It hasn’t been all that long since Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Chief Mohan Bhagwat faced flack over his callous remarks that asked Hindus to procreate and increase their “population”. And the Sangh chief has, yet again, come out and made statements about Gau Rakshaks and Gau Raksha (Cow Vigilantism), raking up the notorious topic once again. Bhagwat seemed to have a relapse of his foot-in-mouth syndrome as he was addressing RSS volunteers on the occasion of the organization’s 91st anniversary and the Hindu festival of Vijayadashami at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, Maharashtra. Hundreds of Swayamsevaks had attended the address and yet others had followed his speech through the media.
The Gau Raksha Menace
Given that India is a Hindu majority country, it is natural that the cow finds a place of respect and importance in the country. In fact many states have laws protecting it from slaughter. Though beef is consumed in some states, the issue is a sensitive one and is not often discussed for fear of ruffling religious sentiments. Self styled cow vigilantes, Gau Rakshaks, have been known to disrupt peace and order from time to time, by taking it upon themselves to punish and persecute beef eaters — sometimes based on rumours. More often than not, reports claim that the Gau Rakshaks belong to the Sangh Parivar.
It was the Dadri lynching incident (September, 2015) — where an entire family was assaulted and one person killed on suspicion of consuming beef — that brought the gravity of the issue to the forefront. Earlier this year, Dalit men were stripped, flogged, and taped in Una, in the state of Gujarat for skinning a dead cow – work that forms a source of livelihood. The abuse by Gau Rakshaks sparked off mass protests among the Dalits of the state. It is only after the Indian PM Narendra Modi broke his silence that we managed to get a handle on the issue. The PM called Gau Rakshaks anti-socials and asked cow vigilantes to take up the cause of environmental pollution instead.
These days cows commonly die due to consumption of plastics, he said. He also said that miscreants regularly used Gau Raksha as a guise to hide. The PM’s statements seemed to have reigned in the cow brigade and we haven’t heard much about the Gau Rakshaks in the past few weeks.
Stirring Up The Hornet’s Nest
The RSS leader once again stirred the hornet’s nest by seeming to endorse the cow vigilantes. He said that Gau Rakshaks were good people who operated within the ambit of the Constitution. In fact, they were an integral part of the law. We need to make a distinction between genuine Gau Rakshaks and “divisive forces” or fake Gau Rakshaks who were bent on bringing the brigade a bad name. “Gau mata hai aur uski raksha karne wale sabhi Gau Rakshak bhale hain jo kanoon aur samvidhan ki maryada me reh kar kaam karte hain” (Cow is our mother and Gau Rakshaks are good; they work within the constitutional framework). He said that some miscreants causing trouble in the name of Gau Raksha needed to be weeded out.
This may inspire the self styled cow vigilantes into action, once again. Fear is that the signals sent out by the RSS chief are not conducive to peace and harmony in a multireligious and multicultural society.
Why Do We Need Gau Rakshaks?
In India, the subtle distinction between self-styled Gau Rakshaks causing trouble and real Gau Sevaks, as mentioned by the RSS chief, is unclear. With laws in place in many states to protect bovine interests, the question of such private policing is certainly unconstitutional if not detrimental to social well being and harmony. One can only stop to wonder if the RSS chief’s statement will once again breathe new life into the sordid business of rumours and abuse and license the Gau Rakshaks to harass minority communities.
The Politics of Gau Raksha
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s comments may have merely been callous, but they certainly bring with them a certain political background. The statements are very likely to hurt BJP’s cause in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh state legislative assembly polls to be held in 2017.
In keeping with the party’s political outlook, the Bahujan Samaj Party CM candidate, Mayawati, was quick to criticize Bhagwat. She said that the RSS support of Gau Raksha came as a result of the communal environment that the BJP was starting to build in the country. She added that the ascent of the NaMo government had allowed cow vigilantes to target Muslims and Dalits.
The Congress, too, has stepped in to point out that despite there being good and bad people, hooligans do take advantage of any available opportunity. “We have problem with those who are creating trouble in the name of Gau Raksha. And whenever we catch such people it is found that they belong to one of the RSS affiliated groups,” said the Congress spokesperson.
While the RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat was lavish in praising PM Modi and the BJP government at the Vijayadashami speech, his comments on Gau Raksha will have only served to hurt BJP’s Dalit outreach programme in the wake of the upcoming elections. As the leader of an important pan Indian organization, a more circumspect approach would have been appreciated.
Bihar leader Lalu Yadav had recently commented on the need for RSS to change its mindset (along with the change in trouser length). This seems quite apt in the current context.