It is 7 in the morning and the devout of Ghasera village, off the Gurgaon-Alwar road, wait to enter the Idgah, one of the largest mosques in the area to offer prayers.
But on Bakr Eid, a festival marked by prayers and feasting, the mood is far from festive as the conversation inevitably veers around to the ‘beef biryani’ controversy in Mewat, a largely Muslim district in Haryana.
The near consensus among the residents here is that the fuss over biryani was cooked up to deflect the attention from the recent gang-rape in Mewat of two women, whose two male relatives were also murdered by the attackers.
“This controversy over beef in biryani is nothing but an attempt by the BJP government to hush up the gang-rape case. We cannot forget the incident easily, but we have chosen to keep quiet,” said 50-year-old Ali Mohammad, his view endorsed by fellow villagers.
The immediate fallout of the controversy is that prices of sacrificial animals have gone up significantly, rendering them out of reach for most. “Prices have gone up at least Rs.7,000-8,000 per animal, ,” said Hazi Akbar, a middle-aged driver.
Ismail, whose family has been engaged in the meat business for generations, said five of their trucks carrying goats and buffaloes were caught by gau rakshaks.
“Ever since the BJP government came to power, the terror of gau rakshaks and the police have hit the meat business in the region. Even those carrying goats and buffaloes and with valid documents are not spared,” he said.
Mewat Superintendent of Police Kuldeep Singh Yadav, however, denied knowledge of gau rakshaks or the police targeting animal traders. He also denied that people were being arrested for possessing animals.
The controversy was kicked up by a comment attributed to Gau Sewa Aayog (commission for the protection of the cow) chairperson Bhani Ram Mangla on September 6.
Mr Mangla had said the commission had received complaints about beef being served in biryani in the region around Mewat. But Mr Mangla said his remark had been blown out of context. “There is a law in place in Haryana and it is our responsibility to protect the cow,” he said.
His comment activated the State government, which collected samples of biryani from the area and sent them for testing. Locals alleged that the police had been harassing biryani vendors since then.
Historian and patron of the Mewat Vikas Sabha, Siddique Ahmad “Meo”, who is also vice president of the Haryana Dalit Sahitya Akademy, said tension has been brewing in the area for the past few years. He said Meos and Hindus in the region had coexisted peacefully for ages and even followed each other’s rituals, but a hidden agenda now seemed to be at work to disturb this harmony.
Eesa, 80, a former sarpanch, recalled how Mahatma Gandhi had come to Ghasera village in 1947 following the post-partition riots and requested them to not leave India. “We have never felt so alienated. We are like tenants in our own country,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mewat Vikas Sabha national president Umar Mohammad warned that a mahapanchayat would be held in Nuh on September 15 to decide on the future course of action if the government failed to withdraw its orders on collection of biryani samples.