Field Notes: ‘I Could No Longer Hold The Camera. I Stopped Recording’


How does it feel to check the news and social media to see if someone from your family or a neighbour has been flogged or lynched by a mob of Hindu extremists? 

That is what I thought when I learnt that two more Muslims suspected of smuggling cows were burnt alive last month. 

I received a call on 16 February from a friend and a reporter in Haryana, who, rather tragically, only calls when a Muslim is lynched in the state.

"Two people have been attacked and burnt alive,” he said, speaking from Firozpur Jhirka, a town 160 km from where the charred bodies of 35-year-old Junaid Khan and 28-year-old Nasir Hussain were found in a Bolero SUV in Loharu city.

The families of the two men from Ghatmeeka village in Rajasthan have accused the cow vigilantes operating with impunity in the Mewat region of Haryana of murdering them. A local leader of the Bajrang Dal, Monu Manesar, posts videos of his violent encounters in the name of cow protection on social media. 

In May last year, I reported an incident from Mewat where two Muslim men were attacked and allegedly assaulted by Bajrang Dal members after being accused of eating cow meat. 

But this time, it was more than an attack. It was murder, I thought to myself, as my colleague Meer Faisal and I sat in a cab and headed to Nasir and Junaid's village in Rajasthan, 180 km from where they were found in Loharu.

I had seen a photo on Twitter of the burnt Bolero SUV  in which the two men were allegedly set on fire while they were still alive, and I couldn’t get the image out of my head. 

It was morning when we reached Ghatmeeka village. 

Like in my village in the Jehanabad district of Bihar, Ghatmeeka had winding lanes with sewage overflowing. We followed one of those lanes to where over 2,000 people had gathered in protest. Some sat silently, some cried, and some spoke of justice for the family. 

“We want justice,” said Mohammad Jabir, Nasir’s cousin. 

The police have registered an FIR against nine people, including Monu Manesar. As I write this, two weeks after the incident, only one of the nine has been arrested. 

The murder of Junaid and Nasir was not the only hate crime in Ghatmeeka, home to truck drivers, dairy farmers, and farmers who grow wheat, mustard, and lentils. 

While reporting, I met five-year-old Imran Khan, born on 15 November, the same day his father, Umar Mohammad, was buried after he was allegedly lynched by cow vigilantes and found dead on a railway track in November 2017.

Umar’s firstborn, Maqsood Khan, said his father was a dairy farmer. 

While I was recording and Umar’s elderly mother started crying, Maqsood said, “She can’t control her emotions when someone talks about my father.” 

Overcome by guilt at making her revisit her trauma of losing her son, I could no longer hold the camera. I stopped recording. 

Despite the state borders, villagers still identify themselves as ‘mewans’, meaning residents of Mewat, which straddles Haryana and Rajasthan and is home to many dairy farmers—the majority of them Muslim. 

"We 'Mewans' are known for our brotherhood,” a villager said. “Those who are causing terror in the area are outsiders."  

“If we go out and cannot return home before sunset, many of us prefer to hide in the fields till light,” said another. “It's unsafe for a Muslim to travel during the night.” 

Muslim villagers accused the media of dividing society. 

They said lynchings were no longer covered or condemned by the mainstream media. They were afraid to speak with the press, fearing they would be called “anti-national” and their words used to defame the protest. I saw villagers recording their own messages to post on social media. 

“The media,” said one of them, “will not show our plight.” 

Watch Meer Faisal & Vipul Kumar’s video story here

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