More than Meets the Eye: On the Attack Against A Bengaluru Activist For Reporting an Allegedly Illegal Slaughterhouse to the Police

Javed and the DCP Shanarappa both told me that Neeraj’s car had “destroyed” Javed's shop. After the incident, Javed said, all the shops in the area shut down “because the owners were scared for their lives and livelihoods.” Kedar Nagarajan
03 November, 2017

On the evening of 14 October, Nandini Neeraj, an animal-rights activist, filed a complaint at the Talaghattapura police station in Bengaluru, alleging that residents of Avalahalli, a Muslim-majority neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city, were illegally slaughtering cows. After filing the complaint, Neeraj returned to Avalahalli. According to various accounts she later gave to the police and to the media, her car was pelted with bricks and stones, causing it great damage, and injuring her and her friend Rijil V, who was also in the car.

Neeraj claimed in these later accounts that two constables had accompanied her on the second trip as well, but had fled as soon as the attack began. After the stone- and brick-pelting ceased, she returned to the police station to file a second complaint. She stated in this complaint that “we found ourselves surrounded by a murderous mob in a dead end near the slaughter house & the place where 11 cattle were hidden in inhuman conditions.” On 18 October, the Bengaluru police posted a press release on their official Twitter account. In it, the police disputed certain aspects of Neeraj’s account of the incident—the statement denied that two constables had accompanied her on her second trip, and noted that Neeraj’s car, a Toyota Innova, had also hit an auto and a meat shop in the area, which accompanied the pelting.

In the aftermath of the incident, Neeraj claimed to the Indian Express that Karnataka was becoming a “mini Pakistan,” which is being controlled by an “animal slaughter mafia.” On 17 October, the news channel Times Now ran a 50-minute debate titled “Will Anyone Stand Up For Gau Sevaks?” which chronicled cases of attacks against cow-protection activists. In fact, most media reports of the incident included only Neeraj’s claims, not those of the residents of Avalahalli. Neither the residents nor the police denied that Neeraj had been attacked—several residents admitted to me that a mob had thrown stones and bricks at her car. However, my conversations with them raised doubts about the authenticity of Neeraj’s account of the circumstances leading up to the attack, as well as the occurrence of alleged illegal cow slaughter in the area.

Neeraj and the police narrated different accounts of the events that transpired on the night of the attack. According to Neeraj, that evening, she and a few “fellow animal lovers,” were driving through Tippu circle, at a distance of around 300 metres from Avalahalli, when they saw “14 cows tied in the middle of nowhere.” She continued, “Near Tippu circle, we noticed that there were these cows and when we looked a little further, we saw some illegal beef shops.” When I asked her how she identified these shops as illegal, she merely said that “shops that sell meat legally usually have their licences outside the shop,” she said.

Neeraj was unclear about how they came to the conclusion that the area had an illegal slaughterhouse. She said that her friend Rijil, who she said was an officer with the Animal Welfare Board of India—a statutory body that advises the central government on issues concerning animal welfare—saw people taking two of these cows into a narrow lane, and he decided to pursue them on foot. According to Neeraj, Rijil found some dimly lit rooms at the end of the lane. She claimed that these rooms were being used to supply “illegal beef” to the meat shops around the area. But she offered no explanation regarding how they identified the shops as selling illegally-procured beef. She only seemed to be assertive about her and Rijil’s suspicions that the shops at the end of the lane were the source for the “illegal beef” being sold in the market. (I was unable to speak to Rijil about the incident—neither the police nor the Karnataka Animal Welfare Board was able to provide me his number. Neeraj declined multiple requests for the same, stating that Rijil did not wish to speak on the issue.)

