The latest statistics put out by the National Crime Record Bureau gives the Haryana state of India a dubious distinction. It stands second in the number of complaints lodged with the police, second only to Uttar Pradesh. That the population, in general, views police as the last resort in cases of injustice, puts the statistics in perspective.
Haryana, the state with the worst sex ratio in India is particularly notorious for crimes against women, ranging from female foeticide to gang rapes and “honour” killings. It has also seen large-scale violence, including unconfirmed reports of gangrapes of commuters recently, and it took the deployment of the Army to bring the situation under control.
Yet, the government seems to be bothered about something very different from the overwhelming injustice and violence. It is extremely concerned with the protection of cows.
One of the very first things the state government did after assuming power was constitute a Haryana Gau Seva Ayog (Haryana Cow Service Commission). The Commission was given more teeth with the formation of a specialised Cow Protection Task Force (CPTF) within the police, with the mandate of checking cow slaughter and consumption of beef, which are crimes in the state but not across India. A point to note is that it is only the meat of the progeny of cow that qualifies as beef for the bans.
The Commission and the cops in CPTF have taken their jobs seriously. This is exemplified by their decision to check the samples of Biryani, a traditional rice and meat delicacy, from hotels in Mewat area of the state, in order to enforce the beef ban. Media reports also indicate that police have been even mulling making checks in private residences. A senior officer of the state animal husbandry department asserted that there would be more raids if they were to receive complaints.
What would these ‘complaints’ be like? Who would make them? These would of course be private citizens. Here is a question: which section of the Indian Penal Code allows the police to enter kitchens of private citizens on “information” given by other private citizens? Further, what if the “informers” make complaints to settle personal scores, something routine in India and in the state? What if the complaint is found to be false? It would get the family marked out as “beef suspects” regardless and thus make them vulnerable to violence by vigilantes for life? CPTF and the Commission intend to save the cows, but who will save their victims?
The answers are found in the political geography of the raids, which were not statewide. The raids targeted only Nuh, a district with significant population of Muslims, a minority in India. Furthermore, that they were conducted just before Eid-al-Adha (the festival when Muslims sacrifice animals) make them even more suspect, and hint at this being a brazen attempt to polarize communities and give rise to sectarian violence.
Such attempts are not new for the state. Cow vigilantes have been at it for years now. This time, however, it is not the vigilantes, but a Commission appointed by the state itself that is playing this role. Moreover the State is using the police, oath-bound to adhere to the secular Constitution of India and to not indulge in religious witch-hunt of any community.
This does not augur well for anyone: neither the citizens being hounded by their own government, nor the Haryana state, which stands second in crime complaints in India.
The state government has shown that there is virtually no one to stop the farce, rein in the Gau Seva Commission, and stop it from breaking the law itself!
It is time for higher ups, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to rein in the state government being run by his own political party. Mr. Modi had himself said once that 80 percent of cow vigilantes are day-time-vigilantes-night-time-criminals. His understanding of the realities could help him check the actions of the state government.
Independently, the Supreme Court of India needs to look at this attack on the rule of law, being as it is the custodian of the law.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) works towards the radical rethinking and fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in order to protect and promote human rights in Asia. Established in 1984, the Hong Kong based organisation is a Laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, 2014.