Last week, in India, two children aged 11 and 12 were amongst seven other Muslims charged with cow slaughter.
They happen to be the newest victims of a peculiar law of “secular India” that bans the slaughter of cows to protect the sentiments of the nation’s Hindu majority, which revere cows as a holy figure. The law itself has its earliest history in independent India traced back to the 1950’s, with 20 of the 29 states regulating cow slaughter/ beef consumption in some form.
However, in new age India, the law has taken an ugly course, with cow “vigilantes,” or mobs of cow protectors using various forms of violence to kill, abuse, exploit, and extort minorities in the name of cows. The cow protectors claim to be hurt Hindu extremists, as well as members of organizations like Vishwa Hindu Parishad (an outfit classified as a “militant religious outfit” by the CIA), and set out to attack minorities with impunity. Not surprisingly, this very organization has found support from the political party in power in India, and has its militant members termed “activists” by local people and media alike. This militant group is considered so legitimate, that the right-wing government of India condemned the U.S.’ recognition of the militant nature of the organization.
The current party in power, Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, expresses its commitment to Hindutva, a Hindu nationalist ideology described by many Indian social scientists as fascist, adhering to the concept of a homogenized majority and cultural hegemony of a country that houses 244.6 million minorities, or non-Hindus. And at its helm is the country’s PM, Narendra Modi, who was described as ‘the divisive manipulator who charmed the world’ in The Guardian.
Until 2014, India’s current prime minister, Narendra Modi, was actually ineligible for a U.S. visa under a U.S. law that holds foreign nationals responsible for “severe violations of religious freedom.” Specifically, he was banned for a 2002 pogrom that he oversaw as state chief minister (an executive holding highest federal powers of a state in India) in Gujarat, that killed 2000 and injured another 2500 (mostly Muslims).
As this very same man was elected to power by India’s majority in 2014 on the back of his Hindu nationalistic ideology demanding protection of cows in his election campaign, communal bigotry was painted in the shades of nationalism while the country began to see unabashed crimes against its minorities. The Hindu majority was portrayed as victims at the hands of beef-eating Muslims who kidnap, lure, rape, and kill Hindus. This was done by divisive politicians as the opposition took a mum stance so as not to displease the majority. The government cultivated a culture of Islamophobia and hatred towards Muslims and other minorities, with its hate speech and inaction towards anti-minority criminals, as the recurring violence took as many as 28 lives in 63 incidents of bovine issues. 86% of bovine-related deaths were of Muslims, with 97% under Modi’s rule, and as many as 124 people were injured in these attacks, with at least 52% of them being attacked based on rumors, according to a report by IndiaSpend.
In the first six months of 2017 alone, 20 beef-related terror attacks were reported. The attacks included mob lynching, attacks by vigilantes, murder, and attempted murder, harassment, assault, and gang-rape. In two attacks, the victims/survivors were chained, stripped, and beaten, while in two others, the victims were hanged.
…a large chunk of mainstream media has often pinned the blame on the victims for hurting the sentiments of the Hindus, even as a large number of cases have been attributed to little more than ill-intentioned rumors.
The leader of the Bharatiya Gau Raksha Dal (“India Cow Protection Group”), Pawan Pandit, 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. These self-appointed vigilantes are often seen patrolling streets and vehicles, checking them for cattle, intimidating drivers, and reacting with violence if they find cows. Instances of these mobs assaulting Muslims on local trains and force-feeding them cow dung have been reported too. In the Indian state of Haryana, a woman was gang-raped for suspicion of eating beef.
These attacks were initially discussed with outrage by some of the more liberal media houses, yet a large chunk of mainstream media has often pinned the blame on the victims for hurting the sentiments of the Hindus, even as a large number of cases have been attributed to little more than ill-intentioned rumors. The road to justice for victims has been rocky with non-cooperating police, indifferent government and pro-assaulter locals who have cheered on the deaths.
The Indian government and public administration’s enabling, and complicity in the attacks cannot be stressed enough. On April 1, 2017, a mob in Alwar (Rajasthan) brutally assaulted a 55-year-old dairy farmer, Pehlu Khan, and four others with sticks and belts. Khan died two days later after succumbing to his injuries. The state government’s chief minister denied the attack occurred, while the state home minister resorted to blaming the victim. He was quoted saying there was nothing wrong with cow worshippers stopping illegal cow trafficking.
On the other hand, instead of filing a case against the attackers, police opted to file a case against Khan and the other victims for trafficking cows, even as Khan’s family claimed to have provided evidence of legitimate proof of purchase to the police. The larger society has often encouraged the lynchings, as local leaders have publicly voiced their support of Khan’s murderers for protecting the cows he was transporting. The charged men are out on bail, while the kin of Pehlu Khan and the case witnesses allegedly faced an attack on their way to the court – a claim local police says is concocted while giving a clean chit to 6 of the accused – leaving little deterrent for future lynchers.
Lax and apologist authorities haven’t helped the situation either. Eight months after Pehlu Khan’s death, a 41-year-old man named Ummar Khan was shot to death for transporting cows, also in the city of Alwar. Fearing that his case would meet the same fate as Pehlu Khan’s, his family refused to accept the body until a case was registered. His kin continues to fight for justice as the city saw another lynching in July 2018, this one of Rakbar Khan, a dairy farmer attacked by cow mobs on the presumption of cow slaughter. Rakbar was alive when the police arrived, and an eyewitness claimed that she saw the police thrashing the man inside their vehicle. The local police took 3 hours to transport Rakbar to a hospital, and by then, he had already died in police custody. It seems the police chose to first take the cows Rakbar was transporting to a cow shelter, giving little importance to human life.
It would, however, be wrong to think that this phenomenon is restricted to a particular geographic, as the country has witnessed heinous, graphic, and barbaric cases of mob lynchings across the land. In 2015, Uttar Pradesh saw three men beaten to death on suspicion of cow theft, and the police filed a case against the dead men for burglary, trespass, and attempted murder. The same year, in Jammu & Kashmir, an 18-year-old was beaten to death under similar false assumptions, while Himachal Pradesh saw a 22-year-old lynched and four others injured. Police immediately arrested the victims of the attack, accusing them of cow slaughter. In Jharkhand, a Union minister of state even garlanded eight men convicted of lynching Aleemuddin Ansari in an alleged case of ‘cow vigilantism’, giving little hope to victims for justice. More recently, a meat trader named Qasim Qureshi was lynched by a mob of 20-25 people in Uttar Pradesh’s Hapur. In this particular case, the lynchers recorded video of the crime, and in doing that, caught three police officers watching Qasim’s lynching.
These grim occurrences, alongside the lack of accountability from law enforcement, and the limited sympathy and support for the victims of cow vigilantes, and their kin can only lead us to one conclusion: that India has seen a lot of turbulent times when it comes to communal harmony in its independent history, but this time, there seems to be a tectonic shift in the communal fabric of this self-proclaimed secular nation. The Haryana Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, summed it up best when he stated, “Muslims could continue to live in India, but they will have to give up eating beef as the cow is an article of faith”. The rise of Hindu populism has resulted in Hindu extremists increasingly using the holiness of the cow as an excuse for genocide. It is little more than a smokescreen. For the time being, it seems that this is the new normal for Muslims in India: tip-toeing around lynch-obsessed, cow-loving groups, where justice is rare, victims are shamed in death, and their murderers celebrated by the very authorities supposed to be protecting them, amidst cheering from their own countrymen as their deaths attract little attention outside the country.