Representational image. Photo: PTI

By Vivek Gupta

Chandigarh: Tension continues to prevail in Himachal Pradesh’s Indora sub-division of Kangra district days after the dead body of a cow was found in the Surdwan panchayat on December 9. With the local right-wing groups protesting and the region being home to a sizeable Gujjar population (nomadic Muslim community), the local administration is on tenterhooks.

After the dead body of the cow was found under “mysterious conditions” on December 9, the local unit of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has been protesting, pointing to “brutal” injuries on the cow’s body at multiple places.

While the postmortem report had confirmed that external injuries were not responsible for the cow’s death, local VHP leaders continue to exert pressure on the local administration for “justice to be done in the case”.

Local VHP leader Sunil Dutt, who is heading the protest, claimed that the post mortem report had left several questions unanswered.

“Even if we assume that the cow had died of natural reasons, it is equally true that after the death, its body was deliberately brutalised,” he told The Wire.

“There are no clear answers how such brutal external injuries appeared on the body: who did this and why it was done,” he added.

Dutt added, “It is wrong to assume that we are targeting any particular community for the cow’s murder. But at the same time, it is equally true that no Hindu could attempt this shameless act.”

He added that their demand was only to ensure that exemplary punishment was served on those who had hurt the sentiments of the Hindu community.

Dutt claimed that a series of events have “deeply hurt the sentiments of the Hindu community”. Five months ago, two pieces of Shivling had been found almost at the same place where the dead body of the cow was found now, he said.

“This indicates that attempts are being made to divide the society, which we will not tolerate at any cost,” he said.

‘Can’t blame Gujjars’: Community leader

Murid Hussain, who is a local Gujjar leader and a member of the BJP, told The Wire that his community was not involved in the act.

Hussain, who served as the chairman of the Himachal Pradesh Wakf Board in the previous BJP government, said, “Ever since the first Gaushala came up in Indora, our community has been donating fodder stock every year as part of a goodwill gesture.”

“I see the recent events in the area as an attempt to spoil the centuries-old brotherhood between Gujjars and the Hindu community, he added.

He said, “Ours is a unique area where people of all communities share a deep bond. To cite an example, members from all communities voted for me when I was first elected to the Zila Parishad.”

“Members of the Hindu community did so much for us in the area. They even protected us during Independence. How we can ever think of hurting their religious sentiments,” Hussain added.

On aspersions being caste by certain groups on the involvement of the Gujjars, he replied, “I can’t say why it is being done. There were reports of fodder stock of a few Gujjar families being burnt after the dead body of the cow was found. I can only hope that things remain peaceful.”

Hussain said that ever since he joined the BJP, “more than half my community has voted for the party and they will keep voting that way in future as well”.

‘Encroachment of land by Gujjars’

When contacted, Kangra superintendent of police Kaushal Chand Sharma told The Wire that the fundamental question for the police was to find whether the cow was deliberately killed or not.

“The post mortem report has clarified that the external injuries or wounds found on the cow’s body could not have caused its death,” said SP.

“The report further clarified that external injuries were due to sharp objects, which could be the result of some predator or wild animal,” he added.

Sharma said while a first information report (FIR) had already been filed, the investigation into the matter was still underway.

Upon being asked about the ‘suspicion’ expressed by some section of protestors against the Gujjars, he claimed that this was the product of resentment brought about by the encroachment of local government land by Gujjar families. He said the local administration had already started the eviction process.

A member of a local VHP group told The Wire that in revenue records of the Himachal government, a portion of the land is reserved in all villages as gochar bhumi (grazing ground for cows and other animals). The nature of this land cannot be changed under any circumstances.

“Over time, Gujjars from other areas have settled here and encroached the gochar land, which must be evacuated at the earliest and should be used for making cow shelters and grazing. Otherwise, cows have to roam on the roads,” he added.

Madan Lal, the naib tehsildar of Indora area, said, “We don’t have any entry of gochar bhumi in our revenue records. We are sending notices against the encroachment of government wasteland classified in our revenue record as gair mumkin khad, charagah bila drakhtan, charagah drakhtan and banjar qadim.”

“So far, we have sent 83 notices in four villages including Kursan, Ghandran, Upparli Band and Nichi Band. Many who have been served notices have constructed pakka houses and they have been asked to vacate the premises at the earliest,” he said.

He said, “Law-and-order has become a challenging job for us in the area. But there is no discrimination as far as sending notices. Of total notices served so far, nearly 50% of them are sent to Gujjar families while another half is sent to members of other communities.”

‘Needless politicisation’: Local Congress leader

Davinder Mankotia, Congress president of Indora block, told The Wire that if the postmortem report had clarified that external factors were not responsible for the cow’s death, there was no need to raise the matter.

“This leads to tension among communities and ultimately spoils the social fabric of the society,” he said.

When contacted, the BJP MLA from Indora, Reeta Devi, she said that the death of the cow can’t be taken lightly as the matter was of “deep concern for all Hindus”.

“I met protesters on Thursday and conveyed to them that although the post mortem report indicates that the death of the cow was due to natural reasons, we are ready to re-examine the post mortem report if they have any doubt over the current report. The local administration is already investigating the matter,” she said.

She said another demand of the protesters was the eviction of the Gujjars from the government land. “Gujjars are staying here for long. Evicting them so sudden is not possible as every legal system has a process,” she added.

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