HomeLatest NewsIndia: Gau Rakshaks kill Muslim labourer transporting cattle, cops refuse to file ‘lynching’ case

India: Gau Rakshaks kill Muslim labourer transporting cattle, cops refuse to file ‘lynching’ case

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NEW DELHI: His relatives describe Mishri Khan Jume Khan Baloch as a hard-working man who would toil as a labourer in Gujarat’s Banaskantha district to make ends meet for his family.

Baloch, who was in his forties and is survived by four children and a visually impaired wife, was brutally beaten to death on May 23 by iron rod-wielding men, who claimed to be ‘gau rakshaks’ – cow protectors.

According to the first information report (FIR) registered in the case, Baloch and his friend Hussain Khan were out to deliver two buffaloes to Baloch’s sister after purchasing the animals from a local cattle market. The accused men, identified as Akherajsinh Parbatsinh Vaghela, Nikulsinh, Jagatsinh, Pravinsinh and Hamirbhai Thakor, have been have been booked for murder, wrongful restraint, criminal intimidation and criminal conspiracy, says the FIR.

While the men were hitting Baloch, Khan who was driving the vehicle, fled the scene.

‘Family left adrift after losing breadwinner’

Khan, a close friend of Baloch, filed an FIR against his murderers, while also recalling how he had also been harassed over their job in July 2023 by the accused.

Khan said that he told the police that when he realised their vehicle was being chased, he tried to escape but a tyre of the pick-up van got punctured, which led to the accused catching up and assaulting Baloch. He added that these men, who had an altercation with him in July last year as well, began abusing him for having filed police complaints against them.

“Baloch was a very hard-working man and was randomly attacked by these Bajrang Dal men. He has four children and visually impaired wife. They are left all alone now after his death,” said Fazal Khan.

He added that their family and other Muslim families in the area felt angry and fearful at the same time.

“The situation is tense here. It’s about our lives and jobs. Where do we go?” said Fazal Khan, who was one of the first persons to reach the spot and recorded every detail on his phone as he feared the accused would tamper with the scene.

He alleged that one of the accused, Akhiraj Singh Vaghela, was closely associated with the Bajrang Dal and apprehended Baloch’s vehicle in broad daylight, threatening to kill him for merely transporting buffaloes to his own sister.

Cops cite past enmity, say incident ‘not mob lynching’

However, Banaskantha District Superintendent of Police Akshayraj Makwana claimed that the killing ‘could not be termed as mob lynching.’

“It would require some communal aspect to term the incident as mob lynching. This incident seems to have happened because of the past incident and it appears that the accused did not intend to murder but rather wanted to intimidate the deceased,” said SP Makwana.

According to inspector Amit Desai of Deesa (rural) police and the investigating officer in the case, the incident was not a straight case of mob lynching over ‘cow meat’ suspicion but rather driven from personal vendetta against one another.

In April, 2024, The Hindu had reported that the Supreme Court heard a petitioner’s contention that mob lynching incidents are recorded by the police in certain states as brawls or accidents. Appearing before a three-judge bench headed by Justice B.R. Gavai, advocate Nizam Pasha, representing the petitioner, the National Federation of Women, claimed that this was a deliberate ploy by authorities to skirt their responsibility.

Another local of Deesa and a relative of Baloch alleged that his lynching was done in a ‘planned manner’.

“If it wasn’t about the cattle, then why was he lynched and left like that? The fact is, he was in a van with cattle, and he was murdered because of cattle” he said.

‘Cattle traders in Banaskantha are routinely extorted by goons’

Even though the police has denied terming the case as mob lynching, a minority rights organisation has maintained that the killing was an instance of “mob lynching”.

Mujahid Nafees, convener of the Minority Coordination Committee (MCC) has called the killing a case of mob lynching and urged Gujarat Director General of Police Vikas Sahay to follow Supreme Court guidelines on preventing such crimes.

Nafees told that many people in Banaskantha district were in the business of buying and selling cattle. These traders sell cattle all over Gujarat.

“Some group of goons from the same district come together and extort money from the people engaged in cattle trading. They stop the vehicles ferrying the animals and openly beat up those who do not pay the money. Last year, in the same district, a cattle trader was badly beaten in the Sesan Nava village” he said.

Locals also told The Wire that Banaskantha has had a history of violence against the Muslim community. In the aftermath of 2002 riots, 14 persons from the Muslim community including women were killed in a riot at Sesan Nava village of Deodar taluka in Banaskantha.

In 2014, a local court in Banaskantha district, north Gujarat acquitted all the 70 people accused in the same riot case at Sesan Nava village.

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