‘Scared to Buy, Eat Meat’: Muslims in Mathura After Arrests on Suspicion of Cow Slaughter

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After reviewing seven FIRs filed in 2022 across various police stations in Mathura, ‘The Wire’ found that these were mere copies of each other with names and dates changed.

Mathura: On September 11, 2022, Sameer A., owner of a printing press, discovered some bags lying outside the main gate of his house in Mathura. As he opened the bags, he was shocked to find the bags containing pieces of buffalo meat.

After the Mathura Police was informed of the incident, Sameer was arrested, and sent to jail for 56 days on charges of ‘cow slaughter’ – a crime punishable in Uttar Pradesh with imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh.

On August 31, 2021, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath banned the sale of meat and liquor in 22 municipal wards of Mathura that come within a 1.5 kilometre radius of the Shri Krishna Janmasthan Temple – the birthplace of Krishna. In 2017, Adityanath had placed a similar ban in areas religious areas significant to Hinduism.

But many Muslims in Mathura have shared with The Wire that they have faced cases where the police have even arrested some of them on ‘suspicion’ of cow slaughter.

A case of same story, copied FIRs

The Wire reviewed seven FIRs filed in 2022 across various police stations in Mathura, including Kotwali, Highway, Sadar Bazaar, and Govind Nagar. It found that these FIRs were mere copies of each other with names and dates changed.

For instance, FIR 0345, filed on August 31, 2022 at Govind Nagar police station, says that the police received a tip from an informer that a woman and a man were transporting, rather allegedly smuggling, 43 kilograms of cow meat on foot.

Then again, FIR 0388, filed on June 25, 2022 at Kotwali police station, says that the police received a tip from an informer that two men and a woman were smuggling 6.4 kgs of cow meat.

Even on March 9, upon receiving a tip-off from ‘gaurakshaks‘ (cow vigilantes), the police claimed to have seized five quintals of meat, suspected to be beef, from a vehicle. Notably, at the scene, the police arrived with the cow vigilantes, and an arrest was made solely on suspicion, even before the meat was tested.

On August 30, the Govind Nagar police received a tip from informers to arrest a Muslim man for selling around 20 kgs of alleged cow meat.

Also read: Delhi Police Affidavit Shows Muslims Bore Brunt of Riots, Silent on Who Targeted Them and Why

The Wire spoke to police officers stationed at Kotwali and Govind Nagar police stations. The officers The Wire spoke with have handled cases involving alleged cow slaughter. According to them, all actions taken by the UP Police in these matters strictly adhere to the law. They said there is no activity that is transcending the limits of law.

They said that informers play a crucial role in apprehending those who violate the no-meat law near the Krishna Janmasthan.

Inspector Sanjay Kumar, based at PS Kotwali, told The Wire that the law aimed at preventing cow slaughter is for the betterment of society, and that convictions must be made within the framework of the law. Furthermore, The Wire tried to reach out to DM Mathura, but received no response to the calls.

Jailed over suspicion

After 56 days, Sameer was released from jail in early November last year. The days he spent in jail over suspicion of cow slaughtering changed him as a person. He is always reminded of the harassment he faced for belonging to a traditionally meat consuming community.

“After I returned from jail, I was even scared of asking for non-vegetarian food. I have always been fond of meat items, but in this case, the meat that was caught wasn’t even mine, yet I had to spend so much time in jail. I am scared to eat meat, even going to shops to buy it is traumatic for me,” he told The Wire.

Another person, arrested over the same charges as Sameer, Mohammed Saleem, spent three months in prison after informers told the police that he had cow meat. His elder brother, Sadiq, was also arrested over the same charges.

Sadiq said he didn’t want to share his pain with the media, because he was scared of getting arrested again, for expressing his side of the story.

Lalit Chauhan, a Mathura-based Congress leader, said that he fails to find any logic in the way this law is being used in the state. Chauhan said that the law is purely being deployed to harass and jail Muslims to the extent of ruining their existence as a community.

Commenting on the FIRs, he said, “Just take a cursory look at the FIRs. The police are grossly misusing this law against Muslims and Dalits across Uttar Pradesh, not just Mathura. Knowing well that Muslims are a meat-eating community, they target them. Without even confirming whether the ‘caught meat’ was at all of the cow, they jail Muslims. Procedurally, they need to assess the meat sample in a lab, only then can they pronounce a jail term,” he explained.

Ethnic cleansing and economic targeting

Kale Khan Qureshi, 72, is one of the most famous and oldest restaurateurs in Mathura. Situated just meters away from the birthplace of Krishna, Qureshi had to shut his non-vegetarian restaurant in 2017. “I started my restaurant in 1969. I watched it grow as I grew older. After the ban, we’ve been reduced to selling tea at the restaurant, and it doesn’t even bring in 1/10th of what we used to earn. I had to let go of most of our staff,” he said.

Kale Khan Qureshi. Photo: Tarushi Aswani

Tabrez Qureshi, who worked at a slaughterhouse in Mathura, has been unemployed since the meat ban was announced.

He said that the ban does not seem to be reasonable, not because thousands like him have been pushed to poverty, but because meat is still meat, even when it is sold beyond the banned 22 wards. “The banned areas near the Janmasthan Temple complex are heavily dominated by Muslims. If they really care about the sanctity of Mathura, then what sense does the 22-ward ban make? [The government] should have banned it in all 45 wards. Why did it ban meat in nearby wards, dominated by Muslims?” he asked.

This is the empty slaughterhouse which was shut in 2021. Photo: Tarushi Aswani

However, Vijay Bhargava, public relations officer, Shri Krishna Janmasthan Temple, said that the decision is bringing back “purity” in Mathura. In an exclusive conversation with The Wire, Bhargava said, “Non-Muslims cannot enter Mecca, then they should understand when we take such steps in our place of worship, yet injustice is being meted out to us.”

When asked why mostly Muslim-dominated areas have been included under this ban, he said, “If your beliefs are Islamic, then why are you living in Mathura? If you want to strictly follow Islam, you can practice it elsewhere or outside Mathura. Yogi ji has validated our Hindu scriptures with this meat ban. India is aggressively moving towards a Hindu Rashtra. Those selling cow meat should be awarded a death sentence. India was partitioned in the past wrongly, but if it was partitioned over religion, people should have followed it.”

Speaking to The Wire about the impact of the ban, Mehraj Alam, a BAMCEF (Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation) worker, said that the ban has not only affected the butchers or the sellers or the restaurant owners, it has had an impact on a whole chain of people employed with these people. Even carcass and bone dealers’ livelihoods have been impacted.

Alam claims that at least 5,000 Muslims have been affected by the ban.

Shakir Hussain, another restaurateur affected by the ban, said that the whole idea behind the ban, and the cases on cow slaughter, appears to be aimed at only one objective: cleansing Mathura of Muslims. “Hundreds of Muslims have already left Mathura since the ban. They are traditionally meat slaughtering communities, they don’t know any other skill, hence to survive, they left,” he said.