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Gau Hamari Mata Hai: Investigating Akhlaq’s Murder in Dadri

Persistence, perseverance and a nose for a story: Poonam Agarwal narrates her experience of reporting from Bisada.

5 min read
Gau Hamari Mata Hai: Investigating Akhlaq’s Murder in Dadri
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Gau humari mata hoti hai. Koi humare Maa ko mare toh hum usse chhodenge nahi. (The cow is our mother. If someone harms our mother, we won’t spare them.)
Sanjay Rana, Accused’s Father

When I went to meet Sanjay Rana in Bisada, I was filled with anger and frustration. I wished I could give him an apt response. Tell him that Hinduism was not what these people were preaching. I wished I could tell him that human life is far more valuable than a cow’s. I wished I could tell him that just 15 kms from his village, he would find Hindus consuming beef; relishing it.

But I couldn’t, as I was in the village to do the field work for my story and not offer my own two bits. I knew if I spoke my mind to this Sanjay Rana, who claimed to be a former BJP worker and is the father of one of the accused in Akhlaq’s murder, I wouldn’t be able to access the complainant and witnesses who claimed that they saw Akhlaq and his family kill the calf.

Moreover, as the adage goes, anger is one letter short of danger and merely telling this man that he was provoking villagers would mean putting myself in the line of fire; I would have become a target of the wrath of the ‘Taus’ (elderly people) who were sitting with him.


The Hindu-Muslim Divide

Chaupal in Bisada village. (Spy cam Photo: The Quint) 

I was angry and sad to see the bifurcation between Hindu and Muslims. One incident changed the lives of every villager. A village in which both Hindus and Muslims lived in peace for years, had now fallen victim to polarisation. With upcoming elections in UP, politicians didn’t miss a single opportunity to use the communal tension to their benefit.


No Regrets

Almost 10 months after Akhlaq’s murder, the village elders felt no regret for their actions. They were hell bent on justifying the murder. One of the ‘Taus’ went as far as to blame the media for hyping Akhlaq’s murder.

Roj kitne Hindu marte hai, un par toh aap nahi likhte, ek Musalmaan mar jaye toh saari media jana ho jati hai. (Hindus die every day but you don’t write about that, one Muslim dies and the media pounces on it.)
Bisada Villager

Revisiting Bisada

Why did I revisit Bisada? When I did my first story on the FIR registered against Akhlaq and his family under the Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, I knew there was more to the story. The FIR was riddled with holes.

I spoke to my source in Dadri and asked the complainant’s lawyer if he would arrange a meeting with the complainant. Neither of them agreed. Refusing to give up, I called the lawyer multiple times, before turning up at his office on a Monday. Finally relenting, he gave me Sanjay Rana’s phone number and told me that it was only through him that I could reach the complainant.


The 3 Crucial Cs

In over ten years as a journalist, the three Cs have kept me in good stead and have helped me crack stories that would otherwise have been tough nuts to crack. Keep Cool, I told myself and use Charm to Convince people.

Regardless of my disagreement with Rana’s communal rhetoric, I heard him out with a smile. He insisted the complainant wouldn’t speak to me. I was persistent, however. Eventually, I won.


Meeting the Complainant

Surajpal, the complainant, on spy cam. (Spy cam Photo: The Quint)

Convincing Rana was only the first hurdle. There were many more to come. I knew the complainant would refuse to give me a byte on camera but would say something controversial and of interest to me. As a result, I carried a spy camera with me.

When I finally met the complainant, I had a number of things on my mind. Was the spy camera working? Where should he sit so that I could get a clear picture of him? When I first met the complainant, he was feeding his cattle.

Rana’s man introduced me as a journalist from Delhi. The complainant’s first sentence was ‘Madam ji, mujhe koi baat nahi karni’ (Ma’am, I have nothing to say). It took me 15-20 mins to convince him to talk to me. Eventually, he gave me enough material for my story. He opened up enough to allow me to take a picture of him feeding a cow.

Surajpal, the complainant, feeding a cow. (Photo: The Quint)

My story didn’t end with my meeting with Surajpal. It gave me further leads. I had to meet the eyewitness who claimed he saw Akhlaq and his family killing the calf.

The next day, the small lanes in the village were flooded with 2-3 feet of water because of the heavy downpour. I went to the complainant’s house, but he wasn’t available. Eventually, with Rana’s assurance that I would meet the eyewitness the following day, I left the place.


I visited the village for the third time. Four police officers were having tea and snacks with Rana and other village elders. The complainant was there. The moment the officers saw me, they left the place. They didn’t want to speak to a journalist.

Local Police leaving the place. ( Spy cam Photo: The Quint)

After much coaxing, Rana asked two young boys to take me to the eyewitness. I was at Rana’s mercy; I didn’t know what the eyewitness looked like. He wasn’t on his farm or at his residence. I didn’t want to go empty-handed this time.

The two boys who took me to the eyewitnesses home and farm. (Spy cam Photo: The Quint)

On my fourth visit, I managed to meet the eyewitness. There was a tense moment when a young boy alerted villagers to the fact that I was possibly recording their conversation. I managed to convince them that I was not.

Watch this space for The Quint’s upcoming exclusive report on the Akhlaq Murder Case.

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