By Abhimanyu Singh:
Ashoo Mongia is a busy man. Rashtriya Adhyaksh or the President of the Rashtriye Goraksha Sena (National Cow-Protection Army), an organisation based in Delhi, he has his hands full, to be fair. The organisation has fought the recent case in Supreme Court supporting stricter enforcement of the law prohibiting cow slaughter in Jammu and Kashmir – the Court ordered a stay in the matter and sent it back to a larger bench of Srinagar High Court which annulled both the petitions and asked the government to act on issues raised in them; it also left it to the legislature to decide upon the matter. While one of the petitions wanted a stricter enforcement of the ban on beef in the state, the other had questioned the validity of such an act. Cow slaughter has been banned in J&K since pre-Independence times. “They also have the maximum punishment for it, ten years,” Mongia told me, in a tone of grudging praise. The controversy arose after the Jammu bench ordered a stricter enforcement of the beef ban whereas the Srinagar bench admitted a petition against it. Mongia complained that he was not provided any security to appear in the Srinagar High Court for the hearing. “The top police officials did not even speak to me when I called to request for security,” he grumbled. However, he was full of praise for Jammu’s police officers. “At least, they care for your concerns,” he claimed.
His organisation also fought a court case in Goa over the beef ban issue which did not go in its favour. It is also a party in the case being heard in Maharashtra High Court over similar issues. “Quite a few of the 18 petitions which have been clubbed together have been filed by Hindus who want to have beef,” he told me.
Apart from contesting cases in various courts, the organisation also conducts raids on slaughterhouses and vehicles transporting cattle “illegally” for slaughter, in Delhi and elsewhere. Recently, he has been leading raids on such vehicles passing through Delhi, he claimed, “without much help by the police.” He is also a regular on TV debates, he tells me.
He also aims high. On November 24th 2015, when he met me in New Delhi after almost two weeks of cancelling and rescheduling appointments, he said that he was trying to get an appointment with the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, to alert him about the “illegal smuggling of cows” on the Bangladesh border. The issue has also been raised by the maverick politician Subramanian Swamy and minister Maneka Gandhi. According to Mongia, in exchange for cows, “rocket-launchers, RDX, detonators, Kalashnikovs and even cocaine and other hard drugs” were being smuggled back into India. “I will tell Doval sa’ab that this is hurting the security interests of the country,” he said.
A tall and thick-set man with a drooping, walrus-like moustache which makes him look older than his age, 34, and dressed in jeans and a full-sleeved off-white shirt, Mongia met me, suitably enough, in the courtyard of a Vishnu temple in Khureji, East Delhi. Behind him was a garlanded and over-sized portrait of the holy man who started the temple; the man’s son is now the presiding Acharya. Fairly young to look at, this Acharya with his remarkably fit body and agile gait was clearly someone Mongia deferred to. In fact, Mongia bent down completely to touch his feet when he passed us by, and spoke to him with an expression of great respect, almost as if receiving orders or instructions.
The temple in whose courtyard we sit, around a large plastic table, forms a part of the premises of the Vivekananda Yog Ashram which also consists of a charity hospital. “It has now been empaneled under the Central Government Health Scheme,” Mongia noted with satisfaction, as we carried on. It wasn’t clear if Mongia had an actual office but he made it seem like the entire area was accessible to him for running his operations.
The RGS, as Mongia told me, was formed in 2010, after he “discovered that other Hindu organisations were not only disinterested in saving the cows, but were actually on the payroll of illegal slaughterhouses.” In the last five years, the organisation has spread its reach, Mongia claimed. They are currently active in states like Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat. The BJP is in power in all of them. They have also been focusing on West Bengal since their inception, he told me. “Every year during Bakrid, a team of dozen people from the organisation goes there to keep a check on illegal slaughter of cows, which is carried out with the active complicity of the local police and administration,” he claimed.
Along with West Bengal, Kerala is another state where they have faced a lot of difficulty in carrying out their activities, he said; the fact that Kerala is one of the states in the country where cow slaughter is legally permissible makes matter worse for them. Cow slaughter is banned in 24 out of 29 states in the country.
However, this does not mean that Mongia is happy with what the BJP ruled states have been doing for protecting the cows. He told me that he was planning to take Gulab Chand Kataria, the home minister of Rajasthan to court for saying in a TV debate – in which Mongia also participated – that the state government did not have enough policemen to stop illegal cattle trade. Similarly, he blamed the Chhattisgarh government for amending the act against cow slaughter “only in name”. “In Haryana, there has been zero implementation of the new act against cow slaughter,” he added.
He also has no love lost for the central government headed by the so-called ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ (The King of the Hindu Hearts) – Narendra Modi. “Before the elections, he spoke against Pink Revolution. But during his regime the export of beef has gone up,” he says, citing corresponding figures.
“We had also voted for him thinking he will help us in our agenda. But he is only concerned now with catching the next flight out of the country and packing his suitcase,” he said, making clear his contempt for the PM and his government.
It is not only the governments under BJP that he finds useless when it comes to defending the “mother” cow. His grouse is equally against Hindu organisations and other co-religionists.
“A boy from a Hindu organisation wanted to go with me on a raid to apprehend illegal cattle traders. On the scheduled day, he sent me an SMS in the evening saying he would let me know if he could make it. After an hour or so, I called him and asked what was going on. ‘My mother has forbidden me to go with you’, he told me. This is the situation of our Hindu brethren. I met some activists of another Hindu organisation as well. They showed a lot of interest in accompanying me on the raids. They said they would come along the next time. When I contacted them one evening for a raid, they told me that they had to attend the Shakha in the morning and also that it was too cold at nights these days and they were afraid of catching a cold. Only Hindus are responsible for the poor condition of cows in the country and no one else. It has come down to this level only due to our own faults,” Mongia said, in a tone of quiet desperation.
Mongia himself has raided several illegal slaughterhouses and vehicles carrying cattle illegally, on their way in or out of Delhi. “I have conducted raids in Mewat (Haryana), Vrindavan (UP), Calcutta and several other places,” he claimed. The Vrindavan raid, where he can be seen heckling and arguing with the Muslim owner of a slaughterhouse, with a policeman watching on mutely, was, in fact, video-graphed and can be seen here. There are more such videos online where he can be seen doing the same.
While he adroitly put across his point-of-view on most aspects related to the issue, he was somewhat stumped when asked about historians like D.N. Jha having written that Hindus ate beef in Vedic times. “I have never heard of such a thing but we are open to having a debate with such scholars on a public forum,” he told me. However, he gave a clean chit, so to say, to Dalits who also eat beef and claimed that it was only a minority amongst them who did so. “I am more worried about Hindus like Justice Markandeya Katju and Rishi Kapoor stating publicly that they eat beef,” he said.
Coming back to his chief concern, the indifference or apathy of the majority Hindus to the issue, he asked me plaintively: “How can we put an end to the practice if Hindus keep sending their old cows to the slaughterhouse?” When I pointed out that to maintain unproductive cows was economically challenging for poor farmers, he said they could sell cow dung and urine but the government had not made proper provisions for establishing centres where this could be done. On the issue of cow-leather being used for shoes and belts, worn by Hindus as well, he blamed the government for not carrying on strict checks in factories where they were being produced.
Mongia has plans of conducting raids in Delhi, in five-star hotels where beef is served, he told me as a parting shot. But he rued that the botched-up raid at Kerala House, carried out by another organisation, had made the management of these hotels cautious. “Now they don’t mention beef on their menus and don’t serve it at all if an Indian demands it. We will need to use a foreign decoy for the purpose,” he concluded.