Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam
Idrees Pasha, a Muslim cattle trader in Karnataka’s Mandya is the latest victim of cow vigilantism. He was allegedly beaten to death in the wee hours of Friday night, 31 March, barely hundred metres from the Sathanur police station.
The main accused in the murder case has been identified as Puneet Kerehalli, along with four others. A self-styled ‘cow protector’, Kerehalli has over one lakh followers on his now hidden Facebook profile.
Before the profile was deleted, Kerehalli’s photos with several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders had gone viral.
So, who is the murder-accused vigilante? What happened in Sathanur?
What Happened in Sathanur?
As per the First Information Report (FIR) accessed by The Quint, Pasha's vehicle carrying cattle was intercepted by Kerehalli and two others in front of Sathanur police station in Ramanagara district.
Kerehalli and others accused Pasha of illegally transporting cattle for slaughter. Though Pasha said that the cattle were bought from a local market and that he had documents for the same, he was abused by the vigilantes and told to "go to Pakistan." He was later chased and assaulted resulting in severe injuries.
When Pasha's family members found his body under mysterious circumstances on Saturday, they protested in front of the Sathanur police station demanding justice.
As per the family, the cow vigilante had demanded Rs two lakh to release the victim or else they would kill him.
Speaking to The Quint, Abdul Jameed, a relative of Pasha, said, "All three of them had tried running away after sensing danger to their lives...They (Kerehalli) would have killed Zaheer also if the police were not there. He also got minor injuries. But because Idrees had run around 100 metres before getting caught, they tortured and killed him."
Revealing the condition of the dead body, Pasha's relative said, "His body has turned black as if he was electrocuted."
After the police pacified Pasha's family on Saturday, the deceased's body was sent for post-mortem.
Who Is Murder Accused Puneeth Kerehalli?
Kerehalli is the president of Rashtra Rakshana Pade or RRP (National Defense Force) and as a 'digital creator' on Facebook, often used to live stream their cow rescuing missions.
Wielding a baseball bat and a cap, as seen in several of the live videos, Kerehalli shows similar but regionally different traits of the right-wing ecosystem - anti-Muslim rhetoric and vigilante violence.
Saturday's incident was not the first time either.
A video on the Facebook page of RRP shows Kerehalli intercepting another vehicle carrying cattle. In this video, Kerehalli can be seen using a taser or stun gun to assault one of the alleged cow smugglers.
When Kerehalli is not "rescuing" cattle, he can be seen distributing photos of Hindutva idealogue VD Savarkar to local shops in Bangalore, leading campaigns against halal food and boycott of Muslim vendors from the vicinity of Hindu temples in Karnataka.
His profile also revealed his presence at the performance of the disputed play 'The Real Dreams of Tipu,' the infactual details of which have been used by BJP leaders to spread the claim - Uri and Nanje Gowda killed Tipu Sultan and not the British. The claim has been rubbished by historians. Kerehalli was reportedly also arrested for vandalising posters of Tipu Sultan in 2021.
Click here to read more about the controversy.
Notably, the vigilante has photos with BJP leaders including Minister CN Ashwath Narayan, Minister BC Nagesh, BJP Yuva Morcha national president Tejasvi Surya, BJP MP Pratap Simha, Tamil Nadu state party president Annamalai.
Kerehalli has also been photographed with the chief of Sri Ram Sene, Pramod Muthalik, another right-wing leader known for anti-Muslim comments.
With Karnataka minister CN Ashwath Narayan.
As president of RRP, Kerehalli used to often shared videos asking for donation for the "saffron" cause.
Now, while Kerehalli's main profile has been deleted, several other social media profiles supporting the "activist" still exist.
Speaking to The Quint, Ramanagara Superintendent of Police (SP) Karthik Reddy, said, “The case is under investigation. The deceased’s brother has given a complaint based on which the deceased's body was sent for post-mortem. We are waiting for the report to ascertain the cause of death."
On being asked about Kerehalli, SP Reddy said, "He and others have been booked. They are currently absconding."