The murder of Subodh Kumar Singh, a police officer, on December 3 in Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh during mob violence over an alleged case of cow slaughter sent shock waves across the State, including among Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters. Sumit, a youngster who was later identified in videos as one of the stone pelters, was also shot dead. The incidents that followed have shown how the monster of fascism has matured in India and started devouring its own adherents.
While Hindus have also been victimised in the past in cow-related incidents, this is the first time a member of the police force lost his life in such targeted violence. The 47-year-old officer’s son, Abhishek Singh, condemned the murder and told reporters: “My father lost his life in this Hindu-Muslim dispute. Whose father is next?”
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was reportedly watching a sound-and-light show when the incident took place. While he ordered a probe into the alleged cow slaughter, he made callous statements regarding the officer’s death and called it an accident and not a case of lynching.
On the morning of December 3, as Rajkumar was sitting in his dairy in Mahav village, he received a call that cow carcasses had been found on his field, which is at the end of the road from the village and in the centre of a Jat-dominated area. With the onset of the harvest season, farmers were often out in their fields, and Rajkumar had been in his field just the night before. He had seen nothing suspicious, his wife, Priti, told Frontline. Immediately upon reaching his field that morning, Rajkumar informed the police, who advised the farmers to bury the remains and keep the peace. A policeman who was present on the spot told Frontline that the scene appeared set up. The skin was hung up on the sugarcane crop as if on display and the heads were scattered in various directions. The slaughter of 20-25 cows (the number claimed by the Bajrang Dal) would have led to a lot of blood being spilled on the fields, but there was not nuch blood there. This was corroborated by women of Mahav village. One of them said: “The scene looked fishy, as if deliberately set up to inflame passions. Bajrang Dal members came from outside and created a mess. Who are these people? We are hearing about them for the first time.”
Meanwhile, Muslims from nearby villages, whose family members were accused of cow slaughter, wondered why there was no photo or video evidence of the carcasses. “There is proof of the violence, of the shooting, but where is the evidence of a cow slaughter? Are you telling us that the Bajrang Dalis had possession of the cows and did not click a single picture?” They also wondered whether any Muslim would dare to drag 20 to 25 cows and slaughter them in the middle of Jat villages. “It is the peak harvest season and farmers are always in their fields this time of the year. How is it possible that none of them heard or saw so many men and cows marching through their fields? Cows are not easy to slaughter; they give stiff resistance. It is not possible to butcher so many without raising suspicion,” one of them said.
When the police tried to bury the matter, Bajrang Dal members got agitated and refused to dispose of the carcasses. They brought them to the highway near the Chingravathi police post and held a protest. More and more people from nearby villages poured in, and soon a few hundreds had gathered. They attacked the police post and torched around 15 vehicles. As the policemen ran inside for cover, the doors were locked from outside. Fearing that the agitators might set fire to the post, Subodh Singh advised his men to break open the back door and escape, which most of them did. As the stone pelting continued, Subodh Singh fired shots in the air to control the situation. Sumit was shot and soon Subodh Singh was found shot dead.
Videos of the slain cop went viral on social media and in the audio a man was heard saying: “He is the cop who was in the Akhlaq case.” This triggered the suspicion that Subodh Singh was probably targeted for this reason. Subodh Singh was the investigating officer in the case and was reportedly involved in peacekeeping efforts in Dadri, the village where Akhlaq was murdered on the suspicion of having slaughtered a cow and stored its meat in his fridge. Subodh Singh was later transferred. As news of his death spread, people ran helter-skelter, and a possible escalation of violence was halted.
While the ethics of shooting at a protest gathering are debatable, a policeman who was part of the peacekeeping force from outside the district told Frontline that even if Subodh Singh had shot Sumit, it was done in the line of duty. “A section of the Criminal Procedure Code reads that a policeman is supposed to control the commission of a cognisable or non-cognisable offence with his full might, which includes the tools given to him, including a pistol,” he said. “Pressure groups are fine, but mob violence is illegal and must be stopped. However, no mob is independent but is driven by an ideology.” Terming the incident a “law and order” problem, the policeman (a Brahmin) sympathised with the cow vigilantes and said that such groups were required to bring about change. “During the JP [Jayaprakash Narayan] movement also, groups were there. Change is inevitable and never comes smoothly. We are used to thinking in a particular way owing to the history written by the communists. Drastic changes are required to change that, and [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi is doing a great job.” He said Muslims in India should stop taking cues from Arabs and try to be more Indian. Giving a long lecture on nationalism, he told Frontline that thanks to social media, now people were realising the importance of their own culture.
