Cow vigilantes harm secular fabric

The diversity of Indian civilisation is under attack. First, it was religious polarisation which often sparked communal violence. Now the effort is to deepen the divide in the country’s already caste-ridden Hindu society. Under the cover of protecting “holy cow”, the Sangh Parivar’s self-proclaimed protagonists of India’s unity and integrity are trying to destroy the multi-faceted plurality of the Indian society.   

The comments are in the backdrop of the happenings of the past few months which started occurring not long after the Modi government took office in 2014. It all began with Sangh Parivar’s hardliners including some MPs, MLAs, and Ministers making provocative speeches. One of them even publicly asked, “those (Muslims) who do not support Modi should go to Pakistan.” Initially, the Prime Minister remained silent over his party leaders inflammable utterances. He neither stopped such elements from making provocative speeches nor took any action against them.

Critics attributed Modi’s silence to the RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat’s ideological assertions that Hindustan is a Hindu Rashtra. In a full-throated endorsement of the Modi government at a recently held Sangh meeting at Kanpur, Bhagwat also said: “The nation is in safe hands with several swayamsevaks holding key positions in the government”. 

But after Modi’s “friend” US President Barack Obama’s critical comments about religious extremism were made during his visit to India in 2015 and later at a high-level official meeting in the US, the Prime Minister’s stance over the utterances of the Hindutva hotheads underwent a change. He apparently felt concerned about his international image more than the views of his ideologues and countrymen. 

In his telling comments, Obama had said “in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs - acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that (Indian) nation.” Although Obama did not mention any specific religion, “the remarks were inevitably thought to refer the resurgence of Hindutva groups during the tenure of the current government, given Obama’s broad-brush reference during his Siri Fort speech to growing religious extremism across the world”.

Though the criticism by the opposition parties and Obama’s comments had prompted Modi to check the Hindutva hotheads from making provocative speeches, some of them now have again started making hate comments. The latest is by Vishva Hindu Parishad’s Sadhvi Prachi who reportedly said “it is time to rid India of Muslims”. Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Council’s recent session witnessed ruckus over Sadhvi’s comments leading to Opposition’s walkout after the Upper House did not adopt the resolution condemning her statement.

More serious than the communal polarisation are the efforts now being made to deepen the divide in the already caste-ridden Hindu society by the hooligans of the self-proclaimed gaurakshaks. They mercilessly beat up or lynch persons, mainly Dalits and Muslims, even on rumours about their killing cows or eating or storing beef. Among the gravest cases were lynching of Akhlaq of Dadri (UP) by cow vigilantes on the suspicion of having stored beef in his refrigerator and mercilessly flogging of four Dalits in the Prime Minister’s home state of Gujarat for skinning a dead cow which was later found to be killed by lions.

The gaurakshak vigilantes have come to a law unto themselves. Neither the political leadership nor the police suo moto takes any action against them to check their criminal actions. Describing the so-called cow protection groups as people bent on circumventing the law, the Punjab and Haryana High Court last week ordered a CBI probe into the death of an alleged cattle smuggler Mustain from UP.
 He was allegedly caught by members of “Gau Raksha Dal” near Shahbad (Haryana). In its sarcastic comments, the High Court said that “a so-called vigilante group constituted with the backing of political bosses and senior functionaries governing the state, including police, under the name and style of Gau Raksha Dal has sought to take law into its own hands”.  

No doubt, the cow is revered and treated as holy by a large section of the country’s Hindu population. But there is also a large section of the community whose diet includes beef. The states where cow slaughter is legal and beef is among their diet include Kerala, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Sikkim, and Manipur.  Stray cattle have also become a problem for the people. 

The Hindutva brigade has failed to find a viable solution to take care of stray cattle which have not only become a burden on the country’s economy but have also deprived a large number of people of their sources of livelihood. They roam about in populated areas causing accidents and loss of human lives and also damage farmers crops. The cow “protectors” have set up a number of gaushalas in some states including Punjab and Haryana. But their managements are now experiencing financial problems for running them as the already fund-starved state governments are increasingly finding it difficult to provide them with the needed funds.

The prevailing situation created by the so-called gaurakshaks and Sangh Parivar’s hotheads is going to negatively impact BJP’s electoral prospects in the 2017 Assembly elections, particularly in UP. The Prime minister’s well-wishers must remind him of what Martin Luther King. Jr had said that “our (political) lives begin to end the day we become silent (and not act) about things that matter”. IPA

(The views expressed are personal.)

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