According to Human Rights Watch, there has been an increase in cow vigilante violence since the year 2015. There is at least one news every month of yet another person beaten up or killed in the name of protecting cows- an animal considered holy in the Hindu religion.
Despite the Supreme Court condemning these lynchings regularly, there seems to be no end to the horror. The opinions of people stand divided by the issue, given its sensitive nature. However, one cannot simply ignore the everyday terror or live in denial. So, what exactly is cow vigilantism and more importantly, are we becoming murderers in the name of protection?
What is cow vigilantism?
When seen on its own, “vigilantism” usually plants a heroic image in our head; that of an underdog messiah, perhaps. One who makes sure justice is served. However, do not fool yourself into thinking cow vigilantism works the same way.
Cow vigilantism, roughly speaking, refers to the “justice” served against those who harm cows, given by those who claim to be protectors of the holy animal. In other words, it also includes the brutal beatings, terrorising that we read about in newspapers almost every day.
In September 2015, a 52-year old man was attacked by a mob inside his own house. He was dragged outside brutally, lynched to death. Why? Because the crowd suspected the man, Mohammed Akhlaq of slaughtering a cow calf. It was said that he had stored beef in his home. Police investigations post his death found meat in the household, but no traces of beef.
Law and ethics
Cattle slaughter is banned in almost all states of India, if not in all. However, cow vigilantism is entirely illegal, despite being praised and even justified by a large segment of people. In September 2017, given the alarming situation, the Supreme Court stated that each district should have one police officer dedicated to making sure strict action is taken against cow vigilantism.
It is clear, while the vigilantes themselves feel sheltered and bold, by virtue of the sentiments attached with cows, the law condemns these actions. And, while the issue of both beef eating and cow vigilantism have sparked up in the last decade or so, the roots go as far back as the colonial days.
When talking about the protection of cows, Mahatma Gandhi once said that “But, just as I respect the cow, so do I respect my fellow-men… Am I, then, to fight with or kill a Mahomedan in order to save a cow? In doing so, I would become an enemy of the Mahomedan as well as of the cow”.
Is the motive really to protect the holy animal?
According to IndiaSpend, an award-winning data-journalism portal, 84% of the people murdered in the name of cow vigilantism between 2010-2017 were Muslims.
In July 2017, Hafiz Junaid was beaten and stabbed to death onboard a train destined for Mathura. While the authorities said it was a case of fighting over train seats gone wrong, Junaid’s brother seems to disagree. “They pointed to the skull cap on my head. They said we are Muslims, anti-nationals, Pakistanis, that we eat beef.” Junaid, a mere teen when murdered, had “vacated a seat for an elderly person”, says his father. He strongly believes that the attack was purely communal in nature.
Many of the Muslims attacked under the pretext of saving cows were actually farmers, depending on cow milk for their livelihood. Despite having little to no evidence of their beef consumption, they were lynched. With cases like these, one cannot help but question; was the motive behind all this violence simply the protection of cows?
The attitude of the public
When arrests were made in the 2015 lynching case, the locals erupted in protest. Vehicles were set on fire, shops vandalised by the angry crowd. And, the murder of Junaid in 2017? One regional party has announced that it will give a ticket to one accused person in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
In July 2018, Union Minister Jayant Sinha garlanded eight men in Rajgarh, who were convicted in a lynching murder case. A documentary by The Quint interviewed civilians on the issue of these lynchings. The results were horrifying, but sadly, not surprising. Many believe that the victims “had it coming”, for harming cows.
“If someone is taking a cow to be slaughtered, kill him then and there. We can worry about the law later”, said one person in the same documentary.
This is not to say that everyone or every Hindu in the country supports these goon-like activities. Of course, many sternly look down upon the practice, seeing it for what it is- murder and terrorism. The problem is, the number of people who support it, or even those who don’t see it for the huge danger it poses, is way too big to neglect.
The problem is not that the Hindu religion considers cows to be holy animals that should be protected. The problem is that certain self-proclaimed vigilantes of religion resort to brutality and horror under the pretext of saving cows. Religion does not teach one to go down the path of violence, of spreading hurt, of marginalising minorities.
In June 2018, a Muslim farmer Qasim was beaten to death in a village in Uttar Pradesh because villagers suspected he was about to slaughter a cow in the fields. The police found no trace of a cow or even any slaughtering tools. What was found in the coming days, however, was a brutal video of the crowd killing Qasim, along with assaulting an elderly man for coming to his rescue. Another surfaced video showed the police dragging Qasim across the field.
In the Alwar lynching case of July 2018, the victim was left succumbing to his own bruises by the mob. The nearest health center was barely 4 km away, and yet, it took the police over two and a half hours to take Rakbar there. He was declared brought dead. According to eyewitnesses, also including a tea-seller, the police even stopped in between for a tea break en-route the hospital.
It is scary to see how easily people let go of their humanity. And, when I say people, I don’t just mean the extremist religious people. Even civilians who live amongst us, seeming perfectly non-violent, have expressed their support with this vigilantism often. More importantly, the surging violence points towards the ever-widening communal rift in our society. The murder of Junaid, for example, was nothing more than a vengeful bias against a community.
Majority of Muslims and other minorities attacked for allegedly harming cows belong to the lower class of the society. For many, their livelihood depends on cows, given that buffaloes cost more. Even speaking from an economic point of view, it is milk from the cows that adds to their daily income. Why then are minorities attacked, despite these obvious facts, if not due to a pre-existing hatred and bias?
Regardless, our humanity is ours to protect. And, we must do it before all hope is gone. These brutal murders, no matter what justifications you try to give, are wrong without a shadow of doubt and should be put an end to.