Perched on a tall chair inside her office opposite the district and sessions court in Aligarh, city mayor Shakuntala Bharti (50) says she has lost count of the number of cows she has saved from being slaughtered over the years.
“I just returned after rescuing two cows that were going to be culled. They were being taken in a tempo. The driver knew me. He apologised and said ‘please save me, Didi’. The people who were taking the cows to slaughter were riding on motorcycles ahead of the tempo. They escaped,” she said. Every other day, she added, cases came up where she had to intervene to protect the ‘Gau mata’.
Five days back, Bharti, a BJP candidate elected as the mayor of Aligarh in 2012, had accused the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) of selling ‘beef’ in a canteen attached to the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College.
Despite AMU’s clarification that it was buffalo meat that was being sold in the canteen, Bharti pointed at a photo of the canteen menu on her phone that showed ‘beef biryani’ as one of the dishes served at the canteen. “What is the meaning of beef? Anybody can look it up online,” said Bharti.
After Bharti’s allegations against the AMU, the canteen was closed. However, the contract to run the canteen had also expired on February 23.
“If there was no cow meat being sold, what was the need to shut the canteen down? The fact that it was shut down is proof enough that there was something wrong going on,” she said.
Senior Superintendent of Police, Aligarh, J Ravinder Goud said, “When our police inspector visited the canteen, there was no menu board on display and inquiries made at the canteen revealed that there was no such thing. The matter has been closed.”
Asif Ahmed, who held the canteen contract that ended on February 23, said the ‘beef biryani’ contained buffalo meat. “The canteen was a loss-making venture. The beef biryani was one of our least-selling items. The canteen was attached to the medical college and hospital and frequented by patients and their families. Hardly anybody ordered beef biryani,” said Ahmed, who also runs a more lucrative canteen near the Maulana Azad Library.
Asked about the beef allegation, Fatima Khan (24), a student of medicine at the J N Medical College, said, “It (beef) used to be on the canteen menu and we used to joke about somebody getting into trouble because of this. For three days, doctors have been on a strike after a patient’s family hung a junior resident doctor upside down from the third floor after the patient died. Real issues have been brushed under the carpet because of this beef controversy. But these things will happen. We have become shock-proof.”
Anupama Thapliyal (22), a post-graduate student of history, said: “The beef controversy was an attempt to frame the university and tarnish its image. This is just one in the chain of events hitting universities in the country. Very soon, something big will happen in AMU too. It will be targeted.”
Unfazed, Bharti accused the state’s Samajwadi Party (SP) government for being soft on minorities. “Just to protect their vote bank, they are going to let Mughal Raj come back here,” said Bharti.
The mayor also added that her work had two main focus areas. “One is to protect cows from being slaughtered and the other is to protect Hindu girls from ‘Love-Jihad’. Every other day, young Hindu girls are enticed by Muslim men. I do my best to ensure these girls return to their families. I try to counsel them by telling them how they will lose their freedom to dress the way they want, their lifestyle will change, they will have to live with large families and eat meat. I explain these things to them very tenderly,” she said.