A mob attack on an iconic lassi shop in Mathura’s Chowk Bazaar, ‘on the orders of a burqa-clad woman’, has led to the death of one of its owners.
Shop owners in the area are now fearful, and say they have not seen anything like this before.
On 18 May, a Muslim mob attacked two Hindu lassi shop owners — both brothers — in Uttar Pradesh's Mathura district following a minor spat. One of the two shop owners died of the thrashing a week later.
When this correspondent met the survivor this week [4 June], he revealed that the mob repeatedly called them kaafir (a derogatory term for non-Muslims that means 'infidel' or 'disbeliever'). He also revealed that the attackers — all men — were instigated by a burqa-clad woman, who hurled abuses at the shop owners.
Watch Pankaj’s statement below:
In the busy, congested Chowk Bazaar of Mathura, close to the historic Krishna janmabhoomi temple, is where the popular shop 'Nattho Yadav Lassiwale' is located. The 100-year-old shop enjoys an iconic status in the area, and is run by three brothers.
Right opposite the shop stands a Jama masjid with towering minarets and a sprawling complex. The lane adjoining the shop has a Krishna temple that draws a large number of devotees. The mosque leads to an elevated street called Nakkashi teela from where the mob emerged.
That day, Pankaj Yadav (20) and his brother Bharat Yadav (26) were at the shop, handling the evening rush of customers.
According to Pankaj's statement in the first information report (FIR) filed on 18 May (a copy of which is with Swarajya), a group of eight to 10 men, accompanied by two women, came to the shop around 8.30 pm. The lassi sellers told the group to wait as there were several customers in waiting. The group hurled abuses at them. They taunted the brothers on being slow, asking if they had mehendi on their hands. The sellers prepared the lassi and gave to the group. But the group entered into a scuffle again when asked to pay up. The lassi sellers eventually told the group to leave without paying. Other customers also asked the group to leave. A little later, the group returned with an additional 15-20 people. The mob attacked the brothers and vandalised the shop. They even fled with Rs 15,000-20,000 cash that was kept at the counter.
Pankaj named two brothers responsible for the loot — Haneef and Shahrukh — and said that he could identify the other accused if produced before him.
The FIR has only a passing mention of the thrashing. The police booked Haneef and Shahrukh, along with 15-20 unidentified men, under Section 395 of the IPC (dacoity).
Pankaj told this correspondent that the brothers went to a local hospital, where they were soon discharged after dressing for external wounds. However, in the following days, Bharat constantly complained of headache and weakness in his body.
On 24 May, his health deteriorated so much that he had to be taken to Agra where he was admitted in a hospital. His wife Neetu said Bharat had lost consciousness and was constantly mumbling to himself.
The next day, Bharat died; post-mortem report said it was due to head injury and that nerves in his brain had been damaged. Bharat is survived by his wife and a minor daughter.
On 26 May, a day after the death, furious traders of Chowk Bazaar kept their shops closed and staged a protest. They were angry with the police on several counts. One, the cops posted on 24-hour duty in the market were absent when the attack took place. Two, the police had not made even a single arrest till the death. Three, the police had let off the two men named in the FIR on the night of the crime itself.
The protesters were pacified only when the police assured them that they would arrest all the culprits in 24 hours and slap them with murder charges, said a trader. The police went on to add Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) in the FIR against 17 people. Until 2 June, the police had reportedly arrested seven people.
Shop owners say the arrests are "fake".
"They are putting the wrong men behind the bars. It’s all fake," said a trader in the same lane as Nattho lassi shop, without wanting to be named.
Several shop owners alleged that mother of a key accused is a local Samajwadi Party leader, popular among locals as 'netani', and he is thus being shielded.
Mansoor Ali, a resident of Hanuman teela which is located near the mosque, also said that the police were making wrong arrests. He said that migrant Muslim workers and women in Nakkashi teela were feeling scared, and many had temporarily shifted to other areas.
"It was a dispute between two groups. Only those who were involved should be arrested," he said. Ali said that vested interests were giving the crime a communal colour.
Munna Yadav, eldest of the three brothers, had just returned home from the police station when this correspondent met the family. He said police recorded his statement for a fresh FIR in the case but he had not received a copy yet.
Pankaj and Munna said that Mathura MLA Shrikant Sharma from the Bharatiya Janata Party met the family last week and assured them of strictest action against the criminals. “All we want is justice. We don’t ask for any compensation,” Pankaj said with folded hands.
Traders in Chowk Bazaar are stunned at the brazen attack. They say that while mobs vandalising their shops or looting them is routine in the area, such a brutal attack is unprecedented. Fear is pervasive and can be gauged from the fact that most shop owners refused to give any statement on video. Few agreed for audio recording while many declined to talk at all, saying they had not witnessed the attack and so could not comment on it.
Ram Singh, who runs a kachori shop adjoining Nattho lassi shop, was among the few who gave an eyewitness account. As per Singh, a spat broke out when a woman from the group insisted they had five glasses of lassi even as the lassi sellers were adamant he had served nine. The woman accused the brothers of being high on bhaang and the latter snapped saying she must be high on liquor. The woman left in a huff, saying she would teach the brothers a lesson.
"God knows what all she told the men in her area upon her return,” said Singh. "A mob soon arrived and beat Bharat mercilessly. They dragged him out of the shop and beat him up in the street."
Several traders said they gathered from locals that the woman concocted a tale of sexual harassment in public at the hands of the lassi sellers.
Pankaj Yadav said that far from molesting her, the brothers had told the group to leave with folded hands. He said the woman hurled choicest abuses at him and even challenged them to file a police case against her. "She asked us what can we do at most. File a report against her? She said she would get bail easily," said Yadav. "The group repeatedly called us kaafir. They said you kaafirs are talking so much now," Pankaj told this correspondent.
Yadav said when the mob arrived with lathis and rods, a burqa-clad woman was constantly instigating them into thrashing the brothers more.
An eyewitness to the attack, who spoke on the condition of anonymity but let this correspondent record his audio statement, said that the mob told the lassi sellers that it was because of Yogi Adityanath and Narendra Modi that they were getting emboldened.
Hear the eye-witness’s statement below:
Only one eye-witness gave video statement. Only a few agreed for audio— Swati Goel Sharma (@swati_gs) June 6, 2019
Here’s an eye-witness mentioning the ‘kaafir’ slur. He also said the mob told the brothers they are getting emboldened because of Modi-Yogi and that they weren’t scared of Modi-Yogi pic.twitter.com/SeGm2cxvSx
"The mob said they weren't scared of Yogi-Modi," said the eye-witness, who sells puja paraphernalia. He estimated the age of men in the mob to be between 20 and 25 years.