The Karnataka High Court has granted conditional bail to cow vigilante murder accused Puneeth Kerehalli and four others who were arrested in connection with the murder of a Muslim man. They were arrested on April 5 as they were suspected of killing a Muslim man on suspicion of cow theft, in Karnataka’s Ramanagara district. They were denied bail by the trial court, hence they moved the high court.
Kerehalli and other accused were booked on charges of murder, assault, criminal intimidation, wrongful restraint and intentional insult to provoke breach of peace. All accused are known to be associated with Rashtra Rakshana Pade, founded by Kerehalli.
The alleged murder took place on March 31 when Indrees Pasha (deceased was travelling with his two associates Syed Zaheer and Irfan from Mandya to their village. Pasha, 38, was found dead on a roadside in Sathanur village of Ramanagara district, about 150km from Bangalore.
The police said a group of five vigilantes had allegedly stopped Pasha’s truck full of cattle in Sathanur and brutally assaulted its three occupants. Syed Zaheer, one of Pasha’s two companions who survived the reported attack, told the media that the vigilantes refused to let the truck go even after Pasha told them he had papers to prove he had, legitimately, bought the animals at a cattle market. He also said the assailants asked the trio to “go to Pakistan”.
The shocking discovery of Pasha’s body led to local people blocking the road and demanding immediate arrests.
At the end of February 2023, the BJP state animal husbandry minister Prabhu Chavan had declared: “This election is a battle between cow protectors and cow slaughterers…. The Congress and its leaders are more interested in slaughtering our cows and culture.”
The FIR, reportedly, indicates that Pasha possessed valid documentation confirming the legality of the cattle he was transporting from the local market. Kerehalli and his associates allegedly continued to intimidate Pasha and his associates, demanding a ransom of Rs 2 lakh for his release, while issuing threats to his life, reported Varatha Bharati.
Speaking to The Quint, Shamsuddin, a 55-year-old tractor mechanic and Pasha’s uncle, said, “I, along with the rest of the family, saw his body. Electric shocks were given on his arms, on his neck. They hit his jaw with a bat, his head was also damaged. We got his body after post mortem for burial. When we were trying to clean the body with water, his skin was coming off.”
The Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation, 1964 law prohibited the slaughter of cows, she buffaloes and calves of both species and either gender. The new law, however, bans the slaughter of oxen and bulls as well, while allowing the slaughter of buffaloes of both genders if certified as at least 15 years old.
This new law also prescribes jail terms of three to seven years and a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh, or both, for a first offence, and jail terms of up to seven years and a fine between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 10 lakh, or both, for any subsequent offence. The now-repealed old law prescribed jail terms of up to six months, a fine of up to Rs 1,000, or both.
The Congress, then in opposition, had promised to repeal the new law if elected to power.