HARYANA — On 25 April 2022, at least four videos went viral on social media platforms— YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. In all the videos, mobs can be seen abducting, assaulting and intimidating Muslims, in various locations in Haryana as popular dance numbers play in the background.
The videos were first shared on the Instagram handle @ _rambhaktgopal_, run by Gopal Sharma, infamous as Rambhakt Gopal— the Hindutva goon who opened fire on anti-CAA protesters outside Jamia Millia University in January 2020, injuring one student.
Gopal is out on bail after being arrested twice; the second time was for delivering a hate speech and raising genocidal anti-Muslim slogans at a Mahapanchayat organised in Pataudi, Haryana, on July 4. Gopal has also incited violence against women from the minority community on multiple occasions.
In one of the videos that Gopal shared — a gun is seen pointed at women and children from inside a vehicle while passing by houses on the streets. The locals in the video are seen running indoors in fear and shutting their doors. The caption read, "Gau Raksha Dal, Mewat Road."
In January 2020, when Delhi witnessed violence during the anti-CAA protests, Gopal was booked as a minor after shooting an unarmed protestor. He had expressed no remorse for what he did and the Delhi Police had said that he had been radicalised by watching videos online.
Now, he has hit the headlines once again for broadcasting real-life violence on Muslims by men who claim to protect cows as entertainment, on his Instagram Reels.
BOOM investigated and found that the videos are from Mewat. So we went to Mewat to find out what exactly happened that was captured in these viral videos.
Mewat, one of the largest districts in the state, was renamed Nuh in 2016. According to the 2011 census, out of the 1 million population of Nuh, Muslims are around 80%, and Hindus are 20%. However, in recent years, the locals allege that the district has been defamed through incessant propaganda because it is a Muslim majority area.
Mewat has become the hotspot for attacks under the veil of cow protection. In May 2021, giving bail to an accused in an FIR lodged under the Cow Protection Act, Punjab Haryana High Court questioned "Under what authority are private organisations raiding houses and taking the law in their hands?"
Meanwhile, it has not helped that far-right TV news channel Sudarshan news has been running multiple propaganda campaigns targeting the Meo-Muslims (an ethnic group of Muslims from Mewat) and glorifying cow vigilantism on national television. In a conference from Mewat in November 2021, its editor, Suresh Chavhanke had justified the killings of Muslims in the name of cow-protection, "Who has not killed (for cow-protection)? It is a religious obligation to punish cow-killers. It happened in the past. It will happen in the future. It will happen now," he said.
Assault And Abduction By Hindutva Goons
In one video from Rawli village in Nuh, a Muslim man, Rahish, who works as a daily wage labourer is dragged and abducted by the mob, while his family and neighbours try to stop the Hindutva vigilantes. Rahish's family alleged gunshots were fired by the mob. The video confirms that gunshots were indeed fired.
According to eyewitnesses, Bajrang Dal members barged into the Muslim homes at 6 a.m. on April 20 and began firing in the air before dragging out two men- Haqmuddin and Rahish.
Recalling the violence, the victim's brother Aas Mohammad said, "My brother (Haqmuddin) was terrified and began fleeing for his life. They continued to fire until some of them caught him. Then they apprehended Rahish and dragged him away."
He said Rahish was "assaulted so much that he was unable to talk" when he went to meet him in the Ferozpur Jhirka court. Rahish was arrested and held in judicial prison for 14 days on suspicion of illegal cow meat trade.
"When I asked the police who had beaten them, they said that it was Bajrang Dal members," he said.
On the day of the incident, the police arrived an hour and a half later, locals say.
In a different video, shot around the same time from the same village, Haqmuddin, Rahish's elder brother, is stripped off his clothes and paraded around as his children, family, and neighbours look on helplessly. The abductors, who are seen holding guns, can be seen dragging him by his pants. In the background, the mob can be heard threatening, "Don't try to save him (Haqmuddin).. stay away.. we will shoot you. (Chhodane ki koshish mat kariyo…Dur ho jao.. Goli maar denge…Behen ki l***)"
Haqmuddin's wife can be seen trying to rescue her husband from the goons armed with sharp weapons, rods and firearms as they push her away.
