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“It is a curious people. With them, all life seems to be sacred except human life.”

– Mark Twain on Indians

A single quote sometimes remains the sole memory of a leader.

Giriraj Kishor, VHP leader, can be considered a classic example to demonstrate this who had rather (in)famously said “Cow is considered more sacred than human beings in Puranas ( Hindu scriptures)”. The occasion was a tragic one when five dalits – who were carrying dead cows – were lynched by a vigilante mob, in front a police station ( Dulina, Jhajjar, October 2002 http://pudr.org/content/dalit-lynching-dulina-cow-protection-caste-and-communalism) with many senior government officials turning mute spectators.

The spectacle type killing – perhaps a precursor to what descended on the country twelve years later – was followed by another grotesque drama when police personnel, who by their inaction had connived with the crime, promptly sent the dead cows for examination, and filed cases against the dead dalits over cow ‘slaughter’.

Giriraj Kishor died few years back but the worldview he represented which has complete apathy and indifference towards human life and which puts a quadruped (four legged) on the pedestal is on the ascendance.

Inadvertently or so Yogi Adityanath, the monk turned politician, the present CM of UP, demonstrated that he rather personifies this zeitgeist.His complete silence over the violence in Bulandshahar, which involved mob lynching of a courageous police office and death of a young man, at the behest of violence allgedly instigated by Hindutva fanatics, and his tremendous show of concern over the cow carcasses found in the field and his instructions to police officials to nab the culprits just demonstrated this. (https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/bulandshahr-violence-in-meet-after-inspector-subodh-kumar-singhs-mob-killing-yogi-adityanath-focuses-1957951)

When his silence over the mob lynching of a police officer received all round criticism, his office issued a second statement which mentioned the death of Subodh Kumar Singh and the promise of financial aid to his family.

According to unconfirmed sources the gap between the two statements was few hours?

Why did it take so much time to condemn mob violence and killing of a policeman on duty?

As a monk he was free to give precedence to a cow vis-a-vis a human being or practice what his faith dictated but as a Chief Minister he is bound to follow Constitutional mandate, did he forgot this basic precept or it was a case of deliberate selective amnesia ?

Or is it because Subodh Kumar Singh, the slain police officer, was the same official who had investigated the mob lynching of Akhlaq( October 2015) and despite facing tremendous political pressure had lodged cases against few Hindutva activists. Or it had to do with the fact that his same no-nonsense attitude toward crime had caused lot of heartburn in the ruling party circles and had prompted them to even write a letter to the local BJP MP demanding action against him ( See : NDTV Prime Time, 5th December 2018) for ‘interfering in Hindu functions’.

Cartoonist AravindTegginamath has done a cartoon on the state of affairs in UP. Titled ‘Republic of UP’ it says how it has become a republic ‘of, by and for the vigilantes’ which rather beautifully captures the state of affairs there.

We can remember when ban on cow slaughter was being proposed and implemented – which had received momentum after the ascent of BJP at centre and many states – two valid questions were raised.

One,  related to its negative impact on the intake of cheap proteins by a vast majority of people – dalits, adivasis, Muslims, Christians etc – for whom beef happened to be the cheapest source of protein as it costs nearly one-third of mutton or gosht and forms important part of traditional food habits of people. It was then underlined that overall per capita consumption of meat in India was among the lowest in the world. According to a FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) report in in 2007, India logged in last in a total of 177 countries.

We know that in their frenzy to implement the ban neither any alternate plan was envisaged by the powers that be to provide cheap proteins to the people nor they had given any thought to it.

Two, related to the challenge of upkeep of bullocks and buffaloes and cows that have lost their utility to the farmer. It was said that in a country where we are still far away from meeting the basic hunger of people, this burden will fell on the farmer, which will further impoverish them.

Reports coming in from different parts of the country corroborate that the sudden spurt in the number of abandoned cows and its progeny since last two-three years can be directly related to the banning of cow slaughter and also the inability of its owners to feed them. (https://hindi.theprint.in/india/uttar-pradesh-cow-maverick-animal-farmers-crop/34541/)According to a rough estimate expenses incurred in maintaining cow comes to around Rs 90-100 per day. Not only it leads to diversion of scarce resources like fodder, feed, water and even labour resources. Earlier when such stringent provisions were not in place the farmer could sell his unproductive animal to a butcher and would get Rs 5,000-Rs 10,000. Today it is not possible.

The issue of such stray cows causing damage to the crops and leading to accidents not only in villages but cities as well, is becoming a cause of concern nationwide. ( https://indianexpress.com/article/india/madhya-pradesh-anti-cow-slaughter-act-gau-rakshaks-4784282/) According to a very conservative estimate there are around 5 million stray cows in India (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2018/07/16/amp-stories/why-india-has-million-stray-cows-roaming-country/) Such cows not only destroy fields but block traffic as well and prove to be menace at times.

“Cow deaths due to accidents on tracks and roads have increased, but they are mostly cows roaming astray after they stop giving milk. They are mostly desi breed. And this problem will only grow in the coming years,” Singh said. “Is this not cow slaughter?”

