FOR three days, Abdul Gaffar’s cow stood tied at Nauchandi police station. Then, hearing about it, police say, a man came from Saharanpur, 120 km away, and took it. Police assure they will bring his animal back anytime Gaffar wants it. The 48-year-old, who says he is still to be officially told what happened to the cow he had lovingly named Anamika, isn’t sure that day will come.
A BSP corporator from Ward No. 73 in Meerut city’s Nauchandi area, Gaffar says he left the cow at the police station on January 16 for fear of gau rakshaks, after an incident a day earlier. On January 15, Anas, from Meerut’s Zakir Nagar Colony, had been allegedly harassed and beaten up by cow vigilantes after he bought two cows from a Hindu, Manu Singh Rana. Rana was reportedly forced to take back his cows and return the Rs 31,500.
Everyone in the Muslim-dominated Nauchandi knows Gaffar’s house. They call it ‘Taj Mahal’, because of a painting of the monument on its gate. One of his sons runs a cosmetics and general store from the single-storey house, called the Taj Mahal Store.
Now the house is also known for its missing Anamika.
Gaffar says he had got the cow two years ago from his sister. “The courtyard of my house has space, and I always wanted a pet. Now Hindu groups say Muslims can’t keep cows.”
Lighting a beedi, he adds, “Musalman mein darr hai, hum gai nahin rakh sakte. Kyun? (There is fear among Muslims, we can’t keep a cow. But why?) My father once had 25-30 cows, now I am scared to keep even one.” His son Shadab talks about taking Anamika to the doctor a few months ago. “I was scared. I felt everyone was staring,” he says.
Gaffar adds that he is the real “gau rakshak”, and not the Hindu groups “which use them for votes”. “I have been an active gau rakshak for years. I had written a letter to the prime minister (Narendra Modi) in 2016, suggesting ways to protect cows,” he says, showing a copy of the said letter, dated August 4, 2016. “I feel cows should not be skinned and should get last rites the way humans do. They are sacred to all, not just to Hindus.”
Gaffar is interrupted by the arrival of Mohammed Zubair, a local builder. The two exchange greetings and Gaffar asks his son to get coffee. As he sits down, Zubair asks, “They haven’t returned your cow till now?” Gaffar shakes his head. How much was it worth, Zubair wants to know. Gaffar is offended, asserting that Anamika was never about making money to him. “She was my pet.”
Zubair points out that Gaffar had once suggested that cows should have Aadhaar. “The government does not want to do anything for cows, all they want are votes,” says Zubair.
The VHP, in turn, makes the same charge against Gaffar. Gopal Sharma, the VHP’s Meerut Mahanagar Mantri, says Gaffar’s move was a “political stunt”. “We are not against Muslims keeping cows. Our only objective is they should not be slaughtered,” Sharma says.
Police say there was no threat to Gaffar or his cow. “We had offered security for the cow and the corporator, but he didn’t agree,” says Maan Singh Chauhan, SP, Meerut city.
The SP adds that Anamika had been handed over to a person from Saharanpur. “The cow is with Sanjay Kumar, who is a dairy farmer. We have his details and will return the cow when Gaffar asks for it,” says Chauhan.
The SP adds that Gaffar never called him to find out the whereabouts of his cow. “If he had, we would have told him where his cow is. He can call me and I will tell him.”
Gaffar, who reiterates that“I was not told that the cow is being sent to Saharanpur”, denies that the move to hand over his cow was a political ploy. “It was a personal decision. That is why I did not inform even my party colleagues,” he says.
Sunita Verma, the BSP’s Meerut Mayor, one of the party’s only two mayors in the state, confirms this. And adds, “There is an atmosphere of fear in the state and the country among Muslims. They are being harassed in the name of the cow. We keep hearing of false cases for cow slaughter. Gaffar did the right thing by giving his cow to police. The administration and state government should ensure that Muslims who keep cows are safe from gau rakshaks.”
Anas’s Zakir Colony is less than 2 km away. On January 15, he says, some people stopped his “chota haathi (small truck)” when he was fetching home two cows from Shastri Nagar area. “We had bought the cows for Rs 31,500 from Manu Singh Rana. Both the cows were pregnant at the time. I told Rana we might be harassed if we carry the cows in a truck because we are Muslims. So he sent a Gujjar with us. But the gau rakshaks who stopped us weren’t ready to believe that we too raise cows, and won’t slaughter them. I have 20 cows and eight calves. I take great care of them… take them to a doctor when they are sick,” Anas says. Rana could not be contacted.
While no police complaint was registered, the VHP’s Sharma confirms the incident, adding he was present when Anas was stopped. “I got a call saying some people had been stopped on the suspicion that they were taking cows for slaughter. It could not be established by the police official present at the spot if Anas was taking the cows for slaughter or not. Hence, we asked the seller to take the cows back from Anas,” says Sharma.
Samajwadi Party Uttar Pradesh chief spokesperson Rajendra Chowdhary says it is the responsibility of the state government to prevent people from being harassed by anti-social elements. “They should make sure that such incidents do not happen and people have a right to their livelihood,” he says.
While SP Meerut City MLA Rafiq Ansari sees nothing but a “cheap publicity gimmick” in Gaffar leaving his cow at the police station, he too adds, “There is no doubt that there has been a rise in incidents of so-called cow vigilantism. Thank God we still haven’t reached a situation where these Hindu groups can come to our houses and do anything. The cow does not belong to Hindus. It is an animal loved by Muslims and Hindus.”