Around 3 pm on May 24, Zahid (24) was taking his afternoon nap, his family says. A few homes away, 70-year-old Yakub’s family says he had just returned from a funeral and was looking for medicines for his knee pain.
Moments later, a fleet of 12-15 vehicles arrived in Noorpur village in Dadri block in Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Buddha Nagar district, and policemen stormed into Zahid and Yakub’s homes. Both the men were allegedly beaten and arrested for “killing cattle and storing its meat” — bringing back memories from nearly four years ago when Mohammad Akhlaq was beaten to death by a mob in Dadri’s Bisara village, just 12 km away, following rumours that he and his family stored and consumed beef. Akhlaq’s 20-year-old son Mohammed Danish had also received severe head injuries during the attack.
“Zahid had brought the meat a day ago. It must have been around 20-22 kg, I am not sure. It’s Ramzan, and he said we could use it for iftar. I don’t know if it was cow meat,” says Zahid’s wife Malka, 23, sitting in their two-room house on the outskirts of the village. The couple have two children, ages two and four.
“At first, we didn’t realise they were policemen as they were in civil clothes. Then they ransacked the house, hit Zahid in the face… They took away the meat, along with our Kelvinator fridge. It was around four feet high. They also took away the country-made pistol that we had kept for our safety,” says Zahid’s mother Momina, standing next to a bull in the verandah. Zahid earned Rs 30,000-35,000 a month selling fodder in Dadri and Ghaziabad, the family adds.
They have met the 24-year-old only once, at Kasna jail, since his arrest. “He didn’t say much. But there was a band-aid on his toe, it was cut. There were injury marks on his face,” adds Malka.
Yakub’s wife Sameena claims Zahid named her husband in the case to avenge an old fight. Sitting at her home in a lane next to Zahid’s, she says, “We don’t eat meat. We cooked chicken once, nearly two months ago, when a relative insisted. We have been breaking our fast with bhindi and tori. How can Yakub kill a cow? Last year, I had a fight with Zahid during the panchayat elections, he abused me and I filed a complaint. He was in police custody for 10-12 days. He is just trying to get back at our family.”
The 50-year-old is a cancer patient. She and Yakub have eight children. While four of the sons work as welders in Rajasthan, another is a mechanic in Meerut, and one of the three daughters is married. Yakub is a farmer.
Says Saista, Yakub’s youngest daughter, while sewing a blouse, “They named two of my brothers as well. How is that possible? They are away in Rajasthan. They work in a Chinese company which has CCTV cameras. Police can check those easily… We are so poor, we don’t even have mobile phones. We don’t know why we are being dragged into this.”
Sameena says police took away a knife, a sword, which “one of my sons had made while practising welding work”, a torch, and a country-made gun. “There are no meat here. Zahid had got that gun for my husband. We live in the jungles, on the outskirts of the village, it was for our safety,” she says, breaking down. “My husband could barely walk, I wonder how he is doing in jail.” The family hasn’t met Yakub since his arrest.
At the Jarcha Police Station, three cases have been filed against Zahid and Yakub. In the first FIR, a case has been registered under the UP Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and under IPC Section 429 (mischief by killing or maiming cattle) — all non-bailable offences. Two other FIRs have been filed against the men separately for illegal possession of weapons under Section 3/25 of the Arms Act. The complainant is SHO Prabhash Chandra.
The FIR says police seized “20 kg gaumaas (cow meat)” from Zahid’s fridge, another 10 kg from a “tasla (vessel)”, a weighing scale, and a chopping board from Zahid and Yakub’s homes, apart from two 12-bore country-made pistols and seven live cartridges. According to Sub-Inspector Shiv Kumar Malik, the investigating officer, Yakub was at Zahid’s home when the police arrived. “The two men were carving and weighing the meat. It has been sent to the forensic laboratory at the College of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry in Mathura.”
Superintendent of Police (Rural), Gautam Buddha Nagar, Vineet Jaiswal says the test results are awaited. “The local police was tipped off by a source… We are not sure when we will get the results,” he said.
In Akhlaq’s case too, the meat seized had been sent to the Mathura laboratory — the only centre in UP authorised to conduct tests to determine if a sample is beef or not. In June 2016, nearly eight months after his death, the lab had said the sample recovered from the 50-year-old belonged to “a cow or its progeny”.
The forensic laboratory could not be reached for comment on the meat found at Zahid and Yakub’s homes.
On taking 12 vehicles with policemen to arrest the two men, IO Malik says, “It was only to ensure things don’t spiral out of control. For next two days, our men guarded the village. We didn’t want any tension.”
Head Constable Yatendra Kumar, who maintains case records at the Jarcha Police Station, says since the Akhlaq incident, no “big cow slaughter case” has been reported in the area. “Since 2015, we have got one or two such cases a year, concerning 3-4 kg meat. This time it is nearly 30 kg,” he says.
Noorpur has a population of nearly 4,000. Apart from 250 people belonging to SC/ST communities, all are Muslims. Most claim not to know Zahid and Yakub “since they lived near the jungles, not in the village”.
Nafeez Ahmed, 38, who stands in for his sarpanch wife Nahid Zabi (34), says the case has left him “shocked”. “After the Akhlaq incident, everyone in Dadri has been careful. In fact, right after I took charge in 2016, I formed a committee to ensure that there are no cow slaughter incidents here. A fine of Rs 10,000 is imposed on anyone involved in such a case. A person who reports the incident gets
Rs 5,000,” he says, adding, “Noorpur has been cautious not just because of the Akhlaq case, but since 1995, when a man shot a cow in the jungle nearby. There are a lot of Hindu villages around and there was a lot of tension back then. We don’t want to hurt any community.”
Ahmed believes “the incident has been blown out of proportion by troublemakers from nearby villages to spark communal tension”. “Such attempts have become common in these parts. After the Akhlaq incident, many small Bajrang Dal kind of groups came up here. Sometime ago, a man was murdered in a nearby village. Someone from one such group put a skull cap on his head to anger Muslims. Later, it was found that he was Hindu. Yakub and Zahid’s case is a similar attempt,” he says.
Back at Zahid’s home, with little clarity over her husband’s bail, his wife Malka says, “At least they should return my aata tasla. That was the only one we had to knead flour.”