In 18-year-old college student Sumit’s house, there was an atmosphere of anger and gloom. His family vehemently denied that he was part of either the Bajrang Dal or cow vigilantism and said that the BJP should stop spreading lies for political gains. Sumit’s mother was injured by a grain cutter a few years ago and since then she has been mentally unstable. His father, too, suffers from a physical disability. Sumit was preparing for the National Defence Academy entrance test and used to live in Noida, his family said. He had come home for Diwali and stayed on. The family was on a fast demanding financial compensation. “[The family of] Subodh Kumar got Rs.50 lakh, his sons will get government jobs, his wife a salary; our brother’s memory should also be similarly honoured,” said Babli, his sister. His brother, Vineet, who is trying for a job in the Army, said that the BJP leaders were only giving false assurances and that no help had come so far. His father, a farmer with 10 cows and buffaloes and five bighas of land, said he had sent his son away to keep him out of trouble. “Our only misfortune is that the police station is at our main bus stop. Our son was sacrificed at the altar of the rabble rousers,” he told Frontline.
Chingravathi is a village dominated by Jats and Rajputs and has a few Gujjars. These farmer families used to vote for the farmers’ leader Chaudhury Charan Singh’s party, but they switched to the BJP in 2014 when some of them even joined the party. But now they were bitter and sarcastic. One of them said: “Our milk that used to sell for Rs.80 now sells for Rs.33. The electricity bill for irrigation used to cost Rs.600, now it costs Rs.1,380. The DAP/urea used to cost Rs.1,000/kilogram, now it costs Rs.1,450 a kg. Of course, our income has doubled.” They spoke up against cow vigilantism and explained how it was affecting their finances. Whereas earlier they could sell their old and infirm cows to Muslims, now they are forced to set them free. “The cows roam and eat up our crops and become healthier, and then the Muslims get them. So, the same cows for which we earlier used to get some money, now go to the Muslims for free. Of course, our income has doubled!” one of them said.
Meanwhile, all the men of the surrounding villages, including Bajrang Dal members, had fled, leaving the women and elderly people to deal with the police force that came at midnight. Rajkumar’s wife, Priti, in Mahav told Frontline that the police forced their way into the house, abused her, beat her and broke everything. Bina Devi, her relative, said five Bihari workers sleeping in their house were also beaten. The home of one of the accused, Jeetu Fauji, who was later arrested from Sopore where he was serving with the Army, was similarly destroyed by the police, and his 80-year-old father was beaten up in custody. His mother, Ratan Kaur, said that her daughter-in-law was slapped and the police took away whatever valuables they found in the house. When their neighbour Chandravati came to save her, the police entered her house too and broke things.
Nayabans communal polarisation
Nine people were arrested for the December 3 violence, but the main accused, Yogesh Raj, was absconding. A resident of Nayabans village, he joined the Bajrang Dal three years ago and had been an active member. His family, meanwhile, said that when the agitation was taking place he was in the Siyana police station in order to register a first information report (FIR) against the cow slaughter and had nothing to do with the police officer’s murder. “He used to help the poor and save cows. Could he kill someone?” his sister Geeta said. Echoing the women of Mahav, she said that 35-40 policemen entered the house at midnight searching for Yogesh and hit the women. “They tore clothes and injured my aunt’s eye. Is this beti bachao, beti padhao? If you can’t save women, how will you save cows?” she said.
