Boleros. An investigation by The Quint revealed that the Scorpio is registered under the name of the Development Panchayat of Haryana. According to the villagers, there was no number plate on the other three cars.
Speaking to The Quint, Mohammad Shokeen (38), a daily wage labourer whose house is located in the lane after Tahira’s, said, “When I heard the firing, I picked a lathi (stick) and ran outside. I saw 3-4 cars. Their engines were running and some 4-5 men dragged Sahib into one of the cars and sped off.”
According to Shokeen, Sahib Hussain (26) had gone to the field that morning. When he saw the cow vigilantes, he ran, at which point they fired two shots in the air. Hussain fell to the ground and was roughed up and hit in the head with a pistol butt by the vigilantes.
“They were here to create communal tensions in Mewat and instill fear in the hearts of people,” added Shokeen.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a 65-year-old gardener from the area said, “My elder son and I were tending to the plants when we saw them dragging Sahib. My son asked them not to beat him. They said they’d beat my son if he didn’t stay back. We couldn’t do anything to stop them. They were 20-25 men and had pistols. They took him away.”
Mobina claimed that her sister, who lives near the spot where the four cars were parked, tried to stop the cow vigilantes from taking Hussain, but was allegedly hit with a pistol butt on her chest.
Raqmuddin (25) runs a dairy business and had come to the village to pick up his delivery of milk. When he saw the cow vigilantes, he started filming the incident.
“When they found out that I was filming the incident, one of the men seized my phone and smashed it twice against a big stone. I was afraid if I said anything, they would beat me up too.” Raqmuddin said. He also alleged that the men were chanting slogans of Jai Shri Ram.
Videos of Cow Vigilantism in Mewat Shared by Jamia Shooter
A Hindutva supporter who had opened fire at protesting students at Jamia Millia Islamia during the anti-CAA protests in 2020, made headlines again when two videos, uploaded by him on his Instagram handle, went viral. The first video, captioned “Gau Raksha Dal, Mewat Road, Haryana”, showed someone pointing a gun barrel towards women and children.
The second video showed four men forcibly carrying away a young man in a white Scorpio with the license plate HR 70 D 4177. The video was captioned, “Taking away the cow smuggler.” The account, which had a following of around 13,000 people, was later deleted, and a new account created in its stead. The Quint could not independently verify if the videos were shot by the Jamia shooter.
This is the third time that the Jamia shooter has been in the news in relation to anti-Muslim violence or speech. After the shooting at Jamia, the shooter, reportedly 17 years old at the time, was sent to a correctional home by the juvenile justice board and released after a few months.
On 4 July 2021, he addressed a mahapanchayat in Pataudi, Haryana where he called for the abduction of Muslim women (“If they can take our sisters, can you not pick up their sisters?”) besides raising the slogan, “Jab Mulle Kate Jayenge..." while the crowd cheered, "Ram Ram Chilayenge" (when Muslims will be slaughtered, they will take the name of Ram). Following widespread public outrage, the shooter was arrested on 12 July and granted bail on 2 August.
FIR Registered Against “Unidentified Persons” After Videos Went Viral
On 27 April, an FIR was registered based on the complaint of ASI Ravikant against “three to four unidentified persons” under the following sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860:
286 (Negligent conduct with respect to fire or combustible matter),
294 (Obscene acts and songs),
323 (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt),
342 (Punishment for wrongful confinement) and
506 (Punishment for criminal intimidation)
and the following sections of the Arms Act, 1959:
25 (Possession of prohibited arms or prohibited ammunition),
54 (Renewal of licences)
59 (No person shall shorten the barrel of a firearm or convert an imitation firearm into a firearm)
The FIR reads, “In the video from village Sheikhpur, some young men are seen attacking a man and putting him in a Scorpio at gunpoint. Two-three men are seen holding sticks while one man seems to be firing a gunshot in the air with a pistol.”
It further reads, “In another video from Rawli village, a few young men are seen taking a man away and in a video from Basai Meo village, two young men are seen beating up an old man in a car.”
Police Arrests the Abducted Man for Cow Smuggling
On the evening of 23 April, the Nuh Police booked Hussain under sections 13(1) and 13(3) of the Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan Act, 2015 and arrested him for alleged cow smuggling.
The Quint reached out to Satish Varsh, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, for Firozpur Jhirka. Speaking about the identity of the men abducting Hussain from Sheikhpur, he said, “They were not policemen.” DSP Varsh confirmed that Hussain has been sent to 14 days judicial custody.
