Three days after a vigilante mob beat him for selling beef and forcefully fed him a piece of pork, Shaukat Ali, a resident of Assam's Biswanath district, on Wednesday said it appears to have been a "well-planned" attack, timed to stoke communal feelings.
No such incident has ever occurred in the area in the last 40 years that his family has run the eatery in the local market, he said.
The eatery has served beef all these years, as does several others in the market, catering primarily to people from the Muslim community, Shaukat, 45, told The Indian Express over phone from a hospital in Biswanath Chariali town, where he is recuperating.
There is no ban on cow slaughter in Assam. It is regulated by Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950, which allows slaughter of cattle over 14 years of age, or cattle that are incapable of work or for use in breeding. A certificate from a veterinary officer, stating that the cattle is "fit for slaughter", is required before slaughtering it.
Shaukat said, "My father and elder brother ran the eatery earlier; now I run it. But no such incident has ever occurred here. We have traditionally served beef - not only our shop, there are three or four other shops that have beef on the menu on the weekly market days - Thursdays and Sundays."
Kamal Thapa, one of the eight managers of the weekly market, said "vigilantism by certain youths" had begun last week. "After they threatened another person last Thursday (April 4), we mahaldars (managers) asked food sellers to not sell any beef dish on Sunday. But we could not inform Shaukat Ali, because he was not home when our men went to convey the message."
Thapa said they had warned Shaukat when he arrived at the market on Sunday morning, "because the situation is not good".
Shaukat said he followed the advice and hid around 3 kg beef that he had at the restaurant in a sack. "I also called my son to take it back (home), but he couldn't (come) because it was raining. The mob came around 3.30pm…. They ransacked the place and found it (beef)."
Shaukat said the assailants called him a Bangladeshi, and asked how he could imagine selling beef here. "Then they began beating me. I was made to eat pork – they threatened to kill me if I didn't eat it. They wanted me to break the vows of my religion," he said.
Assam's Additional DGP (Law and Order), Mukesh Agrawal said four people – identified as Dipen Barua, Dipak Koal, Subhal Koal and Jintu Saikia - have been arrested so far and investigation is on.
An FIR was earlier registered on Monday on a complaint by Shaukat's relative and the four have been charged under different IPC Sections. "We are also keeping an eye on social media platforms for any inflammatory comment," Agrawal said.
Shaukat thanked the policemen for their timely intervention and saving his life.
In a video of the incident that has surfaced – the police verified it as authentic – one of the attackers is heard asking Shaukat, "Why did you come to sell beef here?" Another purportedly asked, "Are you a Bangladeshi?…Is your name on the NRC?"
The National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is being updated, is considered to be an effort to detect illegal foreigners settled in Assam. Shaukat said names of his entire family is on the draft NRC published last year.
He said the video clip that has surfaced shows only a part of the assault. "It only shows them abusing me and force-feeding me a piece of pork. But before that they hit me mercilessly on the head, face, my back, and below my ears. I cannot swallow even now," he said.