People who had gathered in the house blamed the Muslims of the village. They claimed that the madrasa in the village was “illegally” operating as a mosque and the daily azaan was troubling them. A young man, Vipin Kumar, denied that he was a Bajrang Dal member but admitted that he had good relations with the organisation and attended its meetings. Om Prakash, a farmer with 20 bighas of land, said he had also been hiding and surfaced only recently. Standing next to the “Akhand Bharat” painting outside Yogesh’s house, he said: “Just look at the situation we are in today. Hindus are hiding and Muslims are roaming freely on the streets.”
Muslims of the village, meanwhile, told Frontline that all the Bajrang Dal men, including Yogesh, had cut their chotis (long strand of hair synonymous with Pandits), removed the saffron spots from their foreheads and shaved their beards to hide from the police. Lamenting Subodh Kumar Singh’s death, they said he was the only policeman at the station who listened to them. “He did not get intimidated by the aggressiveness of Bajrang Dal members and did not allow Yogesh Raj to set foot inside the station,” one of them said, hinting that Yogesh might have nursed a personal grudge against the officer.
The village of Nayabans, about 2 km from the Chingravathi police post, has an equal number of Jats and Jatavs, around 500 each, and about 125 Muslims. Unlike other villages in Uttar Pradesh, the communities do not live segregated in separate localities. The communal harmony and religious tolerance once witnessed in the village was disrupted after Yogi Adityanath became the Chief Minister, Bhola Singh became the local MLA and the Bajrang Dal made inroads into the village. With aggressive young leaders like Yogesh Raj who brandished rifles and swords at every opportunity, the village had been split down the middle along communal lines, said the villagers. Most of the Hindu boys had become radicalised and played loud DJ music and chanted communal slogans such as “Hindustan rahega, Pakistan na rahega [India will remain, Pakistan will not]” on religious festivals like Holi and even during children’s birthday parties. “What do we have to do with Pakistan? We are as much Indian as they are. Every time they raise slogans or take out rallies through the lanes, we shut ourselves in our homes and don’t let our children watch from the terrace. Ever since the Bajrang Dal has come, the atmosphere of the village has been ruined. The relationship has deteriorated so much that the very neighbours with whom we used to eat from the same plate don’t greet us any more.”
A sore point was the removal of loudspeakers from the temple and the mosque. The azaan was a regular feature of village life for four decades, but trouble started brewing about one and a half years ago. The temple started blaring loud music at the aarti, drowning out the azaan. “But we did not object to their loudspeaker. Once our madrasa was shifted elsewhere, we converted it into a mosque, but the Bajrang Dal did not allow us to build a roof. Then they got our loudspeaker removed,” one of them said.
On the day of the violence, a three-day Islamic congregation, Ijtema, organised by the Tablighi Jamaat, was being attended by lakhs of devotees from across the country at Dariyapur, about 45 km from Nayabans. It was about to disperse when the mob clashed with the police on the highway, on the very route that the devotees were supposed to take to exit the district. As tension escalated at the Chingravathi police post, the congregation was rerouted to avoid the sensitive zones. Muslims of the area feel far worse might have happened had the route not been changed.
At the root of the cow controversy was the Hindu community’s displeasure with the Ijtema, the Muslims of Nayabans felt. The “discovery” of the cow remains and the clashes that followed were part of a conspiracy, they said. A day before the remains were allegedly found, a meeting was organised by members of the Bajrang Dal at the Mahadev enclosure in the village. “They made an announcement over the microphone that ‘chai aur pakode ready hai’ [tea and snacks are available]. All Hindus of the village were there and we could hear snatches of a speech intermittently,” one of them said. While on the face of it it was a function for children, there were also communal exhortations such as “jaise woh vahaan ek hokar gaye hain, aapko bhi aana hai” [as they are meeting in unity, all of you should also come in unity]. The villagers surmised the Bajrang Dal might have placed the carcasses in the field to excite communal passions and that it also deliberately escalated the clash with the police so that the commotion could spread to the Ijtema and lead to riots. Policemen who had been present at the spot told Frontline that the carcasses were strewn on the fields in a way that suggested a set-up.
