Month after Alwar attack by cow vigilantes, victims stare at debt, livelihood crisis
The economics of life has not been impressive for Azmat since he was attacked along with Pehlu Khan and three others by cow protection vigilantes in Rajasthan’s Alwar for allegedly smuggling the bovines for slaughter—exactly a month ago.
The group, traditionally dairy farmers hailing from Jaisinghpur village in Haryana’s Nuh district, had bought cows from the cattle fair in Jaipur and were returning when they were attacked.
While Pehlu Khan’s family has received financial assistance from some organisations after his death, bed-ridden Azmat and Rafeeq are staring at a livelihood crisis and rising debts.
The former, who is recovering from a spine injury sustained in the attack, had purchased three cows for Rs 75,000. “The attackers also snatched Rs 35,000 from me,” he says, shooing away flies settling on his face.
His brother Yusuf, who works in Mathura, says that they have spent nearly Rs 1.5 lakh already on Azmat’s treatment. “I have to take him to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, every 3-4 days for treatment, and each trip costs about Rs 5,000. All our savings have dried up and we are running into debts,” he says.
“There is no milk in the house. Whatever little we get, we dilute it and give it to Azmat’s little child (his one-year-old daughter),” says Azmat’s mother.
Although doctors say that Azmat’s spine injury will heal in two to three months, he has been told not to lift anything heavy or take up strenuous jobs for life. For Azmat, whose work involved much manual labour, the doctor’s words have spelt doom.
The other victim, Rafeeq too is bedridden and has a broken nose. He had gone to the Jaipur cattle market but did not buy anything as he found them beyond his budget.
The money that he was carrying with him was stolen by the attackers, he said.
Rajasthan home minister Gulab Chand Kataria described the attackers as “cow worshippers” and the victims as “cow smugglers”.
Irshad, 24, the eldest of Pehlu Khan’s eight children, is still not adept at dairy-farming, the occupation that engages most people in the village, including his family.
“You don’t know enough about cattle yet. I’ll come with you and identify the right one myself,” Khan had told Irshad on the morning of the fateful day. They had planned to buy a buffalo, but being pricey at Rs 80,000-90,000 each, they settled for a pair of cows for Rs 45,000, Irshad recalled.
“786 / 3-4-17 / Pehlu Khan / Khuda Hafiz / 786,” reads the unruly paint in Hindi on the bright yellow gravestone on Pehlu Khan’s grave in the barren ground in front of his house.
“Kahaan se bachta Pehlu (How could he have survived)?” asks Hussain, Khan’s uncle as he walks back from the grave to the house.
“If you saw the video, the man in blue shirt had a key in his fist and was pounding Pehlu’s head with that,” he says, referring to a video of the incident that emerged later.
Khan’s 85-year-old blind mother Angoori Begum has been weeping inconsolably since morning. “My Pehlu did not even tell me once that he was going... my Pehlu... my Pehlu,” she wails.
Khan wanted his youngest daughter, Huzina to become a school teacher. The shy 11-year-old says she was his favourite. Huzina’s mother remains in seclusion as she is in Iddah, a waiting period to be observed by a Muslim woman after the death of husband or divorce.
Pehlu and others had ravannas (purchase receipts) from the cattle market, but not the permits needed to transport the cows out of the state. The officer authorised to issue the permits had earlier expressed ignorance about any such authority. “I don’t issue the permits, nor have I ever issued any,” Baldev Ram Bhojak, SDO Amer, had told HT.
The horror of the incident has stymied their hope for justice. Police have not yet arrested any of the six mentioned in the FIR lodged on the basis of Pehlu Khan’s statement. They have not recorded the statements of other victims either.
Rafeeq said the police, who took them to the hospital, did not ask them even once about who beat them up or why they were beaten. After Pehlu Khan’s death, police took Azmat from the hospital ICU to the police station where he spent the entire night, with the spine injury, lying on the floor.
Nobody in Jaisinghpur talks about avenging the attack. With fear deepening, villagers are unsure about the prospects of dairy farming, something that they have done for ages. Pehlu Khan’s death might just change the character of not just the sleepy hamlet, but a lot of other villages in the Mewat region.