After Alwar lynching, cattle transporters live in fear of gau rakshaks and cops
HT follows a cattle transport vehicle from Nasirabad market in Rajasthan’s Ajmer district to Dasna in Uttar Pradesh as the death of Haryana dairy farmer Pehlu Khan, who was assaulted by gau rakshaks in Alwar, weighs heavy on the minds of transporters.
A sense of resignation is etched on the sunburnt face of 24-year-old driver Mohd Mohsin as he sets out for a routine journey from the Nasirabad cattle market in Ajmer, 130 km from Rajasthan’s state capital Jaipur.
Around him, a handful of daily-wage labourers wrestle with a herd of spent (unproductive) buffaloes while packing them inside a truck headed to a slaughterhouse at Dasna in Uttar Pradesh.
Mohsin, into the cattle transporting business for six months, says he has accepted the reality of gau rakshaks (cow protection vigilantes) intercepting him anywhere along the route.
“Darr to lagta hi hai, par rozi roti bhi to kamani hai. Koi khaas choice bhi nahin hai (I am afraid, but also have to earn a living. I do not have many options),” says Mohsin, as driving aide Gufran Mohammad and labourer Waseem Ahmad sit alongside. They take the Ajmer-Jaipur highway on Wednesday evening.
The death of Haryana dairy farmer Pehlu Khan (55) on April 3, two days after being assaulted by gau rakshaks, weighs on their minds. The assault occurred 263km away in Alwar district, but that is of little comfort. They are transporting buffaloes, but that too is no guarantee that they won’t be stopped.
Considered an integral part of Rajasthan’s agrarian economy, the cattle business in the state has been severely affected after the Alwar assault. Drivers are now reluctant to transport cattle and only the desperate few agree to do so.
As many as 450-500 animals were sold each day at the six-day-a-week Nasirabad market before the Alwar assault. On Wednesday, only 50 animals were sold at the market where farmers and middlemen bring buffaloes from Gujarat and Punjab for sale.
“The trade was already affected by the crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses by the Yogi government in Uttar Pradesh. The Pehlu Khan incident turned things from bad to worse,” says Aftab Ahmad who manages Nasirabad mandi, one of the 10 in the state regulated by gram panchayats.
These markets are in addition to animal fairs and weekly markets where buffaloes and other animals are put on sale across Rajasthan. According to Livestock Census Rajasthan 2012, the state has 1.3 crore buffaloes and 1.33 crore cattle.
The fear of cow vigilantes apart, the drivers also worry about the multiple times police will intercept them. As the three men stop by at Saffron Restaurant on the highway for dinner, Mohsin hands over a bunch of Rs 100 and Rs 500 notes to Waseem to pass on to police personnel at each check point on the 450-km trip. It does not matter that they have the required documents — a health certificate of animals and a receipt from the mandi manager — to transport the buffaloes.
About 50 km from the restaurant, their truck stops at Jaipur toll plaza, where they pay Rs 150 to “please” police personnel, apart from Rs 265 as toll for entry into the state capital.
Before transporting buffaloes from Rajasthan to slaughterhouses in the Hindi heartland, Mohsin, a resident of Hapur, used to drive heavy goods trucks to the northeastern states.
“Notebandi (demonetisation) took away all the money from the business and we had to do other jobs,” he says, as the truck, transporting 15 animals, stops at a fuel station at Paota in Jaipur.
Around 11 pm, as the truck enters Alwar district, the name of Pehlu Khan is heard in Mohsin’s muffled voice. While Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had said on Pehlu Khan’s killing that “versions of events presented didn’t occur”, Rajasthan’s home minister Gulab Chand Kataria had blamed the Haryana dairy farmer for “not carrying valid permits” to transport cattle outside the state.
After midnight, as the three cross the Rajasthan border at Shahjahanpur to enter Haryana near Manesar (Gurgaon), they stop for tea.
“These are tough days for us. In spite of having completed all the legal formalities and paperwork, there are no guarantees. We hope the fear vanishes soon,” says Mohsin.