Self-styled cow vigilante Puneeth Kerehalli and his associates are usually armed with an electric taser — a handheld device that can incapacitate a person by delivering a high-voltage electric shock — and hockey sticks while they set out for their “cow-rescue” operations, said murdered Idrees Pasha’s brother Yunus Pasha.
Yunus explained that Kerehalli and his associates used to administer electric shocks to drivers and co-travellers of cattle-carrying trucks that they waylaid. A video of Kerehalli using an electric taser to hurt a man shared via Facebook live on 20 March has since been deleted from his account.
Kin of the deceased cattle trader told South First that the vigilante group called their weapons “items”, and carried them in their car with intent to torture and stun the people they intercepted, so that they did not escape from the spot.
Finding Idrees Pasha’s body
Cattle trader Idrees Pasha (39) was found dead under mysterious circumstances in Ramnagar district’s Sathanur around 8.30 am on Saturday, 1 April.
His body was found around 100m from where the truck he was travelling in was waylaid around 12.30 am. It was a stone’s throw away from the Sathanur Police Station.
It was after the locals informed Sathanur police about the body that they rushed to the spot and identified him as Idrees Pasha, a resident of Sabdhariyabad Mohalla in Mandya city, the district headquarters of the eponymous district in Karnataka.
He worked as a cattle trader, with his buying and selling taking place in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka.
Demand for money
“My brother had all documents of the cattle, purchased from a market in Mandya, and he was transporting them to another market in Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu — not for slaughter but for its sale to some farmers there,” Yunus told South First.
He added: “Initially, the cow vigilantes — Puneeth and his associates — waylaid my brother’s truck near the Santhemale Circle, where Puneeth allegedly demanded ₹2 lakh.”
When Idrees refused to pay and he left with the truck along with driver Syed Zaheer and Irfan, they were followed until the Sathanur Police Station, where the truck was once again waylaid by Puneeth and his associates, said Yunus.
While Zaheer was nabbed by Puneeth and other vigilantes, both Idrees and Irfan managed to escape.
“Puneeth Kerehalli had by then gone live on Facebook, continuing his commentary till around 2.30 am about intercepting the truck in front of the Sathanur Police Station after following the vehicle for a while. He also said they had ‘nabbed one person and handed him over to the police, while two others managed to escape and that his men were chasing them.” Yunus told South First.
“He introduced three other members of his gang — Pawan, Gopi, and a third whose name was inaudible. He could also be heard saying, ‘I had an item (electric taser gun)’,” he added.
“His FB live was interrupted by a phone call he received, after which he continued for around 34 minutes. The police can obviously collect this evidence. It was after this FB live that Puneeth Kerehalli and his associates killed my brother,” Yunus told South First.
When the cow vigilantes handed over Syed Zaheer to the Sathanur police, they registered an FIR based on a complaint by Puneeth against Zaheer and two of his escaped associates under sections of the Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act of 2020, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, Animal Transport Act, and the Motor Vehicles Act.
Meanwhile, as Zaheer complained to the police that he was assaulted by Puneeth and his associates, the cops took up a complaint from him and registered an FIR against the cow vigilante and his associates for assault, wrongful confinement, and criminal intimidation, among other sections under the IPC.
Soon after, the Sathanur police learnt about the death of Idrees Pasha on Saturday morning, they took a complaint from Yunus, based on which a case of murder was registered against Puneeth and his associates on Saturday.
The body was sent to the Kanakapura General Hospital for post-mortem examination after a detailed mahajar (spot inspection) of where the corpse was found.
Yunus told South First that the family received the body of Idrees on Saturday.
It was a custom of theirs to give a “bath” to the body as part of the final rites. It was when they found what Yunus referred to as “burn marks” on the elbows, palms, the right side of the chest, and the back, and a blunt-force injury to the face, almost fracturing his lower jaw.
“The burns on both elbows and palms indicated something like my brother was administered electric shocks, and all the men present while giving the ritual bath to the body observed this. We have even taken photographs and videos of his injuries for documentation,” Yunus told South First
“The reality is my brother is no more and his children lost their dear father,” he added
Soon after learning about his brother’s death, Yunus contacted Zaheer and obtained all information regarding what had transpired.
Though there are three FIRs registered, including that of a murder case, which came to light on Saturday, the Ramnagara district police have not made even a single arrest.
Family members of Idrees alleged that the police learnt about Puneeth Kerehalli’s clout — especially his connections with senior BJP leaders — and are only trying to shield him.
The police react
When South First contacted Bengaluru Rural Superintendent of Police (SP) Karthik Reddy, he said that the Ramnagara district police had registered three FIRs based on complaints, but there had been no arrest so far till Monday evening.
“There is a video of a man being harmed by a group of men inside a vehicle filled with cattle, and this video clip is being shared widely on social media. It is not at all related to the incident involving the death of Idrees Pasha,” Reddy told South First.
He added “We have conducted a post-mortem examination, and doctors have sent viscera samples to the FSL, which will determine the cause of death. We are waiting for the FSL reports to determine the cause of the death.”
Reddy also told South First that prima facie there were no burn marks on the body of Idrees, and only the post-mortem and FSL reports could shed light on the cause of Idrees’ death.
Another senior police officer told South First that the cops were not aware of any weapons like tasers or hockey sticks used by the cow vigilantes.
Who is Puneeth Kerehalli?
Self-styled cow vigilante Puneeth Kerehalli and his associates have apparently been carrying out their activities for the past one-and-a-half years. especially on the outskirts of Mandya.
Members of the group are said to gather information about cattle transport and intercept vehicles on their own on the highways.
Once the vehicles are caught with cattle, they inform the police, who arrive and seize the truck, take it to cow shelters, “rescue” the cattle, seize the vehicle, and book the transporters and the owner of the vehicle.
Yunus told South First that soon after the last rites of his brother were over, he learnt that Puneeth Kerehalli had been live-streaming all of his cow-rescue operations on Facebook, which he shared with his followers, including senior politicians of the BJP.
There also appear to exist videos on social media of Puneeth Kerehalli harassing, intimidating, and threatening people whom he refers to as “jihadis” and “cow smugglers”.
In one of the videos, which has over a million views, Puneeth can be seen hurting a person with something that looks like a taser.
According to a couple of news reports, Puneeth is the president of a far-right Hindutva outfit called Raastra Rakshana Pade — the national security army.
It is this same outfit that was involved in campaigns calling for economic boycott of Muslims meat vendors by way of protesting against Halal cut meat.
It had also called for the boycott of Muslim vendors from the vicinity of Hindu temples in Karnataka.
Puneeth and his associates were also responsible for unveiling a Shiva statue on an illegally constructed artificial island on Begur lake in Bengaluru.
In September 2021, the Karnataka police nabbed three people for allegedly vandalising posters of Tipu Sultan.
In this case, which had hit national headlines, the name of Puneeth Kerehalli had popped up amongst those arrested.
He was also kept in preventive custody after his protests against the decision to allow Muslims to do business in the vicinity of a prominent temple.
According to his social media profile, Puneeth Kerehalli is said to be closely associated with the founder of a rightwing outfit “Yuva Brigade”, Chakravarty Sulibele.
He is also apparently close to Pramod Muthalik, the controversial leader of the equally controversial outfit Sri Ram Sene.
Kerehalli has posted photos of himself posing with BJP leaders like National General Secretary CT Ravi, Karnataka ministers Dr CN Ashwath Narayana and BC Nagesh, MPs Tejasvi Surya and Pratap Simha, national spokesperson Kapil Mishra and Tamil Nadu BJP Chief K Annamalai on his social media pages.