Junaid and Nasir were murdered on suspicion of smuggling cows, and India’s YouTube vigilante Monu Manesar is wanted for the murders as he has been part of a team of cow vigilantes along the Rajasthan-Haryana border.
On the afternoon of February 14, Junaid Khan, 32, and his nephew Nasir Khan, 25, left their small village of Ghatmeeka in India’s northwestern state of Rajasthan to attend a family function. They didn’t come back.
“When they didn’t return the same night, we got worried,” says Arshad Khan, 44, Junaid’s brother-in-law. “Their phones were switched off as well. We searched for them the whole day.”
Two days later, the men’s bodies were found inside a burned-out vehicle in the village of Loharu, around 240 kilometers away in the neighboring state of Haryana. On their way home after midnight, members of a far-right extremist group had allegedly abducted, tortured, and killed the men, who are Muslims, on suspicion of smuggling cows—animals that are considered sacred by Hindus. Consuming beef and transporting cattle is not illegal, but several states have passed restrictive laws over the past few years, essentially criminalizing a profession that is dominated by Muslims.
“Why did they have to be killed? What was their fault?” Khan says. “Who will look after their poor families now?”
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Among the group suspected by police of murdering Junaid and Nasir is 28-year-old Monu Manesar, a high-profile YouTuber who has built a huge following online with his videos of cow vigilantism. Manesar, who is reportedly now on the run, is one of a large ecosystem of sectarian influencers on Indian social media who have benefited from the country’s nationalistic turn under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Human rights advocates say that their content—which is prevalent across Western-owned platforms—is exacerbating social division, and even leading to vigilante attacks on religious minorities.
“We have laws against hate speech that are being used selectively,” Aakar Patel, chair of Amnesty International India says. “Hate speech is allowed both by the government and the social media companies.”
According to Pew Research Center data, the fertility rates in India have fallen across all religious groups, with the difference between Hindu and Muslim birth rates shrinking, going from a third to a quarter more births among the latter demographic.
In an email statement, YouTube spokesperson Jack Malon says that YouTube has suspended monetization on Manesar’s channel for violating its creator responsibility policy. “We also removed 9 videos from the channel in question for violating our harassment policies,” he said.
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