Mandsaur: was the attack on Muslim women a plot to stoke communal riots?
Illegal trade in meat is fairly widespread in Madhya Pradesh's Ratlam and Mandsaur. Every day, 4-5 quintals of meat is illegally transported in these regions. Alleged meat smugglers are arrested regularly, but most are freed within days after payment of fine.
The recent attack on two Muslim women by cow protection vigilantes in Mandsaur for allegedly carrying beef has again linked meat smuggling with the contentious issue of cow slaughter. The attack led to a furore, resonating from the Madhya Pradesh assembly to the Parliament.
The possibility of a conspiracy to vitiate the communal atmosphere of MP cannot be denied in this case. The Mandsaur-Ratlam region is known to be communally sensitive. The state government had recently issued an alert to the collectors and police officials of all districts prone to communal violence, including these districts. It had shared inputs with local administrations about possible attempts to foment communal trouble and asked them to prepare for any contingency.
According to official data, MP saw 41 cases of communal violence last year, in which 167 people were injured. Six months ago, the government issued a directive to at least 12 districts, including Mandsaur and Ratlam, to improve "communal atmosphere".
On Tuesday, the train from Ratlam to Chittor halted at Mandsaur railway station at about 10.30 am. Salma Mewati and Shamim Hussain, both from Khanpura, alighted, carrying some meat. The vigilantes were waiting. They surrounded the two women as soon as they came out. The commotion started with sloganeering but soon turned into violence against Salma and Shamim.
The women kept shouting that they were innocent. Soon, the police reached the spot and seized 30 kg meat from the women. According to the local SHO, MP Singh Parihar, the court has sent both of them to jail. Four cases of illegal meat smuggling are already pending against Salma, while Shamim is an accused in three such cases.
Separately, activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad were tipped off about two women carrying beef. They informed the Dhodhar police, which arrested the women with 20 kg of meat. This is prima facie reported to be buffalo meat. The samples have been sent to a laboratory in Mathura.
"Illegal transportation of meat is rampant in this region. Several people have been caught smuggling meat. Cases are pending against the arrested women as well. What is wrong in acting against this unlawful activity," asks local BJP MLA Yashpal Sisodia.
Sisodia though disapproves of the misbehaviour with the women. "Beating up women cannot be justified. It is a pre-planned conspiracy. One does not become a VHP or Bajrang Dal activist merely by carrying saffron flags or raising 'Jai Shri Ram' slogans. None of the people arrested for roughing up the women is an activist of these organisations," Sisodia adds.
Congress MLA Arif Aqeel sees it differently. It was a plot to "target innocent Muslim women", he says and demands that the culprits be brought to book as soon as possible.
Although Aqeel agrees that many Muslim women are involved in illegal transportation of meat in Mandsaur, he insists that it's not a communal issue. Aqeel recalls how communal tensions had flared up in this region in 2007-08 following reports of mass slaughter of cows. "Painting this incident in communal colours can be fraught with danger," he cautions.