Cow vigilantism continues

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Weakening of the social fabric is one part, but the government’s muted response to such incidents is the second and more damaging aspect of the entire cow vigilante movement in India.

His plans to buy a milch cow had more to do with money and trade and less to do with the animal. Or the sanctity Hindus attached to it.

In these troubled times he was quite clear that he would carry necessary documents to avoid conflicting with the law or cops. As a dairy farmer Khan only wanted to increase milk production. The milch cow, had in his presence, given 12 litres of milk.

This, concluded Khan, was a good buy and a means to increase milk production and though it, his earnings. It was a decision that cost Khan his life. It was on National Highway 8 when he was stopped and pulled out of the pick up truck and assaulted with sticks and belts. The provocation: there were two cows and two calves in the truck.

The assailants, part of gau rakshak group, accused him of smuggling cows for slaughter. The vigilantes, who are Hindu, consider cows as sacred. Among Hindus, cows are revered. They are considered sacred and slaughtering them is illegal. In the state of Rajasthan, through which Khan was travelling, transporting them out for slaughter is illegal. in some states, However, to transport dairy cows with official permission is perfectly legal. The FIR registered against Khan and others accuses them of illegally transporting cattle for slaughter even while there are counter reports of Khan carrying valid receipts and necessary purchase documents.

Irrespective, Khan succumbed to injuries and died after battling for two days. Officials confirm that he was beaten by a mob of some 200 cow protection vigilantes. The Police version confirms that the cow vigilante groups surrounded six vehicles carrying cattle on a highway connecting Jaipur to New Delhi on Saturday and pulled out five men, apparently Muslims, and beat them. Khan was beaten to pulp. Video of the episode, that went viral, showed men in white curled up on the roadside as they were kicked and whipped with belts and metal rods. Of course there are claims and counter claims about whether the cows were being smuggled or being legally transported; whether they were for slaughter or for milking; whether laws were violated or there was adherence. Even while these will continue to be debated, the fact remains that a man has lost his life.

He is dead. Khan was victim of mob frenzy for no fault of his. Even if he was doing something illegal, he did not have to pay with his life. It was for the Police to intercept the vehicle, even on suspicion, check the papers and take necessary action in case of violations. For goons to swing into action and take the law in their hands, manhandle, beat and inflict fatal injuries is neither acceptable nor pardonable.

Therefore when a state minister said that there are “two sides” to the incident, he was only underplaying the crime and attempting to give a clean chit to the culprits. His contention that cows cannot be smuggled out of Rajasthan does not in any way mean, if at all they were being smuggled, that one has to pay for the crime in blood. Khan did: many have before and many could in future. Khan is not the first victim of cow protection groups; neither is he likely to be the last. Thanks to the rise of Bharatiya Janata Party and it assuming power, fringe elements have got a fillip on the Indian landscape. It started with the attack on Muslims but has, in recent times, targeted low caste Hindus too. Muslims apart Dalits are also running for cover from cow vigilante groups. The flogging of Dalit men in Una, Gujarat last year was also done in the name of cow protection.

Seven members of a Dalit family, involved in leather trading, were attacked and brutally assaulted. Four of them were stripped half-naked, tied to a car, dragged for about a kilometre and then beaten up with iron rods and sticks. The provocation: they were found skinning the carcass of a cow. Muslims apart, the Dalit community has, by all accounts, become a soft target for gau rakshaks. Dalits, it is common knowledge, are involved in leather business. When cows die, the job of disposing off their carcass is left to the lower castes. They collect their carcasses, skin them and sell their hides to tanners as also deliver their meat to Muslims butchers. Were the Dalits to stop doing this work, high caste Hindus would certainly have an issue about dead cows.

Weakening of the social fabric is one part, but the government’s muted response to such incidents is the second and more damaging aspect of the entire cow vigilante movement in India. That it is BJP backed is beyond doubt. Incidents have their footprints in BJP ruled states including Madhya Pradesh where two dalit women were assaulted for allegedly carrying illegal cow meat. The government has not moved beyond lip service.

Its connivance may not be visible but its silent approval certainly is. Its failure to stand up against its own sympathizers and supporters carrying on the Hindutva agenda tells a gory tale. Worse still, the impression that cow vigilantes can take law into their hands, kill at will and go scot free is gaining ground.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have mumbled a few words of condemnation but they were not audible enough to send a message that cow vigilantes playing havoc will not be tolerated. In fact, his qualifying such acts by warning against “fake” gau rakshaks, lends credence to the fact that BJP backed cow vigilantes have a stamp of approval from powers that be and are part of the game-plan to cleanse India from those who do not conform to Hinduism and its beliefs including worshipping the cow. Worse still, the RSS and VHP’s Hindutva agenda has given a nod to gau rakshaks to save the cow even if it means killing human beings.