Phool Bano sits on a cot, huddled under a thick white chaddar in the scorching afternoon. A dupatta covering her face, she sobs inconsolably as children play around her in the courtyard that the joint family of 13 shares. After a few seconds, her brother-in-law Tanzim Abbas can’t take it any more. “Aye, chup!” he shouts, asking her to stop crying.
“He had only gone to buy bulls for our family. What was his fault?” Phool Bano, 25, replies softly, before breaking down again.
On April 2, the mutilated body of her husband, Mustain Abbas, was found in a drain near Masana village in Kurukshetra, Haryana, after the family belonging to Nai Majra in Uttar Pradesh had spent nearly a month looking for the 27-year-old.
The vehicle in which Mustain, a father of four, was travelling back home, after buying bulls from Sharif Garh in Haryana, was stopped and fired upon by alleged Gau Raksha Dal members. No arrests have been made so far.
Instead, police claim to have received messages on wireless on the intervening night of March 5-6 , when Mustain is believed to have died, of men in a vehicle matching Mustain’s firing upon a police party and some Gau Raksha Dal men.
On May 9, ordering a CBI probe into the death of Mustain, the Punjab and Haryana High Court directed the immediate transfer of the Kurukshetra district magistrate, superintendent of police, deputy superintendent of police and station house officer of the Shahbad police station, Haryana, “to a far-off place at (an) inconsequential posting”.
On May 17, the Supreme Court rejected the Haryana government’s appeal to stay the CBI probe, but put on hold the transfers.
In Kurukshetra, nearly three months after Mustain was killed, no probe has begun. The Haryana Police says it is waiting for the DNA report to “scientifically substantiate the deceased was Mustain” and for a viscera analysis and diatom test report to know the cause of death, to begin an investigation.
Nai Majra is a predominantly Muslim village located deep inside Gangoh tehsil in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district. Mustain and four others belonging to Nai Majra and nearby Gangoh had left on the morning of March 5 for Sharif Garh, about 45 km away, to buy cattle. They were to return the same evening.
“They were going to meet a blacksmith who reared cattle. Mustain wanted to buy a buffalo but since it was not available, he purchased two bulls. We are agricultural labourers. We use bulls to pull carts,” says Mustain’s father Tahir Hasan. The eldest of his four children, Mustain had Rs 41,000 left after buying the bulls, he says.
Aslam (50) of Gangoh, who was with Mustain, recalls, “In all, we had purchased five bulls for Rs 45,000. We were bringing them back in a Mahindra Pickup vehicle. On the Shahbad-Delhi Road, we saw a police car. Further down, around 12 armed people had blocked the road with tractors. Our driver told us they were Gau Raksha Dal members and would try to extort money. We turned the truck around but a thorn-like object on the road punctured our tyres. The men then started firing at our vehicle. Nothing was asked, not a word was said.”
Aslam says they jumped out and ran. “Mustain and Kalu (of Gangoh) ran together. Kalu told us later that Mustain was shot and they pulled him away. We could hear them shout ‘Gher lo, maar lo (Surround them, kill them)’.”
Aslam says they walked from there to Gangoh, reaching home the next day.
Aslam remembers the guns the men were carrying, “rifles but not very big ones”, and at least one face. “He wore a white kurta-pyjama and had a cloth around his head. The light from a nearby hotel fell on his face.”
As Aslam and the others recounted what had happened, Hasan waited for some days for Mustain to return and then approached the Shahbad police station on March 10. Six days later, he filed a habeas corpus petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
“The high court asked the police to produce Mustain. But before that, we were called to identify a body found in a drain in Kurukshetra. It was my son. He was bruised and battered. He had several stab wounds, and his tongue was sticking out. That showed he had been strangled,” says Hasan, unable to hold his tears back.
In another complaint on April 2 at Sadar police station, Thanesar, Kurukshetra, Hasan named four members of the Gau Raksha Dal, Yamuna Nagar (Haryana) — Gurcharan Singh, Salinder Singh, Bhisham Singh and Rohit Pradhan.
As per the police, they received a wireless message on March 6 at around 1 am saying some people in a Mahindra Pickup loaded with cattle had fired at a PCR vehicle and also on a Gau Raksha Dal in Kurukshetra. Fifteen minutes later, they say, they got another wireless message saying the vehicle with five bulls had been recovered at Deswal Dhaba on GT Road but without any persons inside it. When they searched, they found two empty cartridges in the vehicle, police claim.
The first FIR filed in the case, on March 6, at the Shahbad police station, in fact, was against unknown persons under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan Act, Arms Act, and for attempt to murder.
Complainant Harbhajan Singh told the Shahbad police that they had come to know of “smugglers” trying to transport cows to Uttar Pradesh for slaughter and put up a blockade. A vehicle had come at high speed, he said, and its occupants had fired at them and fled.
Police acknowledge the Gau Raksha Dal men fired too, but “in safety”.
They also admit that they have not been able to recover any of the weapons, used by the Gau Raksha Dal or allegedly by Mustain’s friends. Police have not been around to question Aslam and the others, or taken any action against the Gau Raksha Dal men named by Hasan.
Asked about the status of Hasan’s April 2 complaint, on which the murder FIR was registered, the SHO of Sadar, Sub-Inspector Dalip Singh, said, “The high court has handed over the probe to the CBI.”
Kurukshetra SP Simardeep Singh said, “I will not comment as the case is sub-judice. All I’ll say is we have done the investigation till date as per law.”
Over at his home, Mustain’s four children, the eldest 8, are among those playing in the courtyard, where the family’s first toilet is being constructed. Mustain’s first cousin Abbas says the government is building it for them.
The room with pink walls that Phool Bano shares with her children has one light bulb, no fan, and the family’s chickens clucking about.
Mustain’s mother Alezehra says he had hoped to bring home a buffalo as he had four growing children. “They would have needed more milk.”
Glancing at Phool Bano, who’s still sobbing, she adds, “His wife seems to have lost her mental balance since his death. Who is going to provide for the children now?”