Agsari, whose two sons are in jail now on cow slaughter charges, said Rahish is a daily wage worker and Haqmuddin is a laborer.
"They looted 40,000 rupees and a bike from Haqmuddin." The bike was later found in the police station, the family said.
Showing scars of assault on her four-year-old son's body, Ruksana, Haqmuddin's wife said, "They beat him too when he started screaming when he saw his father being attacked". Ruksana said when she tried to save her husband from the mob, they punched and abused her and threatened to kill her if she didn't stay away.
Haqmuddin's father Fazzluddin Mohammad, who has been living in Rawli since before Independence, said that he has had never witnessed such a communal incident in his village. "Villagers of different castes and religious identities used to live in harmony in my village."
Violence As Instagram Reels
One of videos that the 'Jamia shooter' had shared- an Instagram Reel that showed a man being dragged into a car by men holding guns and sticks, is fit into a song called 'Desi Boyfriend'. Gopal shared it with the caption, "Taking away the cow smuggler".
Journalists and activists on Twitter shared the video, condemning the act and demanded the Haryana police to take legal action.
In the video, the man who is dragged and put inside a Scorpio car (Mahindra Scorpio - HR 70 D 4177) is Sahib, a farmer from Shekhpur in Haryana's Nuh district.
On the early morning of April 23, Saahib was out in the fields to relieve himself when a mob attacked him. "We don't have toilets in our houses," said Sahib's father Hoshiyar.
Narrating how the attacks happened, Mohammad Irfaan, Sahib's brother said that Bajrang Dal goons opened fire with loud chants of Jai Shree Ram as they entered the village in four SUV cars. While looking for Saahib, they forcefully entered their aunt's house and abused women there too.
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Sahib's cousin Raashid showed the BOOM reporters how Bajrang Dal members entered their house. "The villagers are angry. The goons abducted Sahib although he has no records of any theft, misbehave or any crime," said Rashid.
Six months ago, Sahib got electrocuted leaving him grievously injured. His father said he was still nursing those injuries. The video shows him unable to walk as he is dragged and then lifted by four men.
"They misbehaved and abused the women in my house and the Police have not helped us yet," Sahib's father Hoshiyar said.
A complaint was given by Hoshiyar, to the SHO, Ferozpur Jhirka. In the complaint, he mentioned the name of attackers, saying "they are from my neighbouring village that's why we know them by their face. " Hoshiyar has made allegations of abduction at gunpoint, looting and opening fire with the intention to kill.
The FIR lodged by police is against unidentified people in 285, 294, 223, 242 and 506 sections of IPC and under different sections of the Arms Act.
The videos of violence on Muslims by the cow vigilantes, however, still exist on multiple social media platforms.
In its community guidelines, Instagram notes that the platform removes "credible threats of violence, hate speech and the targeting of private individuals. We do not allow attacks or abuse based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, disability or disease." "Graphic violence is not allowed," is another of their guidelines.
Ten days since the videos were first posted, some of them still exist on Instagram and YouTube.
The 'Gau Rakshaks'- Who Are They?
The one name that almost every villager mentions when asked about the attacks is of Monu Manesar.
Along with Gopal, the 'Jamia shooter', Monu too has posted these videos on his social media accounts. Monu, a self styled gau rakshak (cow vigilante) with thousands of followers on social media is known for his inflammatory comments. At the July 2021 anti-Muslim Haryana Mahapanchayat, Monu was introduced by the host as someone, "who shoots and gets shot while protecting cows". At the Pataudi mahapanchayat, he issued a direct call to murder Muslim men who commit "love jihad", a term used by Hindutva groups use to describe a "conspiracy" by Muslim men to seduce Hindu women in order to convert them to Islam.
When BOOM asked Monu Manesar about his involvement in the incidents that happened in these two villages and about the allegations made by villagers, he said, "I am a member of Bajrang dal and I do Gau Raksha (protect cows) but I was not in these two villages."
"We do such cow protection programmes in the presence of the police only," Monu said.
BOOM tried to identify the perpetrators in the videos posted by Rambhakt Gopal and Monu Manesar.
