Gaumata, Gau raksha, beef ban… In the 70 years since independence, never has the country been so obsessed with all things bovine than it is today with BJP in power. From banning the sale of beef in some states to cow cess in others, the humble cow has dominated the headlines like never before. In a country where women’s safety is still a challenge, a new bill in Gujarat makes cow slaughter punishable with a life sentence.
The priorities are clear. Gau-raksha is the new Hindutva project. With a BJP government in the Center, the cow vigilantes are on a rampage with a brazenness never seen before. These vigilantes are not part of some secret society that operates clandestinely. They are proud members of one of the many Gau Raksha Dals. They have ID cards. They have facebook pages with thousands of likes. They upload videos of their raids. They have business cards with contact numbers where you can ring them to save cows. And most importantly, they have the blessings of the local politicians.
There were many incidents of extortion in the name of Gau Raksha. In Punjab, cattle traders had come out against Satish Kumar, President, Gau Raksha Dal, Rajpura, Patiala district, alleging that he had extorted them in the name of cow protection. Ramesh Kumar Narang, a trader from Ludhiana, said that he faced nothing less than “terrorism” at the hands of Satish Kumar and his men.
In a breakdown of law and order, gau-rakshaks have turned into extremist groups that roam the highways, extorting, harassing, assaulting and in the process, occasionally even killing cattle transporters.
The recent attacks by vigilantes on men legally transporting cattle has prompted many BJP supporters to condemn the incident and ask for strict action. Many ask as to why there is no word from Mr. Modi himself? Little do they realise that how can he speak out when it his cow politics that is bearing fruit.
Polarisation in the name of cow protection has been central to BJP brand of politics for many years now.
Whipping up passions in the name of cow protection was an important part of PM Modi’s election speeches in the run up to the 2014 general elections. He spread an anti-beef hysteria with his speeches on the Pink revolution.
The cow card was once again played in the Bihar elections when BJP released a cow protection advertisement attacking Nitish Kumar and others. This advertisement led EC to crack the whip and ban advertisements in newspapers on the fifth and final phase of Bihar polls without prior approval.
Blessings from the top
Vigilante groups for cow protection are not a recent phenomenon. It is the brazenness with which they are unleashing violence and delivering instance justice that is alarming.
State sponsored Gau Raksha Dals flourished under Narendra Modi as the CM of Gujarat. As reported by Hindustan Times, “Between 2011 and 2014, the Gujarat government headed by Modi had disbursed Rs 75 lakhs in cash rewards to 1,394 vigilantes for raiding illegal cattle transporters and filing FIRs against them, the website of the government-run Gauseva and Gauchar Vikas Board (GGVB) states.”
As many as 200 cow protection vigilante groups operate in Gujarat itself, many patronised and sheltered by local politicians.
Another organisation, Rashtriya Goraksha Sena focuses on illegal cattle trade and has 2,700 members spread across 14 states.
The hall of shame
Let us look at a few incidents and see how the Gau Rakshaks operate with the blessings of the ruling party.
The accused in the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq had close connections with local BJP leaders. One of the accused, Vishal is the son a local BJP leader who is reportedly close to Union Minister of State for Culture and Tourism, Mahesh Sharma. Eight of the 11 accused named in the charge sheet are relatives of Sanjay Rana
BJP MLA Sangeet Som accused the Uttar Pradesh govt of “appeasing” Muslims by framing innocent Hindus for the crime. He visited the families of those arrested for the lynching. When one of the accused, Ravi Sisodia died of renal failure in police custody his body was wrapped in the national flag by the family members. Union Minister for Culture Mahesh Sharma visited his family. It was clear where the sympathies of BJP lay. Till date many supporters grudge the compensation amount announced for Akhalq’s family by the Samajwadi party government.
In the Jharkhand case, where two Muslim Jharkhand cattle herders were hanged, One of the accused was identified as Mithilesh Prasad Sahu, linked to the local Gou Kranti Manch, considered close to a local BJP leader.