Professor Sudhir Panwar, former member of the U.P. Planning Commission and leader of the Samajwadi Party, said the sequence of events indicated a pre-planned conspiracy. “Initially, the police said that it was a conspiracy and the carcasses were two days old. The mob had arms and stones ready. In the video that Yogesh uploaded, he and the others with him were satisfied once the police registered their FIR. Then who was not satisfied? The police said that they changed the route of the Ijtema devotees. Otherwise they would have come under attack from the mob, rumours would have been spread that so many Hindus had died and so many Muslims had died, and they would have triggered a chain reaction. The BJP is losing steam and has only one issue now, that of Hindu-Muslim polarisation,” he told Frontline.
The Hindus of the village told Frontline that the cows had been slaughtered to feed the crowd in the Ijtema. The Muslims, on the other hand, pointed out that Sarfuddin, who was arrested in connection with the slaughter, was a Saifi and Saifis, they said, “do not slaughter animals”. “If our community were Memon or Qureishi, they could still have accused us of doing this, but this is unheard of among us,” one of them told Frontline. They added that the men who were accused of cow slaughter were attending the Ijtema or were not in town.
Among those accused of cow slaughter were two children. Their father, Yaseen, a Saifi himself, brought them to meet Frontline when he heard a reporter was in the area. He probably knew that the proof of their innocence lay in their appearance. Twelve-year-old Sajid and 11-year-old Anas looked too frail to even chop an apple, let alone kill a fully grown cow. Yaseen had taken the children to the police station, where the police did not ask them any questions. They sat there for four hours, ate some food in the canteen and were sent back home.
The police had first come looking for the accused with an FIR with only the first names of the accused. It did not contain the names of the fathers of the accused, so people did not know which Sajid or Ilyas they were looking for. Even the police did not know. The names of the fathers and the exact identities of the accused were added afterwards. The police had been given these names by Yogesh Raj, said the villagers. Yogesh might have had an axe to grind with each of the accused, the villagers surmised. Another Sajid, who had left the village 12 years ago and settled in Faridabad, was called back by the community. He had even given up his voting rights in the village but came back and gave himself up at the station. When the names of the accused were made known by the police, the community decided to approach the police themselves. Sarfuddin, a doctor, presented himself at the police station and is now in judicial custody. His family says he is an educated man and has a master’s degree and had no need to slaughter cows. He was the head of the committee that took care of the masjid. He was also on duty at the Ijtema when the ruckus happened in Mahav village.
Frontline met some of the organisers of the Ijtema, who said the violence had nothing to do with the congregation. They recalled the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (Hindu-Muslim bonhomie) and said there was no tension. “It is the political parties who create tension between the two communities,” said Talha Wahab, one of the owners of the land on which the Ijtema was organised. He said non-Muslims had helped in organising the Ijtema. “Fifty per cent of the land on which the Ijtema was held belongs to Hindus and other religious groups. They willingly gave it to us and cooperated during the entire process,” he said. He pulled Rajkumar Yadav out from behind the group and told Frontline that though he was a Hindu, they were like brothers, at which Yadav said: “More than just brothers.” When the Muslim devotees were caught in a traffic snarl, a Siva temple in a nearby village of Jainur threw open its doors to let the Muslims offer namaz on its premises. “We have always lived in harmony with each other and will continue to do so if these politicians will only stop interfering,” said Talha Wahab.
Summing up the situation, Prof. Panwar said that the statements of BJP MLA Bhola Singh and the Chief Minister showed that the incident was pre-planned. The MLA kept saying that Subodh died of a heart attack. The Chief Minister said that the death was an “accident”. “These statements were meant to mislead and influence the police probe. When Subodh’s wife met the Chief Minister for 10 minutes, she told him that the MLA had called Subodh three days ago, but he was in the bathroom and could not take the call. But the MLA denied this. Sister organisations of his party kept giving defensive statements trying to drum up public sympathy. These events indicate that the sister organisations and the MLA knew of it and the whole thing was pre-planned. In Bulandshahr, they tried to ignite the same tried and tested pattern of spreading rumours and creating a chain reaction that triggered riots during 2013 in Muzaffarnagar. Had it succeeded, it would have benefited the party in the elections in other States as well as polarised people in Uttar Pradesh,” he said.