By Abhishek Jha for Youth Ki Awaaz.com:
There is a strange sit-in protest ongoing at the Jantar Mantar. The Cow- the symbolic Gau Mata- herself is apparently agitating for a federal law banning the slaughter of cows and their progeny. “We (cow protection advocates) were led to the protest by Gau Mata,” says Pandit Harimohan Pandey, who is the Pracharak of the Sarvadaliya Gau Raksha Manch (All Party Cow Protection Platform), about the 1966 agitation against cow slaughter. The 50th anniversary of the agitation is about a year away, but this cow protection group wants the Parliament to begin discussing a bill in this winter session itself. That’s why they have been protesting with two cows in tow since 1st December. They want a law passed by 7th November, 2016.
I had visited the group at Jantar Mantar a day before on December 18th. Two cows were tethered in front of a tent and there were about ten people sitting inside.This tent is set right next to the gates of JD(U)’s Head Office at Jantar Mantar. This is amusing as the JD(U) has only recently defeated the cow-slaughter rhetoric in the Bihar elections. Ramshankar Ojha of the Vishwa Gau Raksha Sangh, one of the groups in the all party platform, breaks into a litany of demands after asking if I am from the press. He lists three demands. That cow slaughter be banned, that pastures for cows be cleared, and that the cow be declared the national animal. He also wants a Food Security Bill for cows to be moved in the parliament.
But don’t several states already have laws banning cow slaughter? Ojha thinks they aren’t properly implemented and he, anyway, wants a federal law banning cow slaughter. But he is quick to add that he does not care about foreign varieties of cows. His demands are only for the “desi varieties of cows”. Asha Shukla, also part of Ojha’s group, has worked at the Indian Council of Child Welfare (that initiated the bravery awards for children who are felicitated on Republic Day) but now devotes herself to protests against cow-slaughter, she says. I ask her why she left working for children and started working for cows. But I am interrupted by Vinod Shukla, who identifies himself as a social worker. “Jis desh me 102 crore Hindu rehte hain aur gai kat rahi hai (The country in which 102 crore Hindus live and Cows are being slaughtered)!” he says in apparent anger. “This government will suffer later (if it doesn’t pass the law),” he adds when I ask if the BJP being in power can help.They say they had tried to cross the barricades at Jantar Mantar today to protest in front of the Parliament, but were prevented from doing so by the police present.
A similar protest, that Harimohan Pandey told me about later, had happened some 50 years ago. Reports from the time say that the 1966 demonstration in front of the Parliament was huge and had resulted in a riot like situation. The demand at the time too was for a federal ban despite some states having their own laws against cow slaughter. The scale of the rioting can be gauged from the fact that international papers carried the news on their front pages. One such report says that a mob had broken into the home of the Congress Party President Kumarasami Kamraj, stoning his house and injuring his cook while he escaped from the back door.
Right next to the tent of the platform at Jantar Mantar, a group of Muslims are protesting against comments made against the Prophet by a self-proclaimed Hindu Mahasabha activist. A woman who joins the group directs their attention towards the sloganeering. Asha Shukla responds that she would beat Azam Khan, the S.P. leader from Uttar Pradesh, with her bare hands if she met him. The woman who has just arrived asks my name and, gathering from the group that I am from the press, notes down my name and number in a notebook. While she notes, she drops down her voice to tell me that there is a national conspiracy going on against Brahmins and Kshatriyas as they are the brain and muscle among Hindus- one of the many theories you can find here.
One of the pamphlets I am given there, which asks people to join the Satyagraha for a federal legislation, has only “Whats aap” numbers, a popular medium of communication among vigilante groups too. As we have seen earlier, circulation of fake pictures on messaging services on the internet have led to a mob-lynching and also played a part during the Muzaffarnagar riots.
So I return the next day with more questions, but today the crowd in the camp is smaller. Thakur Jaypal Singh, National President of the platform, does not want to answer questions. He hands me a memorandum and a pamphlet and asks me to speak to the Pracharak instead. Harimohan Pandey, the Prachark, too tells me that everything is in the pamphlet. He does, however, break into an impromptu narration of the 1966 episode. I listen to him, so that there is some reconciliation. But when he stops, I am just told to take pictures of yesterday’s protest and shown a copy of a newspaper that has carried the news.
Today (19th December, 2015), there is also a meeting happening in front of the platform’s tent. The issue of SC/ST representation in the judiciary is being discussed apart from the violence perpetrated on Adivasis. “Dimag kharab ho gaya hai inka (They have lost their mind),” Pandey speaks to himself. He shows no indication of answering questions. As I am getting to leave, he tells me has dropped pamphlets at PTI offices. Then calls up another mediaperson and says, jokingly, that the dharna won’t end until she gets here. However, a person sitting next to him reminds him that they have to continue until their demands are met.
And that’s cue for me to leave.