Note: Civil society groups in Guwahati have planned a protest at 4pm. Pictures of the protest will follow as soon as we get them.
68-year-old assaulted, shop ransacked by a mob in another cow vigilantism case from Assam
Syeda Ambia Zahan
Guwahati: In yet another case of cow vigilantism, an elderly Muslim man, Shaukat Ali, was beaten up and forced to eat pork, which is forbidden among followers of Islam, while his hotel was vandalised by another group at some distance in Biswanath Chariali district in Assam on Sunday. The incident came to light on Monday after a video showing a mob assaulting Ali, a 68-year-old hotel owner, was circulated on social media platforms.
In the video, Ali is seen surrounded by a mob of 25-30 people, while one of them asks him why he sold beef and whether he possessed a licence to do that. Another man asks whether he is a “Bangladeshi”, and if his name is enlisted in the NRC (National Register of Citizens). In the video, the mob is seen forcibly feeding meat to Ali, which they call “gahori” (pork).
“Chew the meat and gulp it down your throat,” the men are heard ordering him.
When Firstpost spoke to Shaukat Ali, he seemed baffled that he has never had to live through such fear because of the business that his family has run for 35 years since his father set it up. Narrating the turn of events, Ali says three days before he was attacked, last Thursday, around 15 boys barged in to his hotel asking where has he kept the beef.
“I used to keep it in a room, away from sight. They searched and found the beef. They took videos of it. After that, I got scared and went to the mahaldars’ office,” says Ali. The mahaldars, or market managers, advised him not to sell beef. “Since then I was not selling (beef),” claims Ali.
However, the group of boys who had threatened him earlier returned to his hotel on Sunday morning and asked if he was still selling beef. “But, they didn’t find (beef). Then at around 3pm, one mahaldar whose name is Maina, came to tell me that I cannot not work in the market anymore. I was tensed and decided to head home. On the way, Maina stopped me and questioned where I was going. I said I am going to offer prayer. He then took me to a paan shop nearby and asked me not to move from that place as I might be hurt if I go alone. Then he left. I was waiting for almost one and a half hour when the same group of men suddenly appeared. They dragged me to a school and started thrashing me as much as they could,” narrates Ali, while also suspecting Maina’s involvement in conspiring against him. Maina, one of the four managers at the market, is absconding, according to sources from the All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU).
After Thursday’s threat, Ali had contacted AAMSU, an organisation that voices concerns on harassment of the minority community in Assam, where he was advised to inform the mahaldar about the incident.
An FIR (Case no. 80/2019) has been registered in relation to the incident at Biswanath Police Station under Sections 143/341/325/294(a)/295A/153-A(
Subhan Chandra Das, officer in-charge, Biswanath PS, says he received a phone call around 4pm Sunday informing him that a man was being assaulted by a group. “I and five other policemen immediately rushed to the spot. There, I saw a man was made to kneel down and (was being) punched and slapped by a mob. There were around 100 people. I made my way through the mob and stood behind the person trying to save him from the assault. The mob also tried to push me. Somehow, I put him in our vehicle. But the mob gheraoed (encircled) our vehicle demanding we leave the man to them. I called for additional help. Paramilitary forces also came,” says Das.
The mob had by then started assaulting Kamal Thapa, another mahaldar, who had tried to save Shaukat Ali. “We again went into the mob and rescued him as well” says Das, adding, “We have arrested one person identified as Dipen Baruah. We have identified few more and located houses of two. But they are absconding.”
The OC denied identified suspects’ allegiance to any political or religious outfit as per the “available information”.
Biswanath Chariali Deputy Commissioner, Pabitra Ram Khaund, told Firstpost: “Cooked beef was being sold in one of the small hotels in the weekly market and this has been going on for long, but nobody has come to the DC or the SP to complain about it as yet. Selling of beef is not banned here, but there are some sections of law under which you can ban selling of beef if it breaches the tranquility of the place. But, so far no such incident had occurred until two days ago.”
Khaund says the district administration held a meeting with two organisations on Monday and two people were picked up for questioning while measures to contain the situation were being taken. Biswanath happens to be a peaceful place more or less, but the video that has gone viral has created tension in the town, says the DC.
“In this town area, there is no problem as yet, and today (Tuesday) also we have called a meeting with all the local organisations. The SP (Superintendent of Police) and I have been constantly on the move and we are in close contact with the paramilitary, as elections are (scheduled) here after two days,” he adds. Five of the 14 Lok Sabha constituencies of Assam go to poll on 11 April in first phase of general elections 2019.
Thapa, who tried to save Ali from the mob violence, says the group had contacted him after threatening Ali on Thursday. “When Shaukat Ali came to me to inform about the incident (on Thursday), I asked him not to sell beef for a few days, as it was election time and the situation regarding selling and eating of beef in the country can scale into anything. Shaukat agreed to follow my advice.”
Kuddus Ali, a student leader who witnessed the attack on Ali, says, “Tension was brewing up since Thursday when some people went to Shaukat Ali’s hotel and took a video of the beef he (had) kept in his hotel separately. The group asked him whether he has permission from the market committee to sell beef in his hotel. The group later warned him not to sell beef.”
Kuddus Ali adds that four-five hotels in the market have been selling beef for decades on weekly market days, which are Sunday and Thursday. The customers who consume it are served separately in a closed room. For others in the market, these shops serve tea and biscuits.
Pork is also served by non-Muslim shop owners in the market, albeit not in closed rooms, like beef has always been served by the Muslim shopkeepers over last few decades.
Shaukat Ali’s son, Abdul Wahab, 14, says the hotel they own in the market was established by his grandfather. “After his death, my father used to run the hotel. On Sunday, he closed the hotel early as it was a rainy day and there were not many customers. But he was dragged from his bicycle on his way to Phulphali, where we reside, and was taken in front of Chariali Girls Higher Secondary School, a kilometre away from the market. He was tortured brutally. Now, he is admitted at the Biswanath Chariali Civil Hospital. The doctor attending him told me that he almost has no skin on his back due to the torture. He has sustained chest and head injury as well,” says the teenage son.
Mahmudal Hassan, district president of AAMSU and an eye witness to the assault, says, “A person called Kalam called me up to inform that a person was being beaten up in the market. Immediately, I went to the police station. But, I was informed that a police team had left for the spot. I, too, went there and saw Shaukat Ali gheraoed by a mob. The mob had already beaten him up, there was blood all over his shirt, and he was almost losing conscious.”
Reportedly, Ali was thrashed with sticks and rods, and his bicycle was also destroyed by the mob. While he was being beaten, another group vandalised his hotel, broke the utensils and lifted away gas cylinders, cooking pots and food items. “The group though didn’t find beef in his hotel that day,” says Hassan.
Civil society organisations staged protest against the incident in Guwahati on Tuesday.
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