Since the BJP came to power there has been a concerted effort by the centre and the party led state governments to protect the cow, in line with hindu beliefs that the animal is holy. Starting with with the beef ban in Maharashtra and support to self-styled gau rakshas who have unleashed indiscriminate violence on those whom they suspect of possessing beef or slaughtering cows, fear and violence grows among muslim and dalit communities.
The latest victim in this spate of violence in 55-year-old Pehlu Khan who was beaten by a mob of 15 men. The Indian Express reported that Khan was one among 20 dairy farmers in Jaisinghpur, a predominantly farming village in Rajasthan. Khan and a few other dairy farmers reportedly travelled to Jaipur to purchase buffaloes and cows for milk production. Khan has originally planned to buy buffaloes but purchased cows instead as the seller said that it would yield more milk. Khan’s young son and another villager accompanying them were also assaulted on their way back home despite producing valid receipts. An FIR has also been registered against them. The report states that they group was beaten with sticks and belts as well as robbed of their money and mobile phones.
Impact of this violence on livelihoods is worth examining as fear grows among those who own cattle and for whom the animals are intrinsically linked to their occupation. The Times of India editorial has rightly pointed out that dairy and leather industry will suffer due to fear of vigilante cow protectors. While the BJP leaders only urge sensitivity to the sentiments of people (hindus), there is no political will to unequivocally denounce this violence in the light of hard facts.
India is the largest producer of milk in the world, with around 85% of its dairy workforce being small farm holders. This necessarily involves buying, selling, transporting milch animals. If this transporting is endangered it hurts the dairy, leather and allied businesses which employ millions of people – alongside social harmony
One of the reasons cited for cow protection is its importance to agriculture. However, this opinion piece in the Live Mint argues that economic justification doesn’t hold good and may in fact be counter-productive to farmers who own cattle as cows tend to become a burden once they become old and stop producing milk. With farming becoming more mechanised, cows are no longer used.
The rational response by farmers to the ban on cow slaughter has been to prefer buffaloes to cows, as is evident from both the official cattle census as well as price trends in cattle auctions across the country. The economics of an asset totally changes when its terminal value suddenly comes down to zero. Economists such as V.M. Dandekar and K.N. Raj showed many years ago that the factors determining cattle population are not slaughter bans or religious sentiments but the demand for livestock products such as milk and meat as well as the levels of technology used in agriculture.
This form of reasoning does not seem to deter the government. In the Prime Minister’s home state of Gujarat, the existing law against cow slaughter have been amended to punish the guilty with life imprisonment. NDTV reported that the Gujarat Animal Preservation Act 1954 which punished slaughter and transport of cows in 2011, under Modi’s rule, was amended in the assembly even as the Congress had staged a walk out on an unrelated issue. The state goes to the polls next year and the BJP is doing everything that it can to appease its base.
Over the past few weeks, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has often talked about bring in harsher laws to protect cattle. The BJP is committed to protect "Gau (cow), Ganga and Gita", he declared earlier this month. This was days after the ruling BJP won giant victories in state elections, especially in Uttar Pradesh, where the party has appointed as Chief Minister the saffron-robed Yogi Adityanath - one of its loudest cow protection campaigners.
India Today aired visuals of Yogi Adityanath, controversial Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh spending time at a gaushala. Known to be a hindu hardliner, he has ordered a crackdown on illegal slaughter houses in the state.
In response to a petition filed in the Supreme Court by an activist, calling these punishments and cow protection vigilantism excessive and illegal, six states including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkand and Karnataka have been issued notices seeking clarification on the violence. According to a report in The First Post,
The plea sought to declare as "unconstitutional" section 12 of the Gujarat Animal Prevention Act, 1954, Section 13 of Maharashtra Animal Prevention Act, 1976, and Section 15 of Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act, 1964, which provide for protection of persons acting in good faith under the Act or rules.” These laws and the protection granted therewith act as a catalyst to violence perpetrated by these vigilante groups," it said.
Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, has been criticised for her statements claiming that cow protection was part of the freedom movement. She told the Lok Sabha-
There is nothing new which is happening in Uttar Pradesh. I would like all of them (MPs), particularly members of the Indian National Congress, to recognise that cow protection was part of our freedom movement. There is nothing new in it. Why are we suddenly so agitated about what is happening in Uttar Pradesh? The CM is only doing what was very much the spirit behind our freedom movement itself. So, I would want the members to be very clear that it is not one thing during the freedom movement and another now
Mukthar Abbas Naqvi, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs said in the Lok Sabha that the issue is sensitive and linked to the sentiments of crores of people. He went to say that an incident like this did not take place following which Congress leaders called him ill-informed as even the New York Times has reported that a muslim man was beaten to death by gau rakshaks.
The centre fails to acknowledge the problem and making statements like these that can only be interpreted as continued support for gau rakhsa violence. Sreemoy Talukday writes in The First Post–
Political rhetoric has consequences.Those who have made 'gau raksha' their prog have to bear responsibility for violence emerging from it.— Prashant Jha (@prashantktm) April 5, 2017
The vigilante groups serve an important purpose in BJP's political ecosystem. The saffron unit's electoral ascendancy has empowered these fringe right groups into imposing their version of the 'idea of India'. For the BJP, these are useful idiots. The party's central leadership maintains an arm's length — the prime minister has issued a strong condemnation of their actions in the past — while its local units use these 'Hindutva soldiers' to provide the narrative of nationalism that the BJP deems crucial to its electoral success.
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