On 28 September, in Bishada village of Dadri district in Uttar Pradesh, a mob stormed into the house of Mohammed Iqlakh. The group beat 50-year-old Iqlakh to death, severely injured his 22-year-old son, tried to molest his 18-year-old daughter, and ransacked his house on the suspicion that the family had beef in their house. Samadhan Sena, an organisation that was recently set up in Dadri had reportedly spent the past few months raising issues such as “Muslim shops in Hindu areas, loudspeakers in mosques and cow slaughter” that, news reports suggest, may have set the stage for the incident.
Yesterday, I managed to meet Govind Chaudhary, the founder of Samadhan Sena, who hadn't yet spoken to the media, at his home in Beerpur. A stocky man in his early thirties, he spoke to me on the porch of his big house, affording me a view of the SUV that was was parked nearby. We were seated on plastic chairs and surrounded by young men from the neighbourhood; they were all from the Sena, most of them in their twenties. A bunch of elders sat on cots reading the newspapers, joking about the figure of compensation that Iqlakh’s family has been given by the ruling Samajwadi Party, “They’ve been given more importance than the martyrs in the Army."
“I have nothing to do with this Bishada case,” said Chaudhary. “The Muslim pradhans of the villages surrounding Beerpur [a village in Dadri that is six kilometers away from Bishada] told [The] Indian Express—and it was front page news—that I have been giving communal speeches. But me or my organisation doesn’t [sic] have any reach in Bishada. Ever since [the report was published], people from BBC, CNN and IBN have been coming here to ask me about that,” he continued, with a smile.
“They are just trying to malign my name because I am a BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] person, and as for the speeches, since I am a Hindu, I will of course talk of Hindutva,” he said. “I have been a volunteer of the [Rashtriya Swayamsevak] Sangh ever since childhood,” he said. He spoke fondly of the shakhas—the daily meetings held by the RSS—that he used to attend as a kid, when his father was actively involved in activities related to the Sangh around the area. “I learned things there, that was my education for six years,” he told me. He told me that he wanted to build the Samadhan Sena in the image of the RSS, and that this objective resulted in his organisation’s focus on the youth. Chaudhary claimed to have a degree in mass-communication from an open university.
Chaudhary was more than happy to flaunt his Hindutva credentials and his connections in the BJP hierarchy, mentioning in particular, his proximity to Mahesh Sharma, the culture minister in the Narendra Modi government. It was clear he was concerned about how he would be written about, “My request to you is, whatever you write, confirm and write. If you write anything misleading, then I can be a very dangerous man.”
“I have been actively involved since 2004 with the BJP leaders and their politics,” he said. Neighbours in the village and shopkeepers in Jhaarsa where he has his office do not take such claims at face value. “He is trying to get attention of the leaders in the BJP,” a man who runs a repair shop nearby but refused to be named, said. According to a neighbour, Chaudhary could not find a job for a long time, and is now trying to gain notoriety by using his links to the RSS. “BJP ke ghar me jaane ke liye Sangh ki seedhi to chadhni padegi na—To enter the BJP one has to use the RSS ladder,” the neighbour told me, adding, “Isili ye tamaashe kar rahe hain."—This is why he is creating this pantomime.
When I asked Chaudhary for his opinion on the manner in which the tragedy unfolded in Bishada, he replied by saying that it was a despicable act. He added, “But something is happening around here, the cows are disappearing, and it is not for no reason. We are talking about Bishada so much but no one is asking the government to build a cow-shelter on the subsidised land it owns.”
“We [the Sena] do grassroots work,” he told me, “like getting gas connections for the poor and fighting for electricity in the village.” Chaudhary appeared to believe that he has earned the affection of the people in the district because of his work. It is because of this, he said, that Bishada is not the first time his name has been brought up by the police and the local administration. He also asserted that he had been falsely accused of entering the house of the Jaarcha village pradhan, Ehsan Ilahi, with about a dozen others. Chaudhary said, “They allege that we wrecked the place, and misbehaved with the women in his house,” before adding that the police did not believe his version. “They didn’t believe me, so I wrote a letter and gave it to Mahesh Sharmaji.” The charges were dropped later, but there is no indication that Sharma helped him. During the course of our conversation, Chaudhary reiterated once again, that he shares a close bond with the culture minister. “Both politically and socially, I have an excellent relationship with Mahesh Sharma,” he said.
Every time I tried to get his response on the issue of the mob-lynching in Bishada, he answered by asking a counter question: “A day before Eid, people caught a couple of Muslims taking a cow and a calf in their vehicle for slaughter, the police was informed, why hasn’t there been any arrests on that so far?” When I pressed him for his comments on the lynching once again, he said, “Do you realise that Shias and Sunnis—both Muslims—do much worse to each other than anyone can do to them?”
When I asked him about what people in the area thought had led to the incident, Chaudhary said, “This was either because of some internal rift between the family and everyone else, or they must have had beef, there is no other way. From what I’ve heard, people did try going to the police, but the police didn’t take them seriously. When they were not taken seriously, the people were angry, and when they returned they took the law in their own hands.’’
Referring to the relationship between the Samajwadi Party and Muslims, he said, “Their morale is high because this government has made a habit of appeasing them. It is the same story around every Eid, and all this is because of the state government. Even the vehicle in which they were carrying the cow and the calf a day before this last Eid had a flag of the Samajwadi Party.”
As I was concluding the conversation, Chaudhary told me, "Kitna gambhir vishay hai ye? Gau hatya—par koi baat nahi kar raha. Baat kiski kar rahe hain? Ki ek Musalman mar gaya. Matlab, behenchod, desh badal jana chahiye. Mecca me kitne musalman mar gaye? Kya hua? JCB se utha ke fek diye. Kya kar sakte hain? Aur hindustan me JCB lagayi hoti to? Manavadhikaar wale aa jate"—Cow slaughter is such an important issue but no one is talking about it. What are they talking about? That one Muslim has died. And so, sisterfuckers, the country should change itself? How many Muslims died in Mecca? What happened? They used a JCB [the colloquial expression used for an excavator] to lift and dispose off the bodies and if they had used a JCB in India? The Human Rights brigade would have landed up.