Cow ‘Protectors’ Or (Hu)Man Hunters?
There has been a steady rise in attacks by cow vigilantes
On June 24, two men from Mumbai were intercepted by a mob on suspicion of smuggling beef. Shouting "Jai Shree Ram", the men brutally assaulted Afaan Abdul Majid Ansari and Nasir Hussain Shaikh. Afan died, while Nasir is currently undergoing treatment at Mumbai's state-run KEM hospital.
The deceased, 32-year-old Ansari, and Shaikh were transporting 450 kg of meat in a car when they were stopped and assaulted by a group of ten to 15 cow vigilantes on the evening of June 24. Local police arrested and registered a case against 11 people for murder, attempt to murder and rioting.
The victims were rushed to a nearby hospital by police but Ansari died while being treated for his injuries. Nashik Rural superintendent of police Shahaji Umap in a statement said that Shaikh suspected the deadly attack followed a tip-off to the cow vigilantes by someone who noticed the meat in their car at a toll plaza.
A similar incident took place in Nashik district on June 8 when cow vigilantes of the Rashtriya Bajrang Dal killed a man and injured two others on the suspicion that they were illegally transporting cattle.
Both the June 8 and June 24 attacks occurred in the district’s Igatpuri area and involved unknown persons alerting vigilantes to the locations of Muslim men.
A Maharashtra state law called the Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, 1995 prohibits the transport or export of cows, bulls or bullocks for slaughter as well as buying and selling the meat of these animals.
There have been numerous reports suggesting that ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power in May 2014, there has been an increase in such incidents. This, many believe, is due to the communal rhetoric that has sparked a violent vigilante campaign against beef consumption and those who have been linked to it.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch, between May 2015 and December 2018, at least 44 people, 36 of them Muslims, were killed across 12 Indian states. Over that same period, around 280 people were injured in over 100 different incidents across 20 states.
“The attacks have been led by so-called cow protection groups, many claiming to be affiliated to militant Hindu groups that often have ties to the BJP. Many Hindus consider cows to be sacred and these groups have mushroomed all over the country. Their victims are largely Muslim or from Dalit (formerly known as “untouchables”) and Adivasi (indigenous) communities,” the report stated.
Cow slaughter was contentiously debated during the framing of the Indian Constitution in the late 1940s. Some members of the Constituent Assembly wanted a total prohibition on cow slaughter and called for cow protection to be a fundamental right.
Eventually, there was a compromise to prohibit cow slaughter not by making it an enforceable fundamental right but by including it as a “Directive Principle of State Policy,” meant to guide the national and state governments in policymaking.
On June 29, just after the Nashik incident, a 55-year-old Muslim man was allegedly lynched by a group of cow vigilantes that accused him of transporting beef in Bihar’s Saran district.
The 55-year-old victim was a truck driver transporting animal bones to a registered factory, which used them for medicinal purposes, police said. Seven people have been arrested so far in connection with the lynching, they added.
According to reports, the Saran police said the incident took place on the intervening night of June 28 and 29 when Mohammed Zahiruddin parked his truck near Khori Pakar village after it developed a snag.
As Zahiruddin started looking for a mechanic along with his helper, Khurshid Ali, a group of villagers gathered near the truck and started inquiring about the consignment being transported. With foul smell emanating from the truck, the villagers suspected that beef was being transported and started assaulting Zahiruddin, without giving him a chance to explain, the police said. They said Ali managed to escape from the spot.
Zahiruddin was taken to a nearby hospital where he was declared dead on arrival. Doctors suspected internal injury as the main cause of death. He was a resident of Majhwalia village in Saran district.
Speaking to The Citizen author and journalist Dhirendra Jha, who has worked extensively on Hindutva outfits and their foot soldiers said that while there were some sporadic incidents earlier, but after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came in power, these incidents have become quite frequent.
“Personally, I look at these activities as part of the massive effort, which is going on to stir the national discourse to treat Muslims as others. There are attacks in the name of cow protection, love jihad and the idea to portray Muslims as anti-nationals,” Jha said.
