Is gau rakshak violence, meaning the killing of Indians over beef, a problem in India? If so, what can be done to solve it?
The non-profit data journalism website, IndiaSpend, has reported that 97 per cent of gau raksha violence has happened after Narendra Modi’s government came to power. Once the Union and state governments run by the BJP in Maharashtra, Haryana and other states began to push for a beef ban, the murders started. The facts are quite clear and to illustrate them, let’s have a look just at the last few weeks and what has happened across India.
June 29, Jharkhand: Alimuddin Ansari, a trader, was killed after being assaulted by a mob in Ramgarh, near Ranchi. This happened hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he opposed violence.
June 27, Jharkhand: Usman Ansari, a dairy farmer, was beaten up by a mob of about 100 people and part of his house set on fire, reportedly after a dead cow was seen outside his house. Police officials told journalists that the attackers had also thrown stones at them, injuring 50 police personnel.
June 24, West Bengal: Nasirul Haque, Mohammed Samiruddin and Mohammed Nasir, three construction workers, were beaten to death by a mob, allegedly for stealing cows, in north Dinajpur, West Bengal. Three people have been arrested so far, and a murder case registered.
June 22, Haryana: 16-year-old Junaid Khan was stabbed to death inside a train in Haryana. Junaid was called a “beef-eater”, and his skullcap thrown away, before he was stabbed. His brother was severely injured. Survivors’ accounts in some media reports say that at least 20 people were involved in the attack. The state police have arrested one person.
May 26, Maharashtra: Two Muslim meat traders were attacked by a cow vigilante squad in Malegaon, Maharashtra, on suspicion of possessing beef. Video footage of the incident appeared to show the men being slapped and abused, and told to say “Jai Sri Ram” (“Hail Lord Ram”). Nine men have been arrested. However, the two meat traders also face criminal charges for “outraging religious feelings”.
April 30, Assam: Abu Hanifa and Riazuddin Ali were lynched by a mob in Nagaon, Assam, on suspicion of cow theft. The police have registered a murder case, but have not yet made any arrests.
April 1, Rajasthan: 55-year-old farmer Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer, and four other Muslim men were assaulted by a mob near a highway in Alwar, Rajasthan. Khan died two days later. The mob falsely accused the men of being cow smugglers. Following the killing, the home minister of Rajasthan, in a statement that appeared to justify the killing, said that Khan belonged to a family of cow smugglers. Three people have been arrested.
On June 28, after the murder of Junaid still fresh on their minds, Indians rallied across the country to say that these killings were happening under government protection and they must be stopped. Their rallying cry was “Not In My Name”. The government’s silence and inaction meant that it was being tolerated, and this tolerance to the violence was being opposed.
The international media also took up the story of the lynchings and this nudged the government to react. Mr Modi tweeted a couple of days later: “There is no place for violence in India. Let us create an India that would make Gandhiji proud.” The tweet has a video attached that is two minutes and 16 seconds long. It is of a speech that Mr Modi gave in Gujarat on June 29, where he spoke on cow slaughter. For one minute and 45 seconds in that clip, Mr Modi is praising gau raksha. He talks about how Gandhi had wanted the protection of cows. In the last 30 seconds, he speaks about violence but only says that killing is unacceptable. Of course it is, we don’t need the Prime Minister to tell us that. We need him to tell us why the killing is happening and what he will do to stop it. On that there was nothing from Mr Modi and though the media portrayed it as being a change from what had gone before, it was nothing of the sort. The government is not committed to stopping the violence and the gau rakshaks understand it perfectly well.
In fact, Mr Modi’s real position, priorities are quite clearly revealed in those two minutes and 16 seconds. So long as Mr Modi and the BJP push gau raksha, India will produce gau rakshaks. This should not be difficult to understand. The linkage with previous Hindutva projects can be pointed out, such as the movement against the Babri Masjid. Once the mosque was torn down and the emotions were taken to fever pitch, the violence began and 2,000 Indians, mainly Muslims, died.
The state in India does not have the capacity to prevent mob violence and lynchings. That is demonstrable. Given that fact, it becomes the responsibility of the government to not promote issues that produce violence. Either the Prime Minister does not know that, and that would reveal naiveté of a magnitude that I am unwilling to give him, or he understood very well what would happen once the gau raksha issue was pushed by the Centre and state governments starting in 2014.
There is a second problem and that is the refusal of Mr Modi and the BJP to accept that their actions have a communal angle. Meat and leather are the occupations of Muslims and dalits. These are the communities that have become vulnerable because of gau raksha and to deny that is hypocrisy. Union minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said after the latest killing in Jharkhand that it should not be linked to religion. The problem is that the data shows Mr Naidu to be wrong. It is linked to religion if it is only, or mainly, Muslims that are getting assaulted and murdered by the gau raksha programme.
The Congress does not have a real position on this and in Gujarat it has spoken out in favour of gau raksha. Individuals in the party have attacked the government. Former Union minister P. Chidambaram said after Mr Modi’s speech that “on a day when PM warned gau rakshaks, Mohammed Alimuddun was lynched by a mob in Jharkhand. Obviously, lynch mobs don’t fear PM.” He added that “PM warned gau rakshaks and lynch mobs. Good. Let him tell the country how he will enforce his writ.”
IndiaSpend says that 25 attacks happened in 2016. In 2017, in only six months, already 21 attacks have taken place. The problem is escalating and it is obvious. The whole world is waiting to see how Mr Modi will put an end to it.