In yet another shocking incident, the Gurgaon GauRaksha Dal forced two Muslim cattle traders from Mewat region consume cow dung. The incident was filmed and the video went viral. Dharmendra Yadav of Gurgaon GauRaksha Dal proudly admitted that this was the work of his men. A quick glance at his facebook page shows many pictures with BJP leaders including BJP MP Anurag Thakur.
A mob of around 150 people led by cow protection vigilante group Gau Raksha Samiti and members of Bajrang Dal, thrashed three alleged cow transporters and stripped one of them naked in BJP-ruled Rajasthan’s Pratapgarh district last year. By the time the incident was first reported in the papers, the police had managed to arrest all the seven victims and only one suspected assaulter.
When more arrests were made, nearly 400 people, led by Gau Raksha Dal national president Sadhvi Kamal Didi, blocked National Highway for nearly eight hours on Monday, demanding release of five of their men. The district police gave in to their demands and transfer the station house officer (SHO) who had arrested five of the ‘vigilantes’. The same Kamal Didi was behind the shutting down of a Jaipur hotel recently for reportedly serving beef.
In this case of near lynching, one of the perpetrators, identified himself as a BJP member and boasted of the attack on his Facebook page.
The flogging of Dalits in Una for skinning a dead cow shocked the nation & led to widespread protests by Dalits in Gujarat. Pramodgiri Goswami, the Gir Somnath district chief of Shiv Sena and head of the local cow vigilante group was found to be a key conspirator of the attack. As per reports, he was also the one who recorded and shared the video of the attack.
Telangana BJP MLA Raja Singh came out in defense of cow vigilantes in a video he posted on his Facebook page. “I support the beating of Dalits who slaughter cows to consume its meat. It is apt. I also support those who taught them a lesson”.
BJP MLA Raja Singh supports the brutal thrashing of Dalits in Una in Gujarat while they were skinning a dead cow. He calls the victims of Una "galeez" (filthy) and appreciates the Gau Rakshaks for beating them up. He also states indirectly that the violent methods adopted by Gau Rakshaks should continue. Now do we call him fringe? He's a MLA! A person who is supposed to make laws is blatantly egging on people to use violent methods.
Posted by Pratik Sinha on Sunday, July 31, 2016
It was the Una incident and the Dalit protests that finally prompted Mr. Modi to make a statement on cow vigilantism. He attempted to distance his party from the incidents of vigilantism, saying “Some people have been running a business the name of gau raksha. I feel so angry. “I have seen that some people who indulge in antisocial activities through the night put on robes of gau rakshaks by day”. It seemed that he nailed it when he said, “they don the robes of gau rakshaks to protect themselves from being punished for misdeeds” but in the absence of any action against his party men, these remained mere words.
VHP Gujarat unit found Mr. Modi’s insulting to gau rakshaks. Others right wing organisations warned that “he will have to pay for it in the next Lok Sabha polls”. Not surprisingly, Modi’s statement was soon forgotten and the gau rakshaks carried on with their business.
Once again, the case of murder of Pehlu Khan was marked by statements from BJP leaders that showed their hesitation to hold the vigilantes responsible. Even as the video of the attack went viral, BJP’s Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi denied the occurrence of any such incident. “Let this House not send a message that it supports cow slaughter”, he said in Parliament.
Even though gau rakshaks showed complete disregard for the law and attacked the men who were transporting milch cows legally, GC Kataria, Rajasthan’s State Home Minister made a shocking statement that both parties have to be blamed.
The gau raksha dals are examples of fringe groups that have become emboldened after BJP came to power. Several gau raksha bodies have become active in the recent years with cells at district, state and national levels. Manned largely by volunteers, they have a network of informers connected by WhatsApp groups. These gau raksha dals are united by the Sangh parivar ideology of preservation of Hindu culture. WhatsApp forwards constantly remind them of “Hindus under threat” and their duty towards protecting their culture. Not surprisingly, many volunteers of these gau raksha outfits are members of BJP and the leaders are often close to the local BJP leaders.
Members of gau raksha dals boast of their achievements and flaunt pictures and videos of their atrocities on their social media pages with impunity. They have nothing to be scared of. Time and again, BJP leaders have spoken in their favour. Time and again, the first to get booked are the victims, that is if they survive..
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