Let us recall the infamous Dadri incident. On 28th September 2015, a mob attacked the house of 50-year-old Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, beat him badly and killed him. He was accused by his neighbor of stealing a calf, slaughtering it and eating its meat on Eid al Adha, which was celebrated a few days back.
Instead of charging the killers, the police subsequently registered a case of cow-slaughter against the victim and his family. The police also turned a blind eye to the family’s claims that they had never slaughtered the cow and there was mutton, not beef, in their refrigerator.
Further investigations did prove the family innocent. However, by then, Akhlaq had already passed away.
One of the persons accused of lynching Akhlaq, 21-year-old Ravin, died while in jail. At his funeral, his body was draped in the national flag!
This is an act reserved for those brave-hearts who sacrifice their lives while serving the nation. What ‘service’ did Ravin do to the nation by killing an innocent person, and then spreading hatred and distrust between communities? Moreover, this event was attended by the Minister of Tourism, Mahesh Sharma. Why did a union minister attend the funeral of a criminal?
This again proves how such fringe elements enjoy the support of those in power. This support bolsters them even further.
Even though it created a huge uproar, this was not the first instance of such a mob lynching. It certainly wouldn’t be the last, either.
On Monday, April 3, 2017, a group of 15 people from Haryana’s Mewat district were badly beaten up by vigilante gau-rakshaks in Behror of Alwar District, Rajasthan. Of the 15 men, Pehlu Khan, a 55-year-old person, was beaten up so badly that he died in hospital. Again, the police didn’t waste time in registering a case against the victims. It seems human lives are insignificant compared to that of the holy cows, these days!
Last year, in a similar incident, a family was attacked and two female members, including a minor, were raped in Haryana’s Mewat, because the family had allegedly slaughtered cows.
In the case of Pehlu Khan, the police are still investigating whether the 15 people were smuggling cows or not. This, despite media reports and first-person accounts confirming that the 15 persons, including the dead man, were actually dairy farmers, who were taking the cows for domestication and milk production.
There were no words of condemnation from the chief minister of Rajasthan. The ever-vocal Prime Minister also didn’t say anything on this incident.
In India, the cow is both highly revered and also utterly disrespected. In various states of northern India, it is worshipped as a deity by the Hindu community. Cows are seemingly worshipped because of their highly beneficial nature.
However, in India, respect for cows seems to disappear when they become unproductive. Thus, we can see them roaming about the streets or sitting on highway roads, eating all sorts of garbage. These cows aren’t cared for by their owners because they can’t bear the burden of an unproductive animal.
Ironically though, the cow, which has been a symbol of docility and peace since ancient times, is now at the centre of disruption and violence in India in recent times.
As such, the killing of cows and the consumption of beef is illegal in most Indian states, though the law differs from state to state. In Kerala and West Bengal, the killing of cows is not a crime. In certain states like Bihar, cow progenies, which are older than 15 years, can be killed after obtaining a certificate. Similarly, in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, cows and their progenies can be killed after obtaining a ‘fit for kill’ certificate. The general consensus, therefore, is that if you happen to kill cows in this country, you are likely to land yourself in trouble.The hostility towards killing of cows started to rise particularly in the 20th century. By the time the Partition took place, it was at its peak, with the events of Partition adding fuel to the fire. Thus, in an independent India, strict laws were framed against cow-slaughter.
Consequently, today, in the name of ‘cow protection’, a dangerous trend of cow vigilantism is on the rise, which has been further precipitated by the rising influence of the BJP across India.
What exactly is cow vigilantism? As the name suggests, this is vigilantism against the illegal smuggling of cows and their slaughter. In India, self-righteous vigilante groups are roaming the streets. These groups are extremely paranoid about cow-slaughter and beef-consumption. It’s no surprise that they are attacking those they feel are involved in smuggling/slaughter of cows or consumption of beef. Most of the people constituting these groups are ‘hardcore fringe-elements’ – the so called ‘nationalists’ – out there to enforce their own version of a ‘nationalist’ India, free from the slaughter of the ‘mother cow’.
However, the people constituting these groups aren’t any less lawless than their alleged targets. After all, taking law into their own hands is in itself, an epitome of lawlessness.
Still, such far-right vigilante groups are flourishing in many north Indian states such as Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat and others. Moreover, they even have political patronage, with political parties supporting such groups behind the scenes. This implicit support reaps political dividends during times of elections.
The rise of such vigilante groups is, therefore, a huge threat. If there are laws and also constitutional law-enforcers, then do why we need people (who are neither qualified nor fit for the job) to take the law in their hands? This is my issue with vigilante justice. Is there any guarantee that these vigilantes, who speak of upholding the law of the land, will not abuse the laws themselves, once they are given free reign?
We may not have issues with vigilantism. We certainly didn’t protest against Batman showing his brand of vigilantism in the “Dark Knight” trilogy. However, even as a fictional character, Batman restrained himself from taking human lives.
However, we can’t hope for India’s gau rakshaks to exercise restraint, once they get their sway over the law. Past incidents have proved this, time and again.
In light of these events, it is worth questioning whether this cow vigilantism is being perpetrated out of love for cows, or out of hatred towards particular communities (especially along religious lines).
To me, it seems that the hatred is clearly showing through. Take for instance, the fact that these vigilante groups are mostly associated with various right-wing Hindu groups, which mince no words in ‘demonising’ Muslims. These vigilantes also receive political patronage and moral support from these Hindu organisations.
Also, why does their love for cows get aroused and is invoked only when it concerns minority community which is allegedly involved with a cow-related incident? Why are their minds filled with hatred for Muslims? Why do they always assume that any Muslim transporting cows wants to slaughter it?
In the Alwar-lynching episode, the media focussed on the fact that one of the drivers in the two trucks (allegedly carrying cows for slaughter) was named Arjun. Apparently, the vigilantes questioned him, asked his name, and on confirming that he was not a Muslim, let him go!
If these people are so much concerned about cows, where is their ‘love’ when cows and their progenies live miserable lives and die slow deaths in government-run cowsheds? Where is their ‘love’ when these helpless animals are abandoned by their owners?
Targetting a particular community, just because it doesn’t consider the cow a deity, is not a great exhibition of India’s multiculturalism. Accusing them of slaughtering cows, even though they may be innocent of the act, is even more inhuman.
When did a human life become so cheap that people can end it, simply on the basis of a rumor?
When did a cow become more important than a human?
Shouldn’t the human subject be primary, and worshipping, secondary?
It is to be noted that that vigilantism is a sign of lawlessness, and is also one of the earliest indicators of a society on the path towards anarchy and self-destruction. These vigilante groups (and the people constituting them) are simply spreading enmity, hatred and distrust among communities, while receiving patronage from politicians. In turn, the passions incited by them are exploited by the leaders to divert our attention from key issues of governance, which concern both Hindus and Muslims equally.
It is high time we realize this. Unless we realise and start resisting these vigilantes, they’ll keep terrorising innocents. They’ll keep exploiting our sentiments to abuse the law, thereby preventing us from building a progressive society based on the principles of socialism and secularism.