The Belly of the Beast

Inside India’s Hindu cattle-smuggling networks

30 April, 2021

POLICE OFFICERS ARE USUALLY happy to be interviewed about successful operations. They might narrate the details with great flair, while juniors who are around may chip in now and then with additional bits of information.

But Bhanu Pratap Singh, the station house officer at the Nawabganj police station, in Uttar Pradesh’s Gonda district, was far from enthusiastic when I asked him about a successful raid he had led on 4 January 2019. In that operation, a joint team of the Nawabganj police and the Uttar Pradesh police’s Special Weapons and Tactics unit rescued nearly a hundred cows and bulls from smugglers. The arrested smugglers told the police that they had planned to transport the animals to the city of Faizabad, twenty kilometres away. From there, they intended to make their way through Bihar and into West Bengal, which has fewer restrictions on cattle slaughter than Uttar Pradesh.

Singh was promoted to SHO after the operation and given charge of the Nawabganj police station. But, rather than boast about his success, he parried my questions about the raid with his own questions, trying to find out who had sent me and what my motivations might be. “The matter is two months old,” he said. “Why are you interested in it now?”

I told him why: because I had heard that among the eight people who were arrested in connection with the case—all Hindu except one—were Devender Baksh, the head of a village in the district, and his nephew Ankit Singh, the district general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s youth wing. Without naming Ankit, the Hindi newspaper Amar Ujala had reported that a BJP official had been picked up on charges of smuggling. A local journalist and a police official confirmed his name and designation to me. According to the news report, from late that night and until the next afternoon, police received calls from senior politicians. They finally had to cave into the pressure and release Ankit. “How much truth is there in this?” I asked Singh.