Reuters' Investigation Surveys 110 Cow Shelters: Cattle Seized From One Community by Vigilantes Is Given to Another
Report places the value of the 190,000 cattle at $36 million.
NEW DELHI: Six killers named by Pehlu Khan --lynched by cow vigilantes near Alwar-- in his dying declaration were released on the basis of a statement by the staff of a cow shelter run by one Jagmal Yadav. Khan was carrying milch cows purchased from a cattle fair to his home in Nuh, Haryana.
The cows were seized. However an investigation by the Reuters news agency that was released a day ago now claims that “outside the frame of the video (recording the attack) something else was happening: Pehlu Khans cows were siezed. They were hauled off to a nearby Hindu-run shelter that takes in cattle snatched from Muslims and sells them.” The report states that his four cattle were among 32 other cattle picked up at different road blocks in the vicinity that day.
Reuters’ reporting across India, according to the investigation, puts actual numbers on the extent of the cow theft. It also provides the first in-depth look at how the actions of cow vigilantes are leading to further economic marginalization of the country’s Muslim minority.
Reuters claims: “In northern India, the leadership of just two of the main organizations of “gau rakshaks” – right-wing Hindu cow vigilantes, or literally “cow protectors” – said they have taken about 190,000 cows since the year of Modi’s election, some in the presence of police and almost every single one of them from Muslims, the reporting shows.”
It might be recalled that part of the campaign for the Uttar Pradesh elections in the districts, as told to The Citizen by several villagers and political workers, was that if the BJP came to power it would redistribute land and cattle presently with the minorities to the Hindus. This was a vicious whisper campaign linking communalism to direct economic benefits.
Reuters has surveyed 110 cow shelters across six Indian states that were led by BJP chief ministers from before or just after Modi’s 2014 election win. The survey found an increase of 50 percent in their cattle holdings - from about 84,000 head before Modi came to power in 2014 to more than 126,000 today.
The report states that of the 110 cattle facilities surveyed, all but 14 said they receive cows from the cow vigilante groups. About a third said they sell or give cows away, nearly all to Hindu farmers and households.
The report places the value of the 190,000 cattle at $36 million. And for its international audience points out that this “is a significant amount of money in India, where some 270 million people live on less than $1.90 a day.”
Reuters’ reporting across India, though, puts actual numbers on the extent of the cow theft. It also provides the first in-depth look at how the actions of cow vigilantes are leading to further economic marginalization of the country’s Muslim minority.
In northern India, the leadership of just two of the main organizations of “gau rakshaks” – right-wing Hindu cow vigilantes, or literally “cow protectors” – said they have taken about 190,000 cows since the year of Modi’s election, some in the presence of police and almost every single one of them from Muslims, the reporting shows.
The report points out that the cattle shelters range from tiny pastures to large complexes. They have traditionally operated as religiously-motivated charities, taking in cows abandoned by farmers because they no longer produce milk or those dropped off by local government workers who found them wandering the streets.
The report states:
“People involved in snatching cattle from Muslims speak with a triumphant sense that their moment in history has arrived. “Everyone in this world is born Hindu. They are turned into Muslims when they are circumcised and Christians when they are baptized,” said Dinesh Patil, a district head of the Bajrang Dal group in the southwestern state of Maharashtra.
At the complex he manages, Patil said that almost every one of the 1,700 cows grazing outside was “rescued by the Bajrang Dal” from “these Muslim slaughterers.” Patil described how a degree of law enforcement sanction is conferred on the cattle seizures: His group takes the cows and hands them over to the police, who then deliver the cattle to his facility. “The entire investigation and catching of the culprits is done by us,” Patil said.
The police, he added, “have to listen to us because the BJP is in power.” Told of Patil’s comments, Bipin Bihari, second-in-command of police for Maharashtra, said: “In a way their work supports the police. It eases our work. If they have some information on some illegal activities, they can share it with us, and we act on it. But they are not allowed to take the law into their hands.”
“A national spokesman for the ruling BJP, Sudhanshu Trivedi, said his party expects anyone with knowledge of illegal acts, such as cow slaughter, to inform the police. In cases where cows were taken, he added, it was because their owners had broken laws: “It is not redistribution of wealth. It is just stopping of illegal activities,” he said.
Modi's office referred Reuters’ request for comment to the Home Ministry. The ministry said it is "not correct" that cow vigilantism has risen on Modi's watch and "preposterous" to conclude that Hindus are organizing to confiscate and redistribute cattle. Some people have taken the law into their own hands “in the name of protecting the cows,” the ministry noted in a written statement, but "the Government is committed to protect the legal rights of all citizens, including minorities in India." State governments, it said, have been directed to take “prompt action” against such people.”
Reuters has stated that while there is no evidence of a formal plan by the BJP to seize and transfer cows from one community to the other, “in states where the BJP has taken power, cow seizures have ramped up. In the absence of official data on the number of cows taken, Reuters reporting and a review of past incidents show that the largest vigilante groups and the cattle seizures are concentrated in BJP-led states.”
“One organization of cow vigilantes in the northern state of Haryana has a golden cow with crossed swords and two AK-47s beneath it as its logo. The leaders of the Gau Raksha Dal, or cow protection group, say they have captured up to 120,000 across the country since beginning their campaign in 2013. Most of that activity was carried out after Modi’s victory in 2014, which was followed by a BJP chief minister taking office in Haryana later in the year.
(GUNS, SWORDS AND COWS: The logo on a website of the Gau Raksha Dal, a cow protection group)
The report has extensive quotes from cow vigilante chiefs, and others running such groups with the lengthy report stating at one point,
“The leader of a group of cow vigilantes, which claims 10,000 members concentrated mostly in western and northern Indian states, said they were unmoved by the prime minister’s condemnation of what he called the vigilantes’ “anti-social activities.”
“The cow protection movement totally belonged to the BJP before 2014,” said the group’s leader, Pawan Pandit, a part-time software engineer. “Now groups like ours have the momentum.”Pandit said networks of vigilantes operating under his Bhartiya Gau Raksha Dal – or Indian cow protection group – captured as many as 60,000 cows in the three years before Modi came to office. Since 2014, Pandit said, the group has grabbed more than 100,000 cows, often working with police.”
“A similar scenario has unfolded in Assam. The leader of a right-wing Hindu youth organization said he waited a year for the BJP-led government in Assam to crack down on what his group views as illegal cattle trading. Then, said Balen Baishya, head of the Hindu Youth-Students Council of Assam, he decided that local party leadership was not made up of “hardcore believers.”
On July 2, Baishya said, he and his men seized three vehicles carrying cows. Video of the incident posted to the Internet shows a mob surrounding one of the drivers as a man beat him with a baton while he writhed on the ground and tried to shield himself.”
(CATTLE ROUNDUP: Cows are packed into a gaushala, or cattle shelter, in the town of Barsana that takes in cattle seized from Muslims by vigilantes in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton)
Reuters finds that the funding for cow shelters has increased dramatically. In Haryana, the Gau Seva Aayog “went from allotting 18.5 million rupees to cow sheds in the 2014-15 fiscal year, when a BJP chief minister took over, to more than 37 million for 2016-17.”
The full report can be read here
(Cover Photo: REUTERS)