Less than a hundred kilometres from the national capital lies Nuh, a district identified in 2018 by the Niti Aayog as the least developed in the country. Sharing a border with glittering Gurugram, it languishes rock-bottom nationally in health, nutrition, education and basic infrastructure.
Is it a coincidence that nearly 80 per cent of its residents are Muslim? It is home to the highest ratio of Muslims except in Jammu and Kashmir, Lakshadweep, and a couple of districts in Assam. Now, Nuh has earned a sombre new notoriety. It is fast becoming one of the most worrying epicentres of gruesome cow-related hate violence in the country.
The country is reeling with reports of the brutal killing of two men from Nuh, Junaid and Nasir, allegedly by Bajrang Dal vigilantes. But less noticed was another death a little earlier, of Waris Khan. The Superintendent of Police says he died of injuries in a road accident while attempting to transport a cow for slaughter. But when the team of the Karwan e Mohabbat travelled to Nuh to meet his family, they raised questions about that version. And highlighted the alleged role of Bajrang Dal members working as cow vigilantes led by the Bajrang Dal pack, with the police standing by, led by Manu Manesar, the same man who is being accused now of being behind the murder of Junaid and Nasir.
The Haryana government created a Cow Protection Task Force headed by an Inspector General of Police. But raw power seems to have shifted from the police to violent vigilante groups. These operate as gangs, openly terrorising people, undeterred by the lawlessness of their actions. And the lines that separate them from the uniformed police have dangerously blurred.
Waris, a motor mechanic, was just 22 years old, recently married, with a three-month-old daughter. On the last evening of his life, he told his mother he would be working through the night. He often travelled with vehicles to help in the event of breakdowns, so she was not worried. Early next morning, alarmed neighbours rang his brothers. Videos were being live streamed showing his brother and two colleagues captured and threatened by cow vigilantes led by the notorious Monu Manesar. They also received calls, the family alleged, demanding a hefty payoff to the gang to release their boy.
Later that grim morning, a call first informed the distraught family that Waris was critically ill; then another, a short while later, stunningly, that he was dead. The police said he had died in an accident.
The brothers desperately rushed to the government hospital, and found it surrounded by police persons. One managed to make his way into the hospital. He said the doctor informed him his body lay in the mortuary, and his companion was in the ICU. Once again, he said, he pushed away the guards, and found the man conscious but badly injured. In the minutes he had with him, he asked him what had happened.
His brother secretly recorded what he told them. There was indeed an accident. They were speeding because, they said, they were being chased by a vigilante group. They hit a tempo carrying vegetables. This was also captured on a CCTV camera.
The Bajrang Dal team led by Monu arrived within minutes, pulled the three men out, harangued them, and triumphally posed for pictures with them. All of this Monu live-streamed on his Facebook page (where he has over 80,000 followers).
What followed is again seen in CCTV and video footage. The vigilantes, many armed with guns, bundle the three men into a Bolero, all this under the nose of a police outpost that was just 200 metres away.
A woman onlooker said that Waris begged his tormentors to rush him to hospital because he feared that he would die. After he survived, he said, they could send him to jail. One ambulance did arrive, but this was not to rescue the injured men. Instead, it was for the cow they were transporting.
It was only after Waris seemed critically wounded that the vigilantes panicked, handing the three men to the police. Monu pulled off the videos that he had been live-streaming.
Waris’s brothers report their futile efforts later to register cases of kidnapping, injury and murder against the vigilantes. The police instead registered charges of rash driving and cow slaughter against the victims, nothing against their attackers.
I am profoundly chilled as I scan social media pages of Monu Manesar. He and members of his gang livestream as they openly brandish sophisticated firearms, sound sirens mimicking police jeeps, shoot at vehicles, and brutally thrash the men they catch.
No one asks how he acquired these expensive firearms, and their licences. No one asks how he has acquired formidable wealth, property and power. He posts pictures with senior police officials of the district, who often give him awards for his “valiant” efforts in saving cows. He wears the khaki uniform of a civil defence official.
In recent years, Nuh has seen the unchallenged unfolding of organised hate, beginning with the horrific lynching of Pehlu Khan in 2017. But hate and fear have soared higher even from then. Then, it was a mob armed with rods who beat Pehlu to death, and videotaped the thrashing. Then, too, the police charged the targets of the hate attacks with crimes. But today all masks have been flung aside. The vigilantes roam with guns, livestream their attacks, frequently with the police standing by.
There is a cold irony that young Waris was killed so violently just two days after India celebrated the time its Constitution came into force 74 years earlier. Indisputably today, state authorities and vigilantes have joined hands to unleash in Haryana a reign of hate terror.