After a mob lynched 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq in a Dadri village last week over rumours of cow slaughter, the Uttar Pradesh police, in a bizarre move, sent a piece of meat from the murdered man's refrigerator for a lab test to determine if it was beef.
Ironically, the meat landed in holy Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, which has 5000 temples and even more sadhus. There is also in Mathura the only forensic lab in Uttar Pradesh authorised to conduct tests to determine if a sample of meat is beef or not.
The forensic lab at the Veterinary College Of Mathura was set up in 1947 to check cow slaughter. It's housed in a small, dreary building, with wall paint peeling. Four people work here, including the lab chief and his assistant.
My team and I visited the lab two days after it had received the Dadri meat sample. We drove out early from Delhi and reached Mathura, about 200 km away, at 8 am. And waited for the gates to open.
No one arrived till 10 am, when a staff member opened the office and began to dust the furniture. "Doctor sahib," he said, would arrive only by noon, if he did decide to come to work at all.
But an assistant doctor came along at 11 am and rushed in visibly disturbed at having spotted our OB van parked outside. All attempts to get her to comment on the Dadri meat sample and on the forensic report came to naught.
She only spoke to convey that we "media people" were very unwanted.
I was perplexed. Testing for beef is fairly simple. Raw meat in put through a series of chemical tests to determine whether it has a protein called beta-cerotine or not. For this a machine called the spectro-photometer is used. Experts say it takes about three hours to get a result.
But here we were, two day later, asking about a report that no one would talk about. Was it because of the intense media scrutiny of the Dadri lynching?
"Doctor sahib", the lab chief, arrived at around 3 pm. And said firmly that he was not authorised to share details of the findings with the media. When I pestered him with many questions like whether the lab had received meat samples to be checked from Dadri before and how many samples the lab tested every month, he folded his arms and candidly shared that it is his last month in service and he wants to retire peacefully without controversy or upsetting the UP government.
But how will doing your job to upset Lucknow? Has the lab been put under directions to keep this test hush-hush? Why is the Akhilesh Yadav government, which has promised speedy justice to Akhlaq's family, not moving fast enough on the beef test?
My questions would remain unanswered, the lab chief sitting resolutely with his arms crossed and speaking not a word.
Was it beef? As we left, he said the forensic report would be out in a week.
(Sonal Mehrotra is chief correspondent with NDTV 24x7. She covers political, human interest and gender-sensitive stories.)
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