A photograph of one of the two attacked trucks shared on Twitter. Photo: Twitter/@CHZubairAhtove

By Jehangir Ali

Srinagar: Suspected cow vigilantes attacked five Bakerwal families travelling with livestock in Jammu on Tuesday, May 25, injuring seven, including a child.

The families were on their way to Kashmir on two trucks when they were attacked on the Samba-Udhampur highway, five kilometres from their home. Activist Faisal Raza told The Wire that the trucks were intercepted by over 30 cow vigilantes.

Sixteen members of nomadic Bakerwal families, including seven children, were going to Kashmir as part of their annual journey in summer. The two trucks had around 100-150 goats and 14 cows. The attack took place at around 11 pm.

“They were armed with iron rods, scythes and bamboo sticks, and tried to stop our trucks. However, we asked the drivers to avoid trouble and drive straight to the police station,” Rafaqat, one of the victims told The Wire.

At the checkpoint near Samba police station, Rafaqat said, when the trucks came to a halt, the attackers dragged out the driver of one truck and beat him severely.

“Policemen were watching like mute spectators. When we tried to rescue the driver, we were beaten up as well,” Rafaqat said, adding that the attackers also smashed the windshield of one the trucks, due to which a child suffered an eye injury.

“The gang was led by Sunny and Surjit who are also from Samba. They attacked us even though we had got proper permission from the district administration to move our livestock to Kashmir,” he added.

According to family, the assault continued for nearly two hours until an Army convoy passed, prompting the attackers to flee from the area.

The families resumed their journey to Kashmir and have not yet visited a hospital. “We were scared and didn’t want to risk our lives there. We just visited a pharmacy to ensure that the injured child’s eye was okay,” Rafaqat said.

Police role

According to Faisal Raza, four elders and three children were injured along with the driver of the truck, “Police did nothing to catch them,” the activist said.

In a video of the incident circulating on social media, one of the victims is seen telling the cameraperson that their families had dinner at their home on Tuesday night after which they loaded the livestock into trucks before starting their journey.

“The attackers had been waiting and began trailing us as soon as our truck came out on the main road. They assaulted us,” he says, showing minor bruises all over his body.

“They beat up small kids too. One’s arm was broken, another’s eye got hit, yet another was hit in the head,” another person, who is not seen in the video, is heard saying.

Senior superintendent of Samba police, Rajesh Sharma told The Wire that a case has been filed at Samba police station (FIR  180/2021) under sections 147 and 148 (punishment for rioting with deadly weapons), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 341 (wrongful restraint) and 427 (mischief causing damage) of the Indian Penal Code.

“We have not received any official complaint because the family is still in transit on the way to Kashmir. But investigations have been started and those involved in the attack would be dealt with as per law,” he said.

Asked whether there will be action against the police officials who are accused of acting as mute spectators while the Bakerwal families were being targeted by suspected cow vigilantes near the police station on Tuesday night, the SSP said a “full-fledged investigation” has been started.

“No one has been arrested yet. Also, we will not take the issue of dereliction of duty by police officials lightly if it is proved,” the SSP said.

Samba DC Anuradha Gupta also said the district administration has contacted the families and strict action will be taken against the attackers. “If the police officials have not done their duty, they will be punished as per law,” she said.


Consistently attacked

J&K’s nomadic Gujjars and Bakerwal communities who rear livestock for a living often face the ire of cow vigilantes in Hindu-majority Jammu region, a stronghold of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

On May 8, two people from the Gujjar community, Muhammad Siddiq and his cousin Amir Hussain of Garhote village, were attacked in Jammu when they were returning home with a pair of oxen they had purchased from a neighbouring village.

The video of the incident showing the injured duo had gone viral on social media, evoking criticism and anger following which Jammu and Kashmir police registered a case. Five persons were arrested.

Another Gujjar family in Samba was targeted in March this year when they resisted alleged misbehaviour by suspected cow vigilantes with a woman. Four persons of the family were beaten up.

“While family members were in the hospital they attacked their livestock. One sheep was killed and 8-10 are still missing,” a family member told a local news portal. The Wire has not been able to ascertain if police have taken action in the case yet.

“These attacks have been happening consistently for last three or four years and the administration has completely failed to take action against culprits,” said Guftar Ahmad, spokesperson of J&K Gujjar Bakerwal Youth Welfare Conference.

“Gujjar and Bakerwals are facing hate crimes only because they are Muslims. The tall claim of the BJP that Gujjar community benefitted from the reading down of Article 370 is just an eyewash,” he added.

This story was first appeared on thewire.in