On 25 October, I visited Avalahalli. During this visit, aspects of Neeraj’s claims about the alleged slaughterhouse began to appear unlikely. The area is predominantly populated by the Muslim community, and is characterised by its marketplace, which has several clothes shops, Jersey cow milk shops, and meat shops. Off the main market road, at a distance of about 500 metres, lies the opening to the lane where the attack on Neeraj’s car took place. Standing at the spot, it was evident that it would be impossible for anyone to identify the shops at the end of the lane from the main road. Moreover, the multiplicity of milk shops in the area that advertised “jersey cow milk,” also made it seem likely that there would be a large number of cows in the area. As a result, Neeraj’s account of Rijil pursuing two people herding cows into the lane seemed wanting for an explanation.

This was reinforced by the fact that I did not spot any slaughterhouses in the area. There was a meat shop at the end of the lane with a signboard that read “Limra Beef Stall,” but it did not appear large enough to be a slaughterhouse. Rafi Ahmed, an employee at the beef stall, told me that they bought their meat from Shivaji Nagar, where a state-government sanctioned slaughterhouse is situated. Javed, a resident of the area who owned a meat shop that stood opposite the beef stall—he did not give me a last name—said that he did not believe the newspapers reports stating that Neeraj and her friends noticed illegal cow slaughter in the area and then decided to inspect it. “You are here and you have enough brains to know that no one can see this place from any main road unless they know exactly what they are looking for,” he told me. “Does this small gully and the space behind it look like an adequate facility to be a slaughterhouse?” Rafi asked.

Neeraj told me that after spotting the alleged slaughterhouse, she and Rijil then visited the Talaghattapura police station, where she filed a complaint under the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, and Section 429 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises “mischief by killing or maiming cattle.” Neeraj said the police assured her that around 20–25 police officers had been sent to the spot to save the cattle. “However, it had been two hours since we filed the complaint and there was no sign of any cattle coming back to the police station,” she said.

Assuming that the officers could not locate the spot, Neeraj told me that she and Rijil returned to the spot in her car, accompanied by two constables, only to find that “the situation was becoming increasingly dangerous.” She added that nearly 40 people had gathered at the opening to the lane, which led her to believe that the other officers were at the “slaughterhouse” down the road. However, when she reached the dead end, she said that despite the presence of officers at the spot, her car was pelted with bricks, which shattered the car’s rear windshield. She added that the two constables fled the car as soon as the attack began.

Neeraj also claimed that one of the constables left his helmet in the car while fleeing, and sent me a blurry image of the helmet in the car as proof that constables had accompanied her. In the image, an object that resembles a green-coloured helmet is visible on the floor of the car. When I asked her why the constable had carried a helmet while going in their car, she said it was because “they knew the area was going to be dangerous.”

According to SD Sharanappa, the district commissioner of police (south) of the Bengaluru city police, no constables accompanied Neeraj and Rijil. “She is confusing the incident,” Sharanappa said. He added: “She went there despite being told by the local police not to go to an area where there was a threat of mob violence.” Sharanappa also told me that Neeraj had not mentioned the helmet or the image to the police. “Let her send us the image,” he said. “We will investigate it.”

During my visit to Avalahalli, I met Anees Ahmed and Bashir, both residents of the area who appeared to be in their mid thirties, and worked as drivers for vehicles that transported different kinds of goods. (Bashir, too, did not give me a last name.) According to Anees, “there is no point in denying that violence had taken place that evening.” “Everyone here knows that people gathered and threw stones at her car and that there was an angry mob that day.” Bashir added that the hostility by the residents of the area was a response to the presence of the police, who had reached the area before Neeraj returned. Further, he claimed, the residents were angered because Neeraj was “driving at nearly 80 kilometres in this extremely narrow lane and she ended up damaging property.” According to him, newspaper reports on the incident “did what they always do—paint a negative picture of Muslims.” “Many of us saw to it that the mob cleared for her to leave,” he claimed.

The property that Neeraj damaged was Javed’s meat shop, opposite the beef stall in the area. Javed and the DCP Shanarappa both told me that Neeraj’s car had “destroyed” the shop. After the incident, Javed said, all the shops in the area shut down “because the owners were scared for their lives and livelihoods.” Ahmed, the Limra Beef Stall employee, said that he would never go back to working in such an establishment if “putting in a hard day’s work” could land him in jail. He continued, “There was undoubtedly violence that happened that night, but that’s because the police came and acted on a complaint about something that does not happen here.”

