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Alwar: Police hint self-styled cow vigilantes killed Muslim cattle trader

Alwar SP Rahul Prakash said an FIR for murder had been lodged and five people named in it on the basis of the statement of a minor boy, who the police cited as an eyewitness.

india Updated: Nov 13, 2017 20:02 IST
Alwar killing,cow vigilantes,Pehlu Khan
People stage a demonstration against the alleged murder of Umar Mohammed by suspected cow vigilantes in Rajasthan’s Alwar. (HT photo)

A 35-year-old man found dead on railway tracks in Rajasthan’s Alwar was killed by “anti-social elements” trying to stop cow smuggling, police said on Monday, possibly a rerun of the murder of Muslim trader Pehlu Khan earlier this year that triggered nationwide protests.

Until now, the police had denied any connection between the killing of Umar Mohammed, whose body was found on railway tracks in Alwar’s Ramgarh on early Friday, and the recovery of a badly-damaged pickup van with cows found about 15 km away the same day.

But after two days of investigations, Alwar SP Rahul Prakash made a volte-face, saying said the two incidents were linked and that the killers of Umar Mohammed were “anti-social elements”. But he refused to use the so-called term cow vigilantes, who have over the past year become synonymous with a string of attacks on cattle traders across India.

Prakash said an FIR for murder had been lodged on the basis of a statement by Ilyas Khan, Umar’s uncle. Police have taken in a suspect, who has allegedly named five other attackers. Umar’s autopsy is held up because of objections from the family.

“The attackers were basically anti-social elements who attacked Umar and two other passengers of the pickup as they were smuggling cows. They later asked somebody else to dump Umar’s body on the railway track,” said Prakash.

Umar Mohammed’s pickup had three passengers, including him. Tahir Khan, one of the passengers, was found with a bullet wound and taken to a hospital in Ferozepur in Haryana. He was later allowed to go home. It wasn’t clear how he was wounded.

The third occupant, Javed Khan alias Jabba, escaped unhurt and reached their native village Ghatmika in Rajasthan on Friday evening.

Umar Mohammed’s killing is reminiscent of the murder of cattle trader Pehlu Khan who was waylaid and lynched by cow vigilantes near Alwar on April 1. Khan had documents to prove he wasn’t smuggling cows.

Focus on cow protection, especially by vigilante groups, has risen since the BJP-led government took power three years ago, and several states ruled by the party made laws to punish cow slaughter.

So-called cow protectors have targeted cattle and meat traders, transporters and even farmers walking their animals – violence that has killed several people, mostly in BJP-ruled states. Critics accuse the vigilantes of using cows as a pretext to target Muslims and Dalits.

Cow vigilantes are known to patrol the roads in Alwar and neighbouring districts at night and waylay bovine transporters, mostly smugglers from Muslim-dominated Meo region. These mobs also reportedly extort money from cattle transporters. There have been instances of transporters firing at them, or even police, and fleeing.

Recounting Friday’s incident, Tahir Khan told Hindustan Times at his home in Bharatpur that they had gone to Dausa to buy cows for dairy farming.

“When we were returning, a group of 6-7 men opened fire on us near Govind Garh. One of them was wearing a belt of bullets around his shoulder,” he said.

“I sustained bullet injuries on my shoulder while Jabba (who was driving the van) managed to escape. I was lying in the field when one of the men hit me with the end of a gun while the other said, ‘Rakesh, he is dead’. Following that they left me,” Khan said.

He added the men shot Umar Mohammed dead. However, Umar Mohammed’s family is unwilling to buy this story.

“We feel that Tahir Khan and (Javed Khan) Jabba are not telling us the complete truth as there are several discrepancies in their statements. When they returned to the village, they didn’t give us any satisfactory answer about my brother’s whereabouts,” said Khurshid, a brother of Umar Mohammed, told Hindustan Times.

“They only said he will return home soon. They are constantly changing their statements.”

In Jaipur, Ilyas Khan, Umar Mohammed’s uncle, refused to give permission for post-mortem. He, along with representatives of Rajasthan Muslim outfits, met the Rajasthan police chief to demand a fair investigation.

First Published: Nov 13, 2017 13:42 IST