The incident has led to a huge backlash among people in the state with a person tweeting that “Beef is not banned in Assam and the Northeast. Many people apart from Muslims consume beef in the region.”
Reports stated that the ill-fated man Shaukat Ali was allegedly forced to eat pork which is prohibited among followers of Islam.
Shaukat Ali is living in Assam for the last four decades and runs a restaurant where beef is reportedly served. Ali was beaten black and blue while his restaurant was vandalised by another group at some distance in Biswanath district.
The whole incident came to light when a video of the 63-year-old Ali being “terrorised and given a sound thrashing” went viral on social media platforms.
The video shows Ali being surrounded by a mob of 25 to 30 people, and one of them asking the old man why he sold beef and whether he had a licence to do so.
Another man from the mob asked Ali whether he was a “Bangladeshi” and if his name has been included in the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
In the video, the mob is seen forcibly feeding pork to Ali and barking orders at him – “Chew the meat and gulp it down your throat.”
A petrified Ali said that he has never lived in such fear and his family has been running the restaurant business for 35 years since his father set it up.
A fear-struck Ali recounts that three days before he was attacked, around 15 boys barged into his restaurant asking where he had kept the beef.
“I used to keep it in a room, away from sight. They searched and found the beef. They took videos of it. After that, I got scared and went to the mahaldar’s office,” narrated Ali.
The mahaldars, or market managers, advised him not to sell beef. “Since then I stopped selling (beef),” said Ali. Not stopping at that, the group of boys returned to his hotel and asked him whether he was still selling beef.
“But, they didn’t find (beef). Then, one mahaldar whose name is Maina, came to tell me that I cannot work in the market anymore. I was tense and decided to head home. On the way, Maina stopped me and asked where I was going. I told him I was going to offer prayers. He then took me to a paan shop nearby and asked me not to move from there as I might be hurt if I go alone. Then he left. I waited for almost one-and-a-half hours when the same group from three days back appeared. They dragged me to a school and started thrashing me,” Ali further narrated.
The trader smells a rat – he feels that Maina is “in cahoots” with the mob. Maina, one of the four managers at the market, is since absconding.
Earlier, when Ali was threatened by the group of 15 boys, he went scurrying to the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU), an organisation that voices concerns on harassment of the minority community in Assam.
It was the AAMSU who advised the restaurant owner to inform mahaldar Maina about the incident. An FIR (Case N0 80/2019) has been registered in relation to the incident at Biswanath Police Station under Sections 143/341/325/294(a)/295A/153-A (b) and 384 of the IPC.
Subhan Chandra Das, officer-in-charge, Biswanath Police Station, said he indeed received a call informing him that a man was being assaulted by a group.
“Five other policemen and I immediately rushed to the spot. There, I saw a man was made to kneel down and (was being) punched and slapped by a mob. There were around 100 people. I made my way through the mob and stood behind the person trying to save him from the assault. The mob also tried to push me. Somehow, I put him in our vehicle. But the mob gheraoed (encircled) our vehicle demanding that we leave the man to them. I called for additional help. Paramilitary forces also came,” said Das.
By then, the mob had started assaulting Kamal Thapa, another mahaldar, who tried to save Ali. “We rescued Thapa as well,” said Das, adding, “We have arrested one person identified as Dipen Baruah. We have identified a few more and located the homes of two. But they are absconding.”
The OC denied that the suspects belonged to any political party or religious outfit based on “available information”.
The deputy commissioner (DC) of Biswanath Chariali, Pabitra Ram Khaund, said, “Cooked beef was being sold in one of the small restaurants in the weekly market and this has been going on for long, but nobody has come to the DC or the SP to complain about it as yet. Selling of beef is not banned here, but there are some sections of law under which you can ban the selling of beef if it breaches the tranquility of the place. But, so far no such incident had occurred.”
Khaund further informed that two people have been picked up in this connection and the security forces were keeping a “tight vigil”.
Biswanath, otherwise, happens to be a peaceful place – “In this area, there were no such problems. The SP and I have been constantly on the move and we are in close contact with the paramilitary forces as elections are all set to begin,” the DC added.
Five of the 14 Lok Sabha constituencies of Assam go to the polls on April 11 next in the first phase of the general election. Kuddus Ali, a student leader who witnessed the attack on Ali, said, “Tension was brewing when some people went to Shaukat Ali’s restaurant and shot a video of the beef he (had) kept separately. The group asked him whether he had permission from the market committee to sell beef. The group later warned him not to sell beef.”
Kuddus Ali informed that beef is being sold in the market in four or five places for decades on weekly market days – Sunday and Thursday.
Kuddus said that the customers who consume beef are served the same in a “separate closed room”. For others in the market, the shops serve tea and biscuits.
Pork is also served by non-Muslim shop owners in the market, albeit not in closed rooms the way beef has been served by the Muslim shopkeepers over the past few decades.
Shaukat Ali’s son, Abdul Wahab, 14, said sobbing, “After my grandfather’s death, my father used to run the restaurant. My father was dragged from his bicycle on his way to Phulphali, where we live, and was taken in front of Chariali Girls Higher Secondary School, a kilometre away from the market. He was tortured brutally. Now, he is admitted at the Biswanath Chariali Civil Hospital. The doctor attending to him told me that he almost has no skin on his back due to the torture. He has sustained chest and head injuries as well.”
Shaukat Ali was thrashed with sticks and rods, and his bicycle was also destroyed by the mob. While he was being beaten, another group vandalised his restaurant, broke the utensils and ran away with gas cylinders, cooking pots and food items.