The incidents are coming thick and fast. Two Muslim women were beaten up on suspicion of transporting beef, which later turned out to be buffalo meat, which is perfectly legal in Madhya Pradesh, where the incident took place. Seven Bajrang Dal members attacked a Dalit home in Karnataka, again on the grounds that illegal cow slaughter was taking place there and in Gujarat, those attacked for skinning a dead cow were summarily discharged from a hospital although they had not recovered from their injuries. They had to be hospitalised again. Yet, the Union minister for social justice and empowerment, Thawar Chand Gehlot, says that these vigilante gau rakshaks are like any other social organisation, adding that they should verify rumours before acting. At last count, we thought that acting against any illegality was the work of the police and not of self-styled custodians of cow protection.
The minister goes on to say that the incident in Gujarat, where people were beaten up, was based on a false rumour, but in the Dadri incident, the rumour was true. Last year a man was beaten to death in front of his family in Dadri and even if he had been guilty of some crime, nothing justifies his murder or the actions of the thugs who entered his house and on the grounds that a cow had been slaughtered in the vicinity and its meat was stored in his fridge. The minister’s words can only encourage these criminal elements who are attacking people at will. Giving such people the sanction to verify rumours virtually amounts to giving them a free hand to act against those whom they think may have committed an anti-cow offence. The government and the minister concerned should have wasted no time in making it clear that anyone found acting on rumours, whether verified or not, will face the full force of the law. Similarly, when vigilante groups went around acting against people whom they thought were guilty of inter-religious marriages, something they called ‘love jihad’, the response from the government came belatedly and not forcefully enough.
This ugly trend, of people taking on policing duties and meting out ‘justice’ in the name of cow protection, is really undermining the government’s efforts to project India as a progressive and modern nation. We may scoff at the barbaric hounding of minorities in neighbouring Pakistan, but the gau rakshaks’behaviour hardly does any credit to our democracy. At least in enlightened self-interest, the government must crack down on these violent cow protection groups, which are springing up with alarming regularity across the country. Mr Gehlot’s ministry is in charge of implementing the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015. Clearly, the minister is falling down on his job.