Bulandshahr: On the afternoon of 3 December, as a crowd was gathering near Chingrawathi police chowki in Bulandshahr with “cattle remains”, 38-year-old trader Sarfuddin sensed trouble. For the last three days, Sarfuddin had been on duty at an iztema, or a gathering of Muslims, at least 30 km from Mahav village where the remains had been found.
“I came to know later that day that I had been accused of cow slaughter. I had been busy organising the iztema for almost the entire week and I was nowhere close to the area where the cattle remains had been found. Since I knew I was innocent, I felt that the matter would be resolved,” says Sarfuddin.
The issue, however, was far from over. According to the police, shortly after the cattle remains were found in Mahav village fields, a large group of people gathered near the Chingrawathi police chowki, carrying the cow parts on a tractor, blocking the road. The protests were allegedly by local Bajrang Dal leader Yogesh Raj, who was also the complainant in the cow slaughter case in which Sarfuddin and six other were named as accused.
The killings over cow slaughter
In the hours that followed his complaint, the crowd at the police chowki grew violent. Demanding the arrest of those guilty of cow slaughter, the mob allegedly pelted stones, torched half-a-dozen vehicles and then allegedly even fired at the police teams. In the ensuing violence, two men lost their lives – Syana police station in-charge Subodh Kumar Singh and 22-year-old undergraduate student Sumit Singh.
The post-mortem examination of the two men revealed that both had succumbed to bullet injuries. Four men – Sarfuddin, Sajid Ali (30), Asif (28) and Banne (55) – were arrested on charges of cow slaughter. After more than two weeks, however, the police said that they had erred, and released the men. “We did not find any evidence against these four men in the cow slaughter case. These names had wrongly been given by the complainant to the police. We have now arrested three persons and seized weapons and tools which they had used for cow slaughter,” says Kiranpal Singh, who has replaced slain inspector Singh as the head of Syana police station in Bulandshahr district.
On Friday afternoon, Sarfuddin was back at his house in Naya Bans village. “In the past few days, my only concern was how people will look at me once I get out of jail. They will look at me as a criminal. How will I live with this charge on my name? It was God’s grace that the police accepted that they had made a mistake by arresting us,” Sarfuddin says. A post-graduate in political science from a local university, Sarfuddin runs a small shop in Bulandshahr.
“I knew Sajid but I got to know Asif and Banne only in the prison. Asif is from Bulandshahr but he has been living in Mumbai for four years. He was arrested around 3 pm that day itself. Banne lives in Bulandshahr and is a daily wage worker. He has around 5-6 children and his entire family depends on his livelihood. During the days we spent in prison, he had just one visitor one day. He did not have money to eat and we would share our meals with him,” says Sarfuddin.
Like Sarfuddin, the other three men who served time in the district jail had also been making arrangements for the three-day-long iztema on that day. “My family is from Naya Bans village in Bulandshahr but we moved to Faridabad 11 years ago where I run a small shop. We had come to Bulandshahr to participate in the iztema which was organised for the first time here. I was on my way back to Faridabad when the police told me about the cow slaughter case and I came back to Bulandshahr to help them in the investigation. We are now free of the charges but what about the other men who have been picked up in the case now? I hope no innocent people are being framed,” says Sajid Ali.