Evening is falling in western Rajasthan’s Alwar and the roads are getting deserted. Just a few kilometers from the Haryana border, this is a crime-prone zone that leads to Mewat, infamous for highway looters and criminal gangs.
Some 15km off the highway near Alwar’s Jairoli village is a gau-raksha chowki – an anti-cow smuggling outpost – set up in 2014 to check the illegal transportation of bovine animals.
The stretch of road is pitch dark and mostly deserted with fields on both sides.
At 12.30am on Tuesday, there is nobody outside the outpost. Two rooms are locked and the third appears to be bolted from the inside. Even after repeated knocks and calls, the door doesn’t open. There is a motorcycle without number plates, clothes hanging on a rope, a hookah, and some dung cakes lying outside.
“It must be the veterinary doctor sleeping in that room. As for me, I was out on round as I had received a tip-off about some cows being smuggled,” says Gajraj Singh, head constable at Tijara police station, who was posted at the outpost that night.
Around 30km away, the outpost at Amlaki in the district’s industrial Bhiwadi area is mobile — a police van.
Two Rajasthan Armed Constabulary (RAC) personnel come out of the van flashing their torches and tapping their sticks on the ground.
Both of them are unaware of the two shootouts between alleged cow smugglers and police in Alwar last week – including the one at a spot barely 2km from their outpost.
They say they get posted in different areas every day and are on duty from 11pm to 5am.
“The cow smugglers now come armed, firing in our direction. Besides that, they have devised ways of passing through. Once they are through this last check post, it’s their territory,” says Satya Prakash, one of the two personnel on duty.
Chief minister Vasundhara Raje set up 39 such outposts in 2014 for cow protection in a state that has ramped up efforts to protect its 13 million bovine animals, tagging them with unique identification numbers, adding more shelters and setting up India’s only cow ministry.
One assistant sub-inspector and six constables are assigned to each outpost but the numbers on duty are far less. At times, the police rope in RAC personnel, who, unlike the local police, are not familiar with the area.
Six outposts are in Alwar, where many cattle traders pass through on their way to several weekly cattle markets in the region.
According to police figures, 226 people were arrested in Alwar in connection with the smuggling of bovine in 2015 while 116 were arrested in 2014. Till October this year, 82 people have been arrested.
Alwar first grabbed national headlines in April after dairy farmer Pehlu Khan was lynched by cow-protection vigilantes who accused him of smuggling the animal. Khan was a dairy farmer who had purchased the animals from a cattle fair. Last month, men ferrying cows were attacked and one person was killed in the incident.
Manohar Lal, the other personnel at Amlaki, says smugglers often use an empty vehicle that passes through at high speed and distracts authorities. Once the police start chasing the empty vehicle, smugglers take advantage and move the one with cows, he adds.
“There are times when they send small cars to engage us in conversation, giving them an advantage of a few seconds, and come charging at great speed, often ramming into the barricades.”
The men say cow smugglers know the area like the back of their hand and it’s practically impossible to man all roads leading out of the state.
Lack of livelihood and economic backwardness forces people to take the risks, they add.
As the duty of the men draws to an end, a motorcycle is seen coming towards the check post. On seeing the torches, he quickly turns around, and flees, but not before shouting, “Khade raho khade raho, abhi nahin aa rahe (Stay put, they are not going to come for a while).”
In local parlance, the man is called a ‘checker’, a person sent by smugglers to see if the route is clear. Another one on motorcycle crosses a while later. He turns out to be a guard at a tissue factory in the area. The police call the factory to check, before letting him go.
At 5am, the men get into their grill-fitted bus, and say, “Ab kal kahin aur hogi duty. Hamara bistar gol hi rehta hai. (We’ll be posted somewhere else tomorrow. Our beds are always rolled up),” says Prakash.
Date: Dec 12, 2017