In Rajasthan’s Bharatpur, an election under the shadow of vigilante violence

Published - April 17, 2024 11:44 pm IST - Bharatpur

More than a year after two men were allegedly abducted and burnt to death in a car in Haryana’s Bhiwani, fear of gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes) has made protection of life a key election issue among the Muslim voters in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur, which goes to the polls in the first phase on April 19.

The charred bodies of the cousins from Bharatpur’s Ghatmeeka village – 39-year-old Junaid and 25-year-old Nasir – were recovered nearly three days after they went missing while on their way to neighbouring Alwar district looking for a groom for their niece.

The victims were allegedly targeted by the gau rakshaks on suspicion of “cow smuggling”. At least five persons, including Haryana-based cow vigilante Monu Manesar, were named in the FIR.

With very few job opportunities available, most people in Muslim-dominated Ghatmeeka are engaged in either farming or farm labour. Those with no land also work as truck drivers in Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, and Rajasthan. Some others sell and buy cattle for a living.

For Muslim families in the village and nearby areas, the fear of being picked up by the police or by cow vigilantes has left them anxious about their future in the district that’s part of the infamously backward Mewat region – stretching from Alwar and Bharatpur districts of Rajasthan to Nuh, Palwal, Faridabad and Gurgaon districts of Haryana, and a few areas of western Uttar Pradesh, including Mathura. Muslims comprise 14.57% of the nearly 26 lakh population in the district.

“We all know the laws aren’t the same for Muslim people. The only way to ensure that we are being heard and seen is to go out and vote,” says Javed, 32, a truck driver.

Straight fight

The Bharatpur seat, reserved for the Scheduled Castes, witnessed a 58.81% voter turnout in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Ranjita Koli defeating Abhijeet Kumar Jatav of the Congress by a margin of 2,45,468 votes. In 2014 as well, BJP’s Bahadur Singh Koli won from the seat.

This time, the BJP has fielded former MP Ramswaroop Koli, 59, who is also a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Mr. Koli says his focus is on the development of the district including better connectivity. “It is going to boost the economy of Bharatpur and ensure easier travel for people with businesses,” the BJP candidate says in almost all his rallies. The district is known not only for agricultural production but also for its mustard oil processing industries.

However, locals of Bharatpur feel that more than trains, it’s the condition of the roads that should be a priority. “Politicians should first come and see the roads here. With no job opportunities, most of us have to move to other States to find low-paying work,” says Akram, 36, who drives a truck.

Up against Mr. Koli this time is Sanjana Jatav, 26, of the Congress, a former councillor who had unsuccessfully contested from the Kathumar constituency in the last Assembly election. The law graduate promises to focus on better education for children, farming facilities and hospitals.

Ms. Jatav feels the pressing need of the hour is to put an end to divisive politics. “People need hope for a better future and we are going to provide them employment facilities and education. There is no place for divisive politics here,” she says.

‘Just one demand’

In Nasir’s home in Ghatmeeka, his brother Mohd. Hamid, 28, also a truck driver, says it’s been 14 months since his brother’s murder and he hasn’t gone back to work in Haryana. “I’m scared for my life. There was violence against Muslims in Haryana’s Nuh as well. As voters, we just have one demand – provide us protection against such attacks so that we can live our life with dignity,” says Mr. Hamid.

Junaid’s widow Sajeeda, who lives around 200 metres from Nasir’s house, says groups of cow vigilantes come in cars and hurl abuses at people even now.

“Sometimes they pick up young men and take them to secluded locations to torture them. The police also work hand in glove with them since they [cow vigilantes] are very powerful. People are being booked in false cases and their families asked to pay bribes in lakhs,” says the mother of six children.

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