( https://indianexpress.com/article/india/cattle-dying-on-tracks-numbers-double-in-one-year-5325031

What is less discussed is how such stray cows involved in traffic accidents also lead to loss of human life. Authorities in Punjab had announced in April 17 that stray cows involved in traffic accidents have killed 300 people in the last 30 months. (https://www.odditycentral.com/animals/indias-sacred-strays-millions-of-urban-cows-living-alongside-humans.html) And these are figures related to only one state.

A third issue which has acquired more visibility – post banning of cow slaughter in many states – concerns the sudden spurt in cow related violence and the rise of vigilante groups. Mob lynching of a police officer in Bulandshahar is the latest in the series.

Indiaspend had done a study of cow related violence and had shown how such deaths have seen quantum jump since ascent of Hindutva forces at the centre. ( https://lynch.factchecker.in/) From a figure of zero deaths in 2012 and 2013, including 2014, since the year 2015 deaths have remained around ten per year.

Remember while opening legal route to ban killing of the bovine, and using state power to do that, it was also envisaged by the ruling dispensation led by the BJP that activities of the Cow Protector groups – owning ideological or organisational association with them – would also be used to popularise the issue.

e.g. Representative of one such cow protection networks  called the BharatiyaGauRaksha Dal (“India Cow Protection Group”), an umbrella organization registered in 2012, told Human Rights Watch that the network is affiliated with about 50 groups across the country and that their 10,000 volunteers have a presence in nearly every state.(https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/27/india-cow-protection-spurs-vigilante-violence; http://sacw.net/article13237.html)

Claims apart what is the actual situation on the ground.

Are they really concerned about cow welfare or they are basically anti-social elements which have been given legitimacy by the ruling dispensation and has sort of outsourced violence to them.

A sting operation done by a leading newsmagazine ‘India Today’ focussing on two large organised vigilante groups in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana had demonstrated their modus operandi and their connivance with the police. Explaining their ‘raid’ the leader of the vigilantes said they block road, use intimidation and threatening and engage in violence to seize the cattle from the trucks and distribute it among them ‘then and there’. Little bit of preparation is involved as the ‘vigilantes were trained to execute near-fatal attacks on their potential targets’ and ‘inflict internal injuries’ fracture their bones and muscles and legs but avoid hitting on head as it can lead to their arrest.  It was not for nothing that ‘none of the members of his squad faced even a single police case across six states so far’. They may advertise themselves as ‘saviour of cows’ but “..[o]n India Today’s tape, he admitted his gangs were highway robbers of sacred animals.(http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/cow-vigilante-gaurakshak-attacks-india-today/1/934085.html)

Two and half years back when Una movement was at its peak  — where some Dalits were beaten up for skinning a dead cow, which had led to tremendous upsurge – Chief Secretary of the state G R Gloria had told a national daily that

‘These vigilantes are self-proclaimed gaurakshaks but in actual fact they are hooligans’. According to him there are as  many as 200 cow vigilante groups  in the Gujarat who have ‘become a law and order problem because of their aggression and the way they take law into their hands’ and government is going to take strong action against them.  The Chief Secretary was even categorical in admitting that lower level police personnel are hand in glove with these vigilantes.  (http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/vigilantes-are-the-new-security-threat/article8882354.ece).

And this vigilante violence is not limited to these fringe groups.

Take the case of Raja Singh, a BJP MLA in the outgoing Telangana assembly – much more famous for his controversial statements. Just after the Una incident (July 2016) which had given rise to a mass movement against the Gujarat government, and the state as well as central government had found itself on the defensive this man had ‘proudly’ declared

Dalits who were found with dead cows or cow meat deserved to be beaten, … “Jo Dalit gayekemaasko le jarahatha, jouskipitaihuihai, wohbohut hi achhihuihai [Those Dalits who were taking the cow, the cow meat, those who were beaten, it was a very good thing to happen],” Singh said in a video uploaded on Facebook.

(https://scroll.in/latest/812903/anyone-who-kills-cows-deserves-to-be-beaten-says-bjp-mla-raja-singh)

While there was much uproar over his open threats to Dalits but neither the state BJP leadership nor its central leadership deemed it necessary to take any action against him.

It was the same period an article in one of the mouthpieces of Hindutva Supremacist forces had similarly rationalised the thrashing of dalits by repeating a similar logic used by late Giriraj Kishor, once again demonstrating that Giriraj Kishor might be dead but his worldview lives!

Subhash Gatade is the author of Pahad Se Uncha Aadmi (2010) Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India,(2011) and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India(2011). He is also the Convener of New Socialist Initiative (NSI) Email : subhash.gatade@gmail.com

Originally published in newsclick.

One Comment

  1. I am very unhappy to see this still is a reality the untouchables are facing in India. I interviewed someone for my publication in the US about this some years ago.and found it hard to believe that people are being killed over cows and their dung. God help India and may Durga protect its innocents! : (.