One of the victims of the vigilante attack in Jammu district. Photo: By arrangement

By Umer Maqbool

Srinagar: Two Muslim men from the Gujjar community were injured in a brutal attack by self-styled cow vigilantes on Thursday night in Jammu. The men were returning home along with the a pair of oxen they had bought to plough their fields.

The horrific incident has sent shockwaves throughout the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory, with political groups and activists demanding stern punishment against those involved in the attack. They appealed to the administration to ensure that such horrific incidents do not reoccur in the region, which has seen an increasing number of assaults by so-called ‘cow vigilantes’ over the past few years.

The victims told The Wire that 15-20 locals attacked them with lathis and stones at the Gorda village of Jammu district at around 9 pm on Thursday, when the duo were returning home along with a pair of oxen they had purchased four-five days ago from a neighbouring village.

“They had laid an ambush in the area. We didn’t notice them in the darkness. When we were half a kilometre away from our house, I was hit by a sharp object – perhaps stone or lathi – on the head. Suddenly, 15-20 persons pounced upon us with sticks and stones,” said 45-year-old Muhammad Siddiq, a resident of the Gorda village.

His cousin Amir Hussain (42) said they were ruthlessly beaten up for more than 90 minutes by the self-styled vigilantes.

“They told us, ‘You are cattle traders and want to sell them in Srinagar.’ We kept telling them, ‘We have nothing to do with the trade.’ They did not listen and continued to beat us. We started bleeding profusely and fell unconscious. The police came and rescued us from their clutches,” he said.

Siddiq and Hussain were later admitted to the Government Medical College, Jammu for treatment. They told The Wire that they received multiple stitches to the head.

“Purchased cattle for Rs 35,000”

Siddiq said that he had purchased the pair of oxen from a person in the neighbouring Orka village for Rs 35,000 earlier this week. “I am a poor farmer. I cannot afford to purchase a tractor for ploughing the field. So I decided to buy a pair of oxen,” he said.

“On the day I purchased them, I was feeling tired and decided to rest at my sister’s house at Dhanu village. I was fasting and fell asleep there. I woke up at 6:30 pm and asked my nephew to drop me at my home on his motorcycle so that I could break my fast on time. I left the oxen at their home,” he said.

Siddiq went to his sister’s home on Thursday evening to bring the oxen home.

The attackers also shot videos of their grisly assault. In one of the videos, which went viral on social media, the victims can be seen bleeding profusely while the attackers are abusing them. The Wire has accessed the videos but is not publishing them. The Wire is also in possession of graphic images showing the injuries of the victims.

Meanwhile, the Jammu and Kashmir Police has registered an attempt to murder case against the attackers. “We have arrested one of them and are conducting raids to nab the others,” station house officer of Ghorta, Khyati Maan Khajuria, told The Wire.

Widespread condemnation

The incident has triggered widespread resentment in Jammu and Kashmir, with political parties and people demanding stern punishment against the perpetrators of the horrific attack.

National Conference spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar demanded stern action against the culprits.

“Right wing goons cannot hide their colors for long. In solidarity with our Gujjar brethren who have to face this even in times like these. I hope the Jammu administration, @igpjmu have taken note of it and will puruse the culprits and book them under relevant provision of law,” he tweeted.

Congress leader and former MLA Surankote Choudhary Muhmmad Akram appealed to Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to look into the matter and ensure the safety of Gujjars in the region.

Youth tribal activist Choudhary Guftar Ahmad demanded stern punishment for the accused.

Spate of attacks

Over the past few years, members of the Gujjar community have faced numerous attacks from self-styled cow vigilantes in the Jammu region.

In April 2017, five members of a nomadic family including a nine-year-old were attacked by the vigilantes in the Reasi district of Jammu when they were travelling with their livestock.

Last year, a group of “cow vigilantes” savagely beat up a man and his nephew in the same district after the former’s son drove away a cow which was grazing in their field.

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