“Not a single bone of his body was unbroken. Both arms and legs were fractured in three places each. His shoulders and all his ribs were broken,” Haroun Khan spoke up from amongst the group of men who were sitting in the courtyard of Rakbar Khan’s home. Haroun is Rakbar’s first cousin and the man who went to the mortuary to claim Rakbar’s corpse.
“When I first received the body, it was frozen and seemed stiff. Rakbar had been dressed in new clothes that did not belong to him. As the temperature rose, we realised the extent of the injuries on the body. Even his neck was broken, his face was turning all the way to the back,” he said, holding his own neck. He began to sob.
I visited Rakbar Khan’s home, in Kolgaon village in tehsil Ferozepur Jhirka of Haryana’s Nuh district, on Tuesday, as part of a group representing the civil-society initiative Karwan e Mohabbat. When the Karwan team arrived, a large group of about 200 people was sitting outside Rakbar’s home. The leaders of the community and many others had gathered to make sure that the family was not alone in this time of mourning. These included Naseem Ahmed, the current member of legislative assembly of Ferozepur Jhirka, two former MLAs—Azad Mohammad and Habib Ur Rahman—and Lekh Raj, the sarpanch of a nearby village, Doha. The air hung heavy with a sense of helplessness, grief and bafflement.
Rakbar was a dairy farmer. His is yet another name that has been added to the growing list of victims who have been brutally assaulted and killed in the name of protecting cows. On the intervening night between 20 July and 21 July, Rakbar and his friend Aslam were returning from the neighbouring tehsil of Ramgarh in the district of Alwar, Rajasthan after buying cattle from there. A group of self-styled gau rakshaks attacked them. Rakbar was brutally beaten, and subsequently died, while in police custody.
Villagers told us that Rakbar Khan and Aslam were walking back with the cows at night for two reasons. In recent years, it has become commonplace for groups of men to stop dairy farmers on the highway and extort money from them, or threaten to beat them up and seize their animals. Walking back through the fields also meant that Rakbar would be able to save on the cost of hiring a vehicle to transport them. Both men had hoped that the choice to walk through the fields at night would make them less vulnerable to the threat of assault or extortion.