When inquired about the circumstances under which Hussain was arrested, DSP Varsh said, “We don’t know how this man was brought to the custody of police and to which police station.” He dropped the call when this reporter asked him about a government registered Scorpio being used to abduct Hussain.
The Quint reached out to Varun Singla, Superintendent of Police for Nuh, over phone calls several times but received no response.
'Falsely Implicated by the Police'
Hussain’s family alleged that he was being falsely implicated by the police.
Hussain’s brother, Irfan (38), who works in the dairy business, said, “My brother is paralysed from the right side of his body. He got electrocuted some years back. He earns his living by doing shuttering work. He is not a cow smuggler. They are lying.”
Hussain’s wife, Tasleema (24), broke down while speaking to The Quint. “He has never done anything wrong. They don’t have anything to show for evidence. Who will take care of my children now that they have sent my husband to jail,” she asked. Hussain and Tasleema have three children between the ages of 4 and 7 years.
“They cracked open my son’s head,” said Hussain’s father, Hoshiar Hussain (72). He refused to clarify his statement further.
Local Bajrang Dal Members Involved in the Abduction, Alleges Family
Mubarik Khan (29), an activist, alleged that the cow vigilantes took Sahib to an undisclosed location and only handed him to the police the next day. He further alleged that several Hindu youth from Nuh were involved in the incident, together with men who had come from Manesar and Badshahpur near Gurugram.
“Srikant Pandit is unemployed and is trying to earn through this kidnapping business,” alleged Khan. Srikant Pandit, 24, is a resident of Maroda, a Muslim-dominated village, around six kilometres from Sheikhpur.
In his complaint filed with the Superintendent of Police of Nuh, accessed by The Quint, Hoshiar Hussain said, “Srikant got down from the vehicle and had a katta (home-made pistol).” The complaint mentions the names of Pandit, Anil, Mannu, Monu and Sunny.
The complaint further reads, “These people robbed us of gold and silver jewelry worth lakhs of rupees and also took cash of 45,000 rupees that was kept in the house.” Hoshiar Hussain said in the report that they recognized Srikant and others and later found out that he was a member of the Bajrang Dal.
The Quint accessed an undated video of Pandit where he can be seen sitting with six people, with four shotguns and one pistol laid on the table and 2 more shotguns placed in the laps of two people.
Similar Incidents of Cow Vigilantism Witnessed in Two Other Villages
On 16 April, cow vigilantes went to Basai Meo, a village around five kilometres away from Sheikhpur comprising of nearly 4,500 residents. Khan and several other residents of Basai Meo allege that they arrived in the early hours of the day carrying pistols, fired 2-3 rounds in the air and chanted Jai Shree Ram. However, no one was “kidnapped” from the village.
In Rawli, another village in Firozpur Jhirka around 15 kilometres from Sheikhpur, nearly half a dozen cow vigilantes came in three Boleros on 24 April and abducted two brothers, Hakmuddin (45) and Raees (24), from their house and field respectively. The cow vigilantes dragged one of the brothers and fired a round in the air.
Speaking to The Quint, Aas Muhammad (50), Hakmuddin and Raees’ brother, said, “They hit my brothers and abused and threatened anyone who tried to intervene. My brothers have never taken part in illegal activities. They are not cow smugglers. One is a labourer and the other one works as a porter in the tehsil. The police came more than an hour after they were taken away by the vigilantes.”
Muhammad told The Quint that his brothers were booked under various sections related to cow smuggling and were lodged in District Jail, Gurugram.
Asgari (70), Hakmuddin and Raees’ mother, said, “One of my sons was sleeping when they dragged him out of the house. I wrapped myself around my son in an attempt to protect him. The men said they would shoot me, if I intervened further. They took my sons away. What am I supposed to do now?”
“We do not even have a proper house. If my sons were involved in cow smuggling business, would we have lived in a chappar (thatch) house?” asked Asgari.
Hakmuddin has 9 children, all aged between 3 and 16 years. Raees has 5 children, aged between 3 and 7; one of his sons suffers from disability.
'Authorities are Supposed to Punish Cow Smugglers, But Not Bajrang Dal?'
According to Khan, Mamman Khan (52), Congress MLA from Firozpur Jhirka, spoke up on the alleged kidnappings of three Muslim men after four days when pressurized by members of the community to do so. On 27 April, Khan, along with several hundred Muslim youth of Nuh, met with the Superintendent of Police and the Deputy Commissioner and demanded action against cow vigilantes.
