A two-hour drive from Delhi leads to Nuh district in Haryana. But its proximity to the national capital region doesn’t save it from the tag of being labelled the ‘most backward district in the country’. Nuh (earlier Mewat), predominately inhabited by Meo Muslims, scored the lowest on development indicators such as health, education and infrastructure as per the 2018 NITI Aayog report.
“The biggest challenge here is education because our people are illiterate. We here don’t have schools that provide a decent education. Our schools don’t have teachers, drinking water and sanitation facility, especially for girl students,” says Mohd Qasim, a 38-year-old social activist from the district.
But what’s kept Nuh in the news in recent years, are its brutal cases of mob lynching and cow vigilantism.
A carpenter by profession, Qasim grew up in Sikhrawa, a village with a population of 20,000. But the sad state of affairs in his village compelled him to venture into social activism. What began as a struggle over basic civic issues soon turned into a fight to seek justice for families torn apart by mob violence.
Qasim is a member of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, an Islamic organisation working for the interests of Muslims in India. He and a few other of his teammates are offering assistance to the victims and their families affected by mob violence. “We look after their expenses, especially the education of their children. We try our best to help those families which lost their main source of income,” he says.
For someone who has to fend for a family of five, social activism can mean cutting down on family time as well as jeopardising finances. But the most difficult part, according to him, is to provide proper legal assistance to the victims.
“You can see that in all these cases of lynching, police have always sided with the accused, right from day one. They have painted a different version of events in all these cases. I feel that all these things are being done in a planned manner,” he says.
Around 15 kilometres from Sikhrawa is Jaisingpur, the village where Pehlu Khan’s family stays. Two years ago, Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer, was lynched by a mob of cow vigilantes who allegedly suspected him of cattle smuggling in Rajasthan’s Alwar. The incident sparked nationwide outrage over growing instances of cow vigilantism. But two years down the line, nothing has improved for the family.”No substantial action has been taken till now. We haven’t any support from anyone, be it from any politician or from police officials,” Irshad, Pehlu Khan’s son says.
But what hurts them the most is the way the investigation is heading. In September 2018, Irshad was attacked by the accused while he was on his way to take part in court proceedings. The accused allegedly followed his car and opened fire at him. Irshad says he even took the matter to the Superintendent of Police, Alwar. “The local police were hand in glove with the accused. They said that I was lying and making things up,” he says.
Khalil Ahmed, a daily wage labourer, who lives in Rithat village doesn’t have anything different to say. Mohd Azeem, his eight-year-old son, was killed outside a madrassa in Delhi last year, in an alleged incident of mob violence.
“When I recently went to Delhi and met people there, I was told that my son’s murder was ‘accidental’. I was told that such things happen. I could see no remorse or fear in the eyes of those who killed my child. Even police told me to let bygones be bygones,” he says.
“My son’s death is the biggest loss I have ever faced. I don’t think justice would be easy,” he adds.
Qasim, who is fighting for justice for the victims, is well aware of the potential risks that he’s facing. But his determined to put an end to mob violence and vigilantism. “Till now, I have never been threatened by anyone. But there is a fear,” he says while signing off.