Cow-eater, a reason to lynch

Amid silence at the top, accused reveals what provoked him to attack boy

  • Published 25.06.17

June 24: The label of "cow-eater" has become in India what the Star of David was to Germany during the Holocaust: reason enough to segregate and kill.

The lone man arrested so far over the lynching of a Muslim teenager on a train in Haryana has apparently said he was drunk and his friends had provoked him to attack the boy and his companions because "they are cow-eaters".

Junaid Khan, 15, was stabbed to death on the Delhi-Mathura Passenger on Thursday evening while the mob beat and knifed two of his brothers, a cousin and a friend. The boy hailed from Ballabhgarh, a Haryana town 60km south of Delhi, and was returning from the capital after Id shopping.

"During interrogation, the arrested man told us he had been drunk and his friends provoked him to attack the boys, saying they were cow-eaters," a police officer told The Telegraph today.

On record, the police have hastened to portray the murder as the outcome of a seat-related brawl that spun out of control.

But multiple accounts suggest the train compartment became a microcosm of a country where dietary habits and symbols of religious identity can become life-threatening factors.

The events inside the train did not seem to be a mere reflection of what has been happening in parts of the country - it appears active efforts were under way to convert the rail route into a laboratory of the new way. "We were told that harassment of people identifiable as Muslims has become a common occurrence on this train and the local trains on this route," said CPM leader Brinda Karat, who met the family of the slain boy today.

If the brutality stood out, so did the silence of those in power. Down the line from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, few ministers or BJP leaders chose to mention, let alone condemn, the murder. The Opposition has alleged "a conspiracy of encouragement" and wondered why mob lynching has become a familiar feature post-2014.


Reuters picture shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi in conversation with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa at the Necessidades Palace in Lisbon on Saturday. Prime Minister Modi, a prolific social media user who comments on many matters of state and otherwise, marked his touchdown in Lisbon by tweeting: “Aterrei em Portugal. A minha breve visita irá fortalecer as relações entre a Índia e Portugal.”  That’s Portuguese for “I landed in Portugal. My brief visit will strengthen relations between India and Portugal.” The polyglot Prime Minister, ably assisted by a tweeting team, makes it a point to greet the country he is visiting in the local language. Till late tonight, Modi had not commented on the lynching of the boy on the train. (Union home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi said on Saturday that hate crime is not new in the country and that such incidents had been over-reported and over-hyped, PTI reported. “It is a feudal crime which has happened over the ages. Such crimes today shake the conscience of people and disturb them much more than the past,” Mehrishi told a conclave organised by the India Today Group in New Delhi.)
 If the Prime Minister prefers Portuguese, the words are: “Eu condeno (I condemn.)”

Accounts of what happened inside the train suggest it can happen to anyone whose presumed food habits and appearance do not conform to that preferred by the ruling establishment. Cow protection committees have mushroomed in Haryana since the BJP formed the government in October 2014 and passed stringent laws against cow slaughter and beef-eating.

"They kept assaulting us and the mob egged the attackers on; none of the other passengers tried to help," said Junaid's eldest brother Shaqir, 23, who too was stabbed multiple times and is being treated at AIIMS in New Delhi. "After stabbing Junaid, they dragged him across the floor of the compartment, which was splattered with blood, but not one passenger said anything."

The boys had been returning home after Id shopping at Sadar Bazar near the Jama Masjid in Delhi. Junaid, a student of Islamic studies, had boarded the train with Hashim, Moeen and Mohsin. They were carrying "clothes and Id gifts for our family members in a bag", Shaqir said.

"A group of 15-20 people boarded at Okhla (on Delhi's southern fringes) and asked us to vacate our seat. One of them pushed Junaid," Hashim said. "When he asked the man to behave, some among the group snatched our skullcaps and flung them to the floor, saying we were anti-nationals and beef-eaters. Others from the group accused us of carrying beef (banned in Haryana)."

The boys changed the compartment at the next station but their tormentors followed them. In between, Junaid had called Shaqir, who was at home, asking him to receive them at Ballabhgarh station as he sensed trouble.

"When we tried to get off at Ballabhgarh, one of the men blocked the way with a knife. They had locked the compartment doors. We couldn't get off," Hashim said.

Shaqir managed to get in via another compartment while Mohsin jumped off the moving train.

Before the boys were thrown off the train, Junaid had been stabbed multiple times in the chest, and Shaqir in the back, shoulder, thigh and chest.

Haryana police chief B.S. Sandhu had said the lynching had nothing to do with beef and the police had initially registered a case of murder and "causing injury using weapons". But this afternoon, the charge of "uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings" was added.