Cow Concerns

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After police was forced to act against right wing cow vigilantes, a situation was created in Muslim majority Reasi’s main town that they were bailed out instantly. At the same time, they also arrested the Gujjar family that was attacked, then bailed them out and finally escorted them out of the town, reports Syed Junaid Hashmi

Before setting up his twelve-wheel truck for ‘Bombaashmir. The days Bhat spent driving on the highway from Srinagar to a Maharashtra town.

Gujjar-Bakkarwals, the nomadic tribe that often finds mention in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speeches, are a worried lot, these days. As they were preparing for seasonal migration from plains to mountains, they are caught between the devil and deep blue sea.

While gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes) want them to abandon cows, BJP’s forest minister Choudhary Lal Singh sees them as a threat to the environment and ecology of Jammu region.  It was in this backdrop that a Bakkarwal family was attacked brutally by a group of Rakhshaks in Reasi on April 20, 2017. Cops led by their SHO witnessed the attack. Interestingly, the entire attack was recorded on cell phone and it exhibits horror.

Nine-year-old orphan Saima Bibi, 22-year-old Abida, and a mother of two children Naseem Bibi, her husband Nazakat Ali and father Shoaib Choudhary along with another old man Sabir Ali are nursing their wounds. But the police felt “forced” to set free 11 accused who were earlier arrested for the brutal attack.

It was not the law but the video that forced police to act. After the video went viral on April 21, police lodged an FIR under sections 323, 341, 325, 147 and 148. It rounded-up 11 persons on the evening of April 23, for instigations and the attack. Such was the pressure from the right-wing on police that not only a counter FIR under section 188 was lodged against them but the family members were arrested and lodged in Police Station Reasi, till they were bailed out by the court.

The arrest of Rakhshaks triggered a storm in Reasi town. They paralysed Reasi by sponsoring a strike. On April 24, a mob comprising activists of ABVP, Bajrang Dal and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) surrounded police station Reasi and threatened to resort to violence if the 11 arrested are not set free. Fearing that the situation may go out of control, police advised them to get bail, a judicial intervention in which, police kept the word of not opposing the bail.

The 11 accused, according to the police sources were part of the mob but were not seen in the video. “Those who are in the video are yet to be arrested,” said an official pleading anonymity. “They are identified but are not being arrested deliberately since police fears violence.”

After the looted livestock was restored to Shoaib Choudhary’s family on Monday, they were set free and advised to move towards their destination in Kashmir. A scared family pleaded, sought security and they were obliged with two trucks. Interestingly, another batch of Rakhshaks intercepted even the police truck near Salal Morh in Reasi!

They not only demanded papers from police officials who were escorting the truck but abused and kicked them, calling them Pakistani agents and anti-nationals. A huge crowd gathered within minutes, sending alarm bells around. Situation was defused only after SSP Reasi Tahir Bhat and DIG Udhampur-Reasi Range Varinder Sharma reached the spot. The Police dropped the family along with the livestock near Kanthan Bridge in Reasi district.

While Reasi incident dominated world headlines, residents say it is just a routine in Kathua, Samba, Jammu and Udhampur. In  September 2016, a mob set ablaze a truck carrying cattle towards Kashmir from Rajouri. In December 2015, two vehicles were also set on fire at Kalakote after being intercepted by a mob as they spotted that the vehicles are transporting cattle. In October 2015, three persons, including a policeman, received burn injuries after a Kashmir bound truck carrying the cattle was attacked with a petrol bomb at Udhampur. In November 2015, a truck carrying the cattle was torched near Nagrota on the Jammu-Srinagar highway.

While Gau-Rakhshaks are on the alert to prevent “smuggling” by this nomadic tribe, the forest department wants Gujjars and Bakerwals out of the forest enclosures where they live under temporary sheds in Jammu region.

Gujjars and Bakkarwal believe this is being done by design. If they do not vacate, the forest department uses force to throw them out. Forests officials believe Gujjars first live under temporary sheds, and then construct mosques followed-up by houses and other concrete structures. But Gujjars insist they have historically remained in peace with forests. They want the law that gives them rights over the forests be implemented.

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