Sharanappa told me that this was the first complaint about cattle slaughter in Avalahalli. “We have never received a complaint like this before, but we acted on this one immediately,” he said. Javed told me that he had heard of similar such complaints being filed in other areas such as Ilyas Nagar, another Muslim-majority locality on the outskirts of Bengaluru, which have slaughterhouses. “We have heard of similar such incidents taking place from friends of ours in Ilyas Nagar, but I do not know whether the locals did the same thing there.” He added, “We will all stop selling meat, but will Modi give us a job?”

The fear among the residents was evident. Before meeting Anees and Bashir, I had interacted with at least seven other residents—each of them had said that they were “too worried” to speak about the incident. “The gosht sellers in our community are always suspected and targeted on highways and that night, they felt even more threatened,” Anees said. Javed indicated that the anger among the residents was because Neeraj’s complaint had the potential to affect the livelihood of Avalahalli’s residents. “I have a college degree in B Com”—bachelor of commerce—“but for people that come from neighbourhoods like these, getting jobs like yours is rather difficult,” Javed told me. “She has said this area is operated by a meat mafia—look at the condition of the homes and the sanitation facilities here, don’t you think mafia money could have been used to improve the state of affairs here?”

Neeraj told me that when she returned to the Talaghattapura police station to file a complaint about the attack, the police did not ask her about the attack or record her or Rijil’s statements “from 9.30 pm to 2 am.” However, the complaint notes that it was signed and received by the police officers “at about 23.45 pm.”  Referring to the attack, she said, “I am sure the police at the station received this information because they had prepared in their mind how they were going to treat me.” She added that she believed the police to be hand in glove with the “meat mafia,” because there is a lot of money to be made from the sale of illegal meat.

The DCP Sharanappa told me that the police had registered her complaint that night. He added that on 16 October, the police arrested 11 people from the Avalahalli area for rioting and destruction of public property, and three people under Section 429 of the IPC and the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act. When I asked him about the basis of these arrests, his response did not seem to suggest that there was evidence that indicated the occurrence of illegal cow slaughter. He said that “the investigation as to whether or not there was a slaughter is still underway.” “The sections we used were as per the complaint,” he added.

When I asked Sharanappa about Neeraj’s allegation of police complicity in the illegal sale of beef in the area, he said that “she can file a complaint to a higher authority if she believes this.” “I have no desire to engage with a baseless allegation that is being made to serve a vested interest,” Sharanappa added. Vijay Kumar, a sub-inspector at the Talaghattapura police station who was the investigating officer of both complaints, echoed the deputy commissioner. Kumar emphasised that Neeraj and Rijil returned to the spot, despite being cautioned against doing so. “What is striking me is why they felt the need to take the law into their own hands,” he said.

Ayaz Haneef, a senior resident of the area who ran a provision store, told me that the police had “arrested people at random.” Ayaz, too, told me that there was no illegal cow slaughter in the area, and condemned the attack. “The younger boys here got agitated by the events that evening and retaliated—it should not have happened, but it did,” Haneef said. “She is an animal lover, then why did she not complain about the goats that we have tied here?” he asked.

Rafi Ali, a resident and owner of a small soap-production unit in the area, told me, “I can say for sure that jersey cows in this area are used by their owners for milk and not meat.” He added that there was as much money in it as in the meat trade and more safety in using the cattle for milk. “Things are changing for people like us, we have only recently been feeling like outsiders,” he said. Softly, he added, “The activist has called this area Pakistan—you tell me whether or not that sounds politically motivated.”

Among those who were arrested, I was only able to speak to Sheikh Aiyaz, one of the 11 people who was arrested for rioting. “I cannot say much because, there is going to be a case against me,” Aiyaz said. “But when you rich people come and prevent us from being able to earn money for our families—anger is the first feeling.”