Author of “Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva” Jha has profiled eight groups including and their leaders across India for their connections with the BJP.
On why such incidents have increased recently and are mostly happening in BJP ruled states, he added, “The obvious reason is that the BJP government is creating a climate of impunity for these attackers. This government is also pushing forward Hindu majoritarian agenda which gives power to these people.”
Another video started doing rounds on social media on Friday, where a man can be seen being violently abused by a group of men, beaten by sticks, and tied to a tree, while he begs with his hands folded.
Reportedly, two Muslim men were stripped, tied to a tree, and brutally beaten up by cow vigilantes, including members of the Bajrang Dal militia, over suspicion of cow slaughter.
One of the two victims of the said assault continues to be in serious condition due to the injuries. A video of the victim speaking to a journalist, narrating the incident, has also been uploaded on social media.
As per the said video, the incident took place on Eidul-Zuha when the victim, a Maulana, was sitting in a field with his friend. As it was Eid, the two were planning to sacrifice an animal as a religious offering.
As has been understood from his video, shot as he was crying with pain and lying in a hospital, the victim was reportedly planning to sacrifice an animal from his own herd of cattle, since he could not afford to buy another animal. It was then that a group of 30-40 people allegedly belonging to the Bajrang militia came to his field and started abusing and beating the two of them.
The victim stated that he was thrashed with sticks and rods. He was repeatedly hit on his back, legs and head. He later claimed that he had been asked to chant Jai Shree Ram, and was beaten further when he initially refused.
In July, 2018, in the case of Tehseen Poonawalla v Union of India, a unanimous judgement had been delivered by a 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court on increasing incidents of cow-vigilantism in India, and guidelines had been issued to curb and take action against acts of cow vigilantism.
And yet, five years after the passing of this landmark judgement, the menace of cow vigilantism is not decreasing. The vigilante groups continue to ignore the law and continue to terrorise and abuse citizens, mostly Muslims, on suspicion of consuming or transporting beef.
Cow slaughter is forbidden in most parts of India. However, over the last few decades, Hindu nationalists have led a political campaign complaining that the authorities do not do enough to enforce the ban and stop cattle smuggling.
“Since beef is consumed largely by religious and ethnic minorities, BJP leaders, in seeking to appeal to Hindu voters, have made strong statements about the need to protect cows that have enabled, and at times may have incited, communal violence,” the report by Human Right Watch stated.
The incidents have instilled fear in the minds of Muslims, where many people said something as menial as eating food in public has become a menace.
“I asked my parents to stop carry chicken or mutton related dishes while traveling in public transport because they might be lynched,” Mohd. Zubair, a resident of Delhi told The Citizen.
Hate Crime Watch, a collaborative database by the Indian organisation FactChecker, documented 254 reported incidents of crimes targeting religious minorities between January 2009 and October 2018, in which at least 91 persons were killed and 579 were injured.
According to Human Rights Watch, about 90 percent of these attacks were reported after BJP came to power in May 2014, and 66 percent occurred in BJP-run states. Muslims were victims in 62 percent of the cases and Christians in 14 percent.
These include communal clashes, attacks on interfaith couples, and violence related to cow protection and religious conversions. “Muslims are the main target but Christians are also another target. At the end of the day, the mindset is Hindu supremacy. If you are working for a Hindu supremacy then you will target all other minority groups,” Jha added.
On Wednesday, videos emerged showing the principal of D. Y. Patil High School being assaulted by Hindutva activists on school premises in the Talegaon Dabhade area in Pune.
The principal, Alexander Coates, was attacked by a mob and booked by the police for forcing the students of his school to take part and recite Christian prayers.
According to reports, several parents had complained to the activists about their children being forced to recite Christian prayer. They also claimed that the students were not given holidays for Hindu festivals.
Following the incident, reports suggest that the Pune police have filed a case and are yet to file an FIR. The school authorities have denied all of the allegations, while also sending Alexander on a long leave until decisions are made regarding the matter.
