The Gujarat chief secretary has come to the somewhat belated conclusion that “there is hooliganism going on in the name of self-proclaimed gau raksha samitis”. But he is spot on when he says that “we must be vigilant”. The brazen manner in which these so-called cow protection groups have been behaving, harassing and inflicting violence on people whom they suspect of killing cows or eating beef, suggests that they are a law unto themselves. In fact, the movement against cow slaughter gathered momentum after the BJP government took over at the Centre. Numerous cow protection outfits have sprung up ever since, each vying with the other in their zeal to carry out their agenda.
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The Bharatiya Gau Raksha Dal, which claims to be the foremost among these groups, has this to say among other things on its website: “Cow is the source of progress and prosperity. In many ways, it is superior to one’s mother. The pressure of Muslims for cow slaughter is the limit of foolishness.” Apart from the bad English, references to Muslims and their role in cow slaughter are taken as licence by followers to mete out their brand of justice, which invariably involves violence, even murder as we saw in Dadri and other places. In Dadri, there are six cow protection units, one of which was founded by the MP Yogi Adityanath, well known for his incendiary anti-minority comments. These outfits comprise young men who are well-versed in using WhatsApp and smartphones. This enables them to spread information, most often mischievous and misleading, on perceived anti-cow offences.
Given the growing incidents of attacks on people in the name of cow protection, these organisations must be dealt with no sooner do they take shape. Whatever protection the cow requires is ensured by the law, vigilante groups have no place in this. In the most part, these ‘protectors’ are hooligans and, as it turns out in some cases, land-grabbers. They act with impunity in the belief that since their work has religious sanction, they are above the law. Their transgressions must not be tolerated and the ruling party should crack down on its own members who are involved in these groups. Thousands of people work in tanneries and they cannot be deprived of their livelihood because it offends the sentiments of these groups. For a start, the government should investigate these groups — who comprise them, where they get their funds from and what they do. This would act as a brake on elements who, under guise of cow protection, feel they can commit crimes and get away with this.