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India’s cow vigilantism menace back in focus after Muslim duo’s charred bodies found in Haryana

Relatives of the two men, who were from the state of Rajasthan, alleged that they were murdered by right-wing Hindus who denied the allegations.

Forensic Science Laboratory and other investigators inspect a charred SUV where two skeletons were found, at Loharu, in Bhiwani in the Indian state of Haryana on February 16, 2023. (ANI Photo)

By: Shubham Ghosh

THE role of the police and their handling of the case came under questioning after charred bodies of two men were found inside a burnt vehicle in Bhiwani district of the northern Indian state of Haryana last week. The victims were identified as cousins Junaid, 35, and Nasir, 27. A 32-year-old taxi driver named Rinku Saini was arrested from the Nuh district of the state which is ruled by prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

The incident has caused an outrage and brought the focus back on cow vigilantism which has emerged as a major social menace in India over the past decade or so.

Police said the bodies belonged to two Muslim youth who had been reported missing. They were from Bharatpur district of the neighbouring state of Rajasthan. The victims’ relatives alleged that they were beaten and murdered by right-wing Hindus who, according to reports, accused the duo of smuggling cows.

However, leaders of the Hindu right-wing Bajrang Dal denied the allegations as did the police, who said they were probing the killings, the BBC reported.

Indian media reports said on Tuesday (21) that the Rajasthan Police identified eight people, apart from the arrested, who were allegedly involved in the murder of the two men from the minority community.

Cow vigilantism has emerged as a menace in Narendra Modi’s India with groups claiming themselves to be protector of cows, a sacred animal for the Hindus, turning violent against minorities or even those from the Dalit community (low caste Hindus) for acts such as consuming or storing beef or skinning dead cows. Modi has condemned such acts time and again but yet they have continued unabated.

Several states in India have banned slaughter of cows, including Rajasthan and Haryana.

The Haryana Police said last week that they launched an investigation.

The police initially didn’t confirm the duo’s identity but said that they had been travelling in the burnt SUV before disappearing.

Later, a senior officer of Rajasthan Police confirmed that the bodies belonged to Junaid and Nasir and they were identified by their kin, the BBC added.

While police teams from both states were working in tandem into the case, it was still not clear as to why the two men were travelling. One of their family members told the police that they left home early on Wednesday (15) morning in the vehicle saying they had some ‘personal work’.

“At around 9am, some people at a shop said that two men were badly beaten up by 8-10 people. They were then taken away in a car,” the relative said in the  police complaint, adding that the attackers had been identified as members of the Bajrang Dal, a Hindu nationalist outfit.

According to The Indian Express daily, an officer from Rajasthan Police said they tried tracking the victims’ phones after they received the complaint. But they were switched off.

The officer said the family members named some suspects from Haryana but added that the motive behind the killings was not clear. He said while Junaid had five cases of cow-smuggling registered against him, Nasir had a clean record.

Media reports said after the discovery of the charred bodies that the two men may have been attacked by cow vigilantes who suspected them of transporting beef.

An investigating officer in the case told the BBC that the police complaint did not mention the smuggling of cows. He said the incident was being probed from every angle.

While the family of Saini, the arrested, told the BBC that the former was only a driver and had no involvement in the case, police said they were looking for four other men who were named in the complaint, including Monu Manesar, a member of the Bajrang Dal.

Manesar allegedly was part of a low cow-protection group. He has more than 200,000 followers on YouTube where he often posts videos of himself and others taking on alleged cow smugglers and rescuing the animals.

He has been backed by Hindu right-wing leaders of the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad who recently addressed a press conference alleging that cow vigilantes were being “falsely framed”.

But the victims’ relatives were not convinced and said their protest would continue till Manesar was arrested.

Meanwhile, the Haryana police formed a committee to look into the claims made by Saini. According to him, he and another accused tried to hand over the two victims to the police in Nuh district, media reports said.

The two men had been thrashed badly but were still alive.

While the cops in Haryana have been accused of working closely with members of the Bajrang Dal, it has been alleged that their counterparts in Rajasthan have attacked the relatives of another accused. Both the police forces have denied the charges.

Rajasthan is ruled by the Indian National Congress, one of the major opposition parties in India.

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