In Haryana, the notorious Bajrang Dal leader Monu Manesar has become a household name. Over the past few years, he has become viral on social media for going on night patrols and beating up Muslims who he accused of cow smuggling.
A self-proclaimed “saviour of cows” Manesar came in news when on February 16, two Muslim men attacked and abducted by a mob that later set them ablaze, alive while they were inside their car. This is said to have happened after accusations of cow smuggling were made against the victims.
Both Junaid and Nasir were residents of Rajasthan’s Ghatmeeka village. However, months since their death, the family is still demanding justice, which seems nowhere in sight.
A first information report (FIR) under the following sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) had been registered against the accused Lokesh, Rinku Saini, Srikant, and Monu Manesar under Sections 143 (unlawful assembly), 365 (abduction), 367 (kidnapping or abducting in order to subject a person to grievous hurt, slavery) and 368 (wrongful Confinement).
Since then, Manesar was said to be on the run but has again resurfaced. In a recent interview, Manesar claimed he was not evading police but was on a pilgrimage in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan.
“I had not gone anywhere. I was visiting temples across different states. Why would I hide from the police when I’ve not done anything?” said Monu Manesar, who is head of Gurgaon district’s ‘cow protection force’ and a member of the civil defence team of the district administration in Manesar.
Sitting at a gaushala after resurfacing a few days ago, he said, “I haven’t got a notice from any police, Rajasthan or Haryana. If they call me for questioning, I will cooperate.”
The rise of such groups, as Jha explained, came from the fact that they received impunity from the government itself. Meanwhile, many policies introduced around cow protection by BJP-ruled state governments have enabled vigilante groups.
Like Manesar, members of cow protection groups, sometimes alongside police, patrol streets and highways at night, stop vehicles, check them for cattle, intimidate drivers, and react with violence if they find cows.
In 2016, the Haryana government set up a 24-hour helpline for citizens to report cow slaughter and smuggling, and appointed police task forces to respond to the complaints.
In March 2017, after becoming the BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, Yogi Adityanath, ordered the closure of numerous slaughterhouses and meat shops, mostly run by Muslims. The same was seen in other states as well.
In Rajasthan, the previous BJP state government opened six gau raksha (cow protection) police posts tasked with curbing cattle smuggling.
These posts have become a hotbed for cow protection groups who target Muslim cattle traders, dairy farmers, and herders from Haryana, even if they have official purchase receipts for their cattle.
People at Junaid and Nasir had explained how this was not the first time that Muslims had been interrogated, harassed and even killed by cow vigilante groups.
In April 2017, a mob in Rajasthan brutally assaulted a 55-year-old dairy farmer, Pehlu Khan, and four others with sticks and belts and allegedly tore their purchase receipts. Khan died two days later from his injuries.
In July 2016, following a series of assaults on members of the Dalit community by right-wing Hindu nationalist groups over the alleged slaughtering of a cow, numerous demonstrations were recorded across the country and particularly in the state of Gujarat.
According to reports, the demonstrations led to the resignation of then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Anandiben Patel. Prime Minister Modi denounced mob lynching in the name of cow protection to appease the demonstrators. However, that has done little to change the situation.
Meanwhile, in 2017, Manav Suraksha Kanoon or The Protection from Lynching Act (MASUKA) was drafted. The MASUKA proposed denying bail for those accused of mob lynching, as well as life imprisonment for those convicted. However, the MASUKA has yet to be passed by the Indian government.
“The idea is that the whole ideology is anti-Minority where Muslims are the main target. This is what they are taught at the shakhas as well,” Jha said.
For Zubair and many others, this is a move to oppress the Muslims and push them towards second class citizen status. “Nothing is hidden now. From food to what we wear, Muslims are scrutinised over little things and attacked. But the problem not just lies with the government, it is the silence and approval of the majority that is dangerous. Isn’t it the major reason why despite so much outcry, this party wins,” Zubair added.