On September 10, as the police lined up 10 Muslim Rohingya refugees in a police station on the outskirts of Jammu and lashed them with a stick and a belt, they had only one question: "Who killed the cow?" multiple refugees, including a minor boy who was detained, told IANS.
"We were crying and told the police that we did not do it, but they kept beating us for about 15 minutes," Hamid Hussain, 29, recalled about his second day in police detention.
Twelve Rohingyas -- including two women with breastfeeding infants -- were detained in Channi Himmat Police Station in south Jammu, for durations ranging from four to 11 days, and the men were allegedly beaten up by police.
A cow's carcass had been found in an empty parcel of land near the Rohingya settlement in Channi Rama in south Jammu. BJP members protested against the killing of the cow.
The detention and brutality that followed were confirmed to IANS by three persons detained by the police, community leaders, neighbours, and family members of two out of three refugees currently in jail for allegedly killing the cow.
"On the second day, police made us sit on the floor and stretch our legs. Then they hit us on our legs, back and hands with a stick and a belt," a scraggy-bearded Hussain said. "They tortured us a lot."
The refugees, who were let off by the police after periods ranging allegedly from "96 to 264 hours", said that they were "never produced in a court". A person cannot be detained for more than 24 hours and must be produced before a magistrate, according to the Code of Criminal Procedure.
"The infants were crying a lot in the police station," said 16-year-old Sayed Noor, who claimed to have been detained for eight days. "One was only four days old."
Vimla, 35, a Hindu woman, who stays in the same plot from where the Rohingyas were arrested, said the police asked her to come to the police station. "But we said that we are Hindu, how can we come? The police then told us to go back to sleep and left," Vimla said outside her shack. "I never went to the police station."
Rohingyas, termed as one of the "world's most persecuted minorities", have been facing military brutality in Myanmar, with the UN urging the government to end the "cruel military operation".
More than 800,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar in the last five years as a result of violence, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and there are around 21,500 Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers in India.
Jammu, with a large refugee population, has been witnessing protests by the BJP and the Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (JKNPP) to "identify and deport Rohingyas".
Noor Hussain is one of the boys who, with others, was taken into custody by policemen as they stepped outside their mosque -- without any explanation. "Before I reached the jeep, an officer slapped me on the cheek," Noor said, adding "he appeared drunk."
The 16-year-old said that at night "they put us in the lock-up and bolted it from outside".
Stuck on the white wall of Channi Himmat Police Station is a list of rules. One of them reads: "Do not take a child/juvenile into police custody or keep them in police station at night."
Hamida Begum, 30, said she and another woman were detained for four days. "I had my seven-month-old son and the other woman had her new born baby girl with her," she said.
Kushnama, 20, wife of Noorullah, 22, one of the three Rohingyas currently in jail, said: "I do not have money to get him out (on bail) or to even visit him in the jail."
Mustaq Ahmad, 51, a Muslim from the Gujjar community, whose cow was found dead on September 9, said that within hours, a crowd, including hundreds of members of the "Shiva Sena and BJP", blocked the nearby highway blaming Rohingyas for "killing the cow".
When asked whether he saw any refugee killing his cow, Ahmed said "No", adding: "Who else would do it? It happened right next to where they live."
BJP's Jammu legal cell member, Hunar Gupta, also confirmed to IANS that "local BJP leaders had blocked the highway" in protest. In February, Gupta had filed a PIL for deportation of Rohingyas from Jammu.
The SHO of the Channi Himmat Police Station, Sajjad Mir, confirmed that many people were called in for questioning, but claimed that "they were sent back and not detained".
"If I get a chance, I want to ask the police: Why did you take him?" Kushnama said in her weak voice from under her burqa. "Every day I think he will come back today."
(Nikhil M Babu can be reached at email@example.com)