On the old Sohna-Alwar highway, as a group of young men and women gather around half a dozen food stalls after the morning namaz, it almost seems like any other Eid. But the black bands tied around their arms, and conversations at two roadside dhabas, give away their fear and anger.
“There are a lot of fights that take place over train seats. But do such things end in murder? You will not find any of us killing someone so mercilessly. These bands are a mark of protest against such murders,” says Mohammad Farooq, a 50-year-old scrap dealer who lives at Ghasera village in Nuh.
The decision to wear black armbands, say locals, was taken after 15-year-old Junaid Khan was stabbed to death on a Mathura-bound train by a mob that allegedly mocked his skull cap and called him a beef eater. It was at a nearby madrasa in Mewat where Junaid used to study, hoping to become the imam of Jama Masjid one day.
Hasan Ali, a teacher at a government school in Firozpur Namak village, sits at a dhaba across the road. “In India, a majority of people eat meat… But a man who wears a skull cap is accused of eating beef and he gets beaten to death,” he says.
This is not the first time Mewat has had to reconcile with such violence. Dairy farmer Pehlu Khan, 55, who hailed from Mewat, was lynched on allegations of being a cattle smuggler in April. In September 2016, two women were allegedly gangraped and their relatives murdered in Dingerheri village by attackers who accused them of eating beef. In the days that followed, the region witnessed a crackdown on sale of biryani, with police taking samples from parts of Nuh and Firozpur Jhirka.
On Monday, as residents thronged food stalls on the 40-km stretch from Nuh to Firozpur Jhirka amid police presence, there were less than half a dozen hawkers offering biryani. “There used to be at least 20 people selling biryani here. Our sales have gone down by more than 50 per cent. Who wants to run a business amid so much fear — of being locked up or, worse still, lynched by a mob?” says one vendor.