Self-styled cow vigilantes, enjoying immunity from right wing governments (led by the Bharatiya Janata Party-BJP) in power have been observed to have been weaponised bys such laws as the fact-finding report into the Idrees Pasha murder, observes.
The brutal killing of Idrees Pasha on the night of March 31 was preceded by inept prevention by local police, subsequent to the killing attackers were not apprehended even though police personnel witnessed assault and saw accused including Puneeth Kerejhalli using social media to broadcast the crimes; overall investigations faulty and weak, says the Fact Finding Report into the Murder of Idrees Pasha in Sathanuru, Ramnagar, Karnataka. The family was not even provided a copy of the post mortem report. Kerehalli and other accused were initially 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 fact-finding team comprised of advocate Sivamanithan, Siddharth K J, Dr. Sylvia Karpagam, Khasim Shoaib Qureshi and members of All India Jamaithul Quresh (Karnataka). The report, Fact Finding Report into the Murder of Idrees Pasha in Sathanuru, Ramnagar, Karnataka was released on May 25.
This report, apart from making strong recommendations for compensation, fair investigation and legal action, makes a specific recommendation for the repeal of the K’taka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020.
The 2020 Act, enacted along the lines of similar laws in several north Indian states (like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat) not only prohibits slaughter of cattle (defined as cow, calf of a cow and bull, bullock of all ages and he or she buffalo below the age of thirteen years) but also prohibits transport of cattle for slaughter. But since transportation of cattle is an activity which precedes any probable act of slaughter, determination of intended purpose of transport poses inherent difficulties, for it to be sustainable in law. The 2020 Act gets around this problem by defining a category of transport of cattle for ‘agricultural or animal husbandry purpose’ and imposing onerous procedural and documentary obligations on the transporters of cattle to prove that intended purpose of the transport falls within this category.
Every other instance of cattle transport is prohibited and is punishable with imprisonment of a minimum of 3 years. This means that a farmer with sick cattle requiring urgent medical attention has to go looking for the government Veterinary Officer for issuance of transport documents, and in case she is unable to do that, the farmer has to let the cattle die or risk going to jail for a minimum of 3 years! For example, if a farmer buys cattle from another farmer of a neighboring village and wants to transport it to his own village, falling in the same Gram Panchayath, to be able to do legally, s/he needs to go to the Veterinary Officer to get required documents. Thus the 2020 Act and the Rules made under it, make day-to-day cattle transactions prohibitively difficult and risky.
Although, the consumption, sale or possession of beef has not been prohibited, there has been instances where the Act has been invoked against those found in possession of beef or selling beef for suspicion of having violated the law (see Annexure for examples of such cases). The enactment of the 2020 Act has been accompanied by renewed moral legitimacy and impunity for weapon-wielding goons patrolling highways and lurking at corners, ready to pounce on cattle-carrying vehicles.
Details of this case
In this case too, Puneeth Kerehalli, a repeat offender, and his men followed them in their own vehicle and stopped them after another 100-200 meters, brandishing sticks and cricket wickets in their hands. At this point, all three occupants of the vehicle tried to run away from their attackers. Irfan who was sitting next to the left door of the vehicle ran first, and was followed by Idrees Pasha. They were chased by their attackers, while both of them ran in the dark to save their lives. While Irfan was able to evade the attackers, the attackers were able to get hold of Mr. Idrees Pasha and he was brutally attacked. The exterior marks on his fingers indicate possible use of electrical shock to assault him.
Meanwhile, the driver, Zaheer, was able to hide from the attackers. When he couldn’t hear any noises in the vicinity, he came out and was immediately grabbed by the attackers, who started beating him mercilessly. Around this time a Police Constable from Sathanuru PS who was withdrawing money from a nearby ATM, arrived at the spot and took one of the attackers and . Zaheer to the police station with him on his two-wheeler. The other attackers were heard saying that they are going back to search for remaining occupants of the vehicle. From the sequence of events described by the persons and officials interviewed by the team, it becomes clear that no attempt was made by the police personnel of Sathanuru PS to either restrain or apprehend the remaining attackers. In fact, the attackers went live on Facebook from police premises. It is also clear that no attempt was made by the police personnel to search for and protect the other two victims. The dead body of Mr. Idrees Pasha was found around 500 meters from the Police Station in the morning by residents of the area.
The first FIR (CR 0052/2023 at 1:00 am on 01-04-2023) that is filed in context of the incident is not against the attackers who have brazenly taken law in their hands just 500 meters outside the police station, but against the victims of the attack. The second FIR (CR 0053/2023 at 5:30 am on 01-04-2023) was filed against the attackers after 4.5 hours of the first FIR by which time the attackers have been allowed to leave the police station. By the time the dead body of
Idrees Pasha was discovered in the early hours of the day, his attackers had fled from the reach of the police. The third FIR (CR 0054/2023 at 16:00 pm on 01-04-2023) was filed late in the evening based on the complaint by Idrees Pasha’s brother. The sequence of the FIRs filed in the case indicate that the police prioritized the complaint of the attackers over the assault which one of the police personnel had witnessed first-hand.
When these troubling questions were placed before the Superintendent of Police (Ramanagara), the explanation provided was that there were very few police personnel (three) at the police station and they did the best they could in the given circumstances and with the available information and resources, and also that “one shouldn’t try to do a post mortem of the events with the advantage of hindsight”. The Superintendent of Police (Ramanagara) was emphatic in his assertion that no citizen is allowed to take the law in their hands and if they observe any crime being committed, it is their duty to bring this to the notice of the police, but in no circumstance can they take law into their hands. If that be the case, why then did the Sathanuru police not apprehend the attackers in the police station immediately? This would have probably saved Idrees Pasha’s life or at least ensured he reached a hospital on time.
On April 1 2023, newspapers reported on an incident of assault on 30th March 2023. by a group of self-appointed “cow vigilantes” led by Mr. Puneeth Kerehalli and other members of Rashtra Rakshana Pade on a group of three cattle traders in Sathanuru village, Kanakapura taluka, Ramanagara district. The attack led to the death of Mr. Idrees Pasha and injuries to his other two companions/associates, all residents of Mandya.
Subsequently, the fact-finding team spoke to the Circle Inspector (Kanakapura) who is the Investigating Officer in the cases and the Superintendent of Police (Ramanagara district). Names of some of the persons interviewed by team are not being disclosed to ensure their safety. Based on the statements of these individuals and officials, an account of the events that transpired on the intervening night between March 31 and April 1, 2023 at Sathanuru has been provided in the report, along with key observations and recommendations of the fact-finding team.
It is important to note that the Sathanuru incident was not the first instance of a group of self-appointed ‘cow- vigilantes’ taking the law into their hands by illegally restraining cattle-transporting vehicles along transport routes and then physically assaulting the occupants of the vehicle. There is an uptick in such instances of violence after the BJP government in Karnataka enacted the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020 (hereafter, the 2020 Act).
An Annexure to the Report provides an illustrative list of such incidents in the state. In fact, as we (Table reproduced below) were informed by the Superintendent of Police (Ramanagara), there are at least 11 such criminal cases only against Puneeth Kerehalli, the accused in the murder of Idrees Pasha.
Annexure: Illustrative List of Incidents of Violence after Passage of Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2020 (Act 1 of 2021)