Speaking to The Quint, Mamman Khan said, “Everyone should respect others’ religion. But if someone is taking part in illegal activities, the authorities are supposed to punish that person according to the law. Bajrang Dal members, gau rakshaks, these anti-social elements cannot go into villages in government vehicles, armed with weapons, abuse our mothers and sisters and abduct youth on whom cases are later filed. Like they have destroyed the brotherhood in the rest of the country, they want to do that here too. The government should just say that the state is not ruled by them, but rather the Bajrang Dal and gau rakshaks. We have told the administration that we will not tolerate these people entering our villages and abducting men.”
Communal Tensions in Nuh in the Past
In the last one year, Nuh has seen several attempts by Hindu right-wing organisations to create communal tensions. In early 2021, in Bhadas village, adjacent to Delhi-Mumbai Expressway and 20 kilometres from Firozpur Jhirka, members of Bajrang Dal overturned a deg (big utensil) of biryani saying that it was made of cow meat. Bhadas village is MLA Mamman Khan’s ancestral home.
On 12 December 2021, Faridabad district president of Bajrang Dal, Jeet Vashisth, took out a rally with over 50 vehicles and some 200-300 members of Hindu right-wing organisations in Singar village located in Punhana tehsil of Nuh. In a video posted by Vashisth on his Facebook account, which has a following of more than 1 lakh, people clad in saffron can be seen brandishing swords. In the video, Vashisth can be seen saying, “Today, we have saffronised the whole Mewat.” Facebook suspended his account in January 2022 after Alt News emailed the company about hateful content shared on his profile.
Early this year, Hindu right-wing organisations took out another car rally from Gurugram to Firozpur Jhirka. Khan alleged that around 6 months ago, Bajrang Dal members vandalised a mazar (a Muslim shrine) near SHKM Government Medical College on the outskirts of Nuh.
“Later elders of the Hindu community of Nuh intervened and apologised to the Muslims and promised that something like this would never happen again. But it did,” said Khan.
Bajrang Dal Convenor Allegedly Involved in Cow Smuggling
Mausam Khan (27), a resident of Firozpur Jhirka alleged that Mohit alias Monu Manesar (27), convenor of the Manesar unit of Bajrang Dal, and the Jamia shooter were present during the early morning raid on the villages on 23 and 24 April.
This reporter showed images of Monu Manesar and the shooter to several eyewitnesses of the incidents in Sheikhpur village and Rawli village. Several of the eyewitnesses recognised Monu Manesar and confirmed that he was present during the abduction incidents. None of the eyewitnesses could place the shooter at the villages on the said days.
The same resident alleged that Monu Manesar is part of the cow smuggling business. “When vehicles smuggling cows pass through the Manesar belt, Monu’s team stops them at gunpoint and demands ransom from the driver of the vehicle.
As soon as they receive the ransom, they call another slaughterer with a vehicle and offload and sell some of the cows to the slaughterer and hand over some of the cows to the administration. But they make videos for the public and showcase themselves as Gau Rakshaks. It is a nexus. How else has Monu Manesar earned so much money?” he said.
The Quint reached out to Monu Manesar on phone several times, but his phone was switched off.
Monu Manesar has a history of getting his pictures clicked with ministers and high-ranking police officials. In 2016, he was seen sharing a photo with Information and Broadcasting Minister, Anurag Thakur. He was also seen with Kala Ramachandran, Commissioner of Police, Gurugram and Rakesh Dugal, Superintendent of Police, Jhajjar district. He has been active as a cow vigilante since 2016 and was shot in the chest while chasing alleged cow smugglers in Gurugram in October 2019.
A Week Past the Incident, Tensions Still High
A video that surfaced on Twitter on 29 April shows a Bajrang Dal leader, outside District Office in Mahendragarh some 100 kilometres from Gurugram, in the presence of heavy police deployment, saying, “The time has come. Either kill or die”, while the crowd raised the slogan of “Jai Shri Ram”. In another video from the same event, another Bajrang Dal leader threatened to block the routes to the Muslim majority district of Mewat if cow slaughtering is not stopped.
Since the abduction of three Muslim men and their subsequent arrests by the police, tensions remain high in the Mewat belt with Muslim youth demanding the arrest of Monu Manesar, the Jamia shooter and other cow vigilantes.
(Arbab Ali is an independent journalist based in Delhi.)