Following numerous attacks on beef shops and animal traders, UP Chief Minister and the Mahant of the Gorakhnath Math, Yogi Adityanath talked of strict action against cow vigilantes. He reportedly told the police officials to take the harassment charges seriously and demanded harsh action against such groups.
Apparently the instruction hasn't changed anything on the ground in the most populous state in the country where people have been confused with the word beef. Many people tend to see beef as cow meet. But in UP, the cow is not slaughtered anywhere as it is strictly prohibited and only the buffalo is slaughtered for its meat. nonetheless for common people, the word beef equals cow meat.
Cow vigilantism is not limited to UP alone. It has spread across the country and the recent killing of a Muslim dairy owner in Alwar, Haryana by a cow vigilante group has triggered panic among many across the country.
This is not the first killing in the name of cow protection in the country. Mohammad Akhlaq killing late December in Dadri, the deaths of several other innocent Muslims at the hands of overzealous cow vigilantes in UP and and the public thrashing of Dalit youth skinning dead cows in Gujarat in July 2016 and other similar incidents have amplified the fear in the minds of people belonging to minority communities across the country.
There is no denying that this is a menace fast spreading across much of North India. Punjab, Haryana, UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana - no place is out of bounds for such groups. They seem to be thriving thanks to state patronage.
While police taking action against illegal slaughter of animals including the cow is legal, the absurdity of allowing extra-judicial militias to do the state's bidding is not just worrisome but illegal as well. The police force, despite its apparent bias, is trained in crowd control and can maintain law and order. Worryingly, the cow vigilante groups are raised to hate particular communities, and use cow protection to not just harass communities and castes they see as inimical to them, but also to extort money for running massive organisations that are literally turning into illegal militias.
Pehlu Khan's barbaric killing in Alwar - his son, who also sustained serious injuries, later told cops the cow vigilantes would have set all four of them on fire had they not arrived - clearly shows the mindset of the so-called gau rakshaks. While the police were guilty of letting the cow vigilantes who had beaten a person to death go scot free, they at least saved the remaining people who had bought the cow for their dairy.
There are innumerable organisations formed in the name of saving the cow. Many such organisations have hundreds or even thousands of members who are let loose on a hapless population. A single such organisation, the Bhartiya Gau Raksha Dal (BGRD), is a reportedly 6000 'force' with full-time members, mostly men and mostly Brahmins. This group has branches from Punjab to UP, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and other states. What is surprising is the fact that the organisation is able to maintain a 6000 full-time employees.
What the Supreme Court is doing
Given the menace that such organisations have created across the north India, the Supreme Court has asked the government and the five BJP-ruled states to state why these groups shouldn't be banned. The states and the Union Government have been asked to file their responses within the next three weeks.
While it is unclear what action the apex court will take against such extra-judicial entities, the court's action will certainly put some pressure on the union government and state governments to rein in such elements who seem to have a free run after BJP's ascendance to power some three years ago.
Eerie silence of the BJP leadership
What is most surprising in the entire episode of cow vigilantism and the killing of the Muslim dairy owner in Alwar and the severe beating of other Muslims is the eerie silence maintained by the entire BJP top brass. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has continued his stoic silence over the issue. The same is the case with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhra Raje Scindia.
What such weird silences betray is not just disregard of Muslim lives, but also an indifference to the law and order when it comes to cases inolving these groups that clearly have state patronage.
Cow vigilantism and the Lal Masjid parallel
The actions of the cow vigilante groups can be compared to the terror tactics employed by Lal Masjid students' in Islamabad against people who didn't follow their lifestyle and puritanical interpretation of Quran. In 2006, burqa-clad female students, who acted as vigilantes to enforce their ban on 'entertainment' and against alleged brothels run by Chinese and 'Shia' women, had run amok in different parts of the Pakistani capital.
The girls and the boys who lived in a different seminary in close quarters at one time became so powerful that then Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf had to impose curfew and deploy the army to control them. It is still not known how many people were killed in the ferocious fight that ensued later. The same cleric that turned against the establishment was once protected by the Pakistani government.
Opposition to cow vigilantism muted
Till now the opposition to cow vigilantism has been very muted. Compare the opposition to the latest Supreme Court order on liquor ban on highways with the opposition to the menace of cow vigilantism and you will realise to your horror how insignificant the latter is. Mainstream media hasn't even begun to properly discuss the issue.
We hear very few voices against the horror caused by such groups. Surjit Bhalla, a renowned economist, seems to be an exception. "Nobody is for this kind of nonsense. The cow slaughter vigilantism is ISIS in India - there is no difference... No sane person can defend or support or even offer excuses for what is done in the name of a cow. It is just horrible," he said on NDTV dialogues.
He also questioned the rationale behind the crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses in UP saying, "These crackdowns are arbitrary actions by the state. I have a living and it is suddenly taken away from me. So whether I am poor or not, I resent it… I think that inequality in that particular mode will have consequences and also lead to a broader sense of resentment of the fact that some people seem much better off. Such resentment changes politics. If BJP doesn't manage to make people feel that they will be able to catch up with this or at least get a piece of that, they will lose."