We found that one of the men in the videos seen pulling the beard of an old Muslim man is present in a photo with Gopal and Monu. We also found pictures of one of the perpetrators (in the video) with one Acharya Azad, a Hindutva priest, who is said to be a patron of the Gau Rakshaks.
The Hate-Filled Mobilisation Of Cow Vigilantes
The vigilante groups have also been mobilising against the Muslims of Mewat since the videos went viral. In one video, Hindutva leader Bharat Bhushan threatened to block all the roads to Mewat if cow-protection work is stopped. From the same protest, another unidentified Hindutva leader in Haryana's Mahendragarh said, "The time has come. Either kill or die."
On 3 May, a Hindu Mahapanchayat was organised by Gau Rakshak groups to protest the alleged threats by Mewatis. "Gandhi drank goat's milk. Had he drank cow milk, he'd care for cows," one speaker said.
Later, Bhushan and members of the Bajrang Dal met Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala to demand action against cow smugglers. "Modi ji there's one solution, let the army loose even if the government falls," said another speaker. Bhushan called upon Hindus to give a strong reply to Mewat and gather in large numbers at a Mahapanchayat which is to be organised in Mewat later this week.
Karni Sena leader and BJP spokesman Suraj Pal Amu who has featured with Rambhakt Gopal and Monu Manesar in previous Mahapanchayat in Haryana in support of the mob that lynched Asif Khan in May 2021, has also extended support to the vigilantes accused of assaulting, open firing and abducting Muslims.
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Weeks after the first Mahapanchayat in Haryana in 2021, the accused in Asif's murder were granted bail. "Should we not even murder them now," is what Amu had asked the crowd at the Mahapanchayat.
This time around, speaking at a Parshuram Jayanti event in Sonipat, Amu threatened that the BJP's Home minister Anil Vij would take action against the police if they acted against Gau Rakshaks. During his four minute long speech, he incited violence multiple times.
"I will not greet by saying Salam (an Arabic greeting) to all the Gau Rakshaks present here, I'll greet by saying Pranam (a Hindi greeting, common among Hindus). For those who say Salam, I would like to declare—kill them. We also have a law for this in Haryana. We have laws to protect our cows,our mother," Amu said to a large audience chanting'' Gau Mata ki Jai (Hail cow mother).
"Who has the audacity to register a case against Gaurakshaks? Those who will talk about the welfare of Hindus will only rule this country…" he said during his speech.
As vigilantes and BJP leaders like Amu continue to publicly stoke anti-Muslims violence in the region, there has been little action by the police. BOOM attempted to reach out to the Nuh Police Department for a comment. At the time, the police refused to say anything and requested more time to acquire a better understanding of the situation. They were unreachable when BOOM phoned them again.
A copy of the FIR that has been accessed by BOOM confirms that charges had been filed in various sections of the arms act as well as sections 285, 294, 323, 342, 506 of the IPC against 3 to 4 unnamed people.
Meanwhile, the locals in the two villages blame the police for lackadaisical actions and political immunity to the accused. The police have been accused of not naming the perpetrators despite their names being mentioned in the complaint.
Congress leader Maman Khan who is the MLA of Ferozepur Jhirka feels that the criminals who abducted and assaulted Muslims on camera have political patronage. "If these anti-social elements come into our village again and police do not act against them, then people may react and something unpleasant will happen. If that happens Mewat will be engulfed in riots," he said.
According to an Indian Express story, Arvind Kumar, SHO Ferozepur Jhirka, said on April 29: "We have registered a FIR in the matter." "Such raids by people are prohibited. They started off as police informers who were simply keeping an eye on persons who were involved in cow slaughter," he said.
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Days after the videos went viral, both Rambhakt Gopal and Monu Manesar deleted them and disabled their Instagram accounts. While Monu is back on Instagram, Gopal's account doesn't show up yet. However, versions of those videos are still available across all social media platforms. With little action from Instagram or YouTube, it is only a matter of time before more such videos go viral again— violence meant for entertainment. With no repercussions, the perpetrators have no reason to stop either. After all, it gets them what they are looking for: Going viral.