In state after state, cow protection vigilantes pick on Dalits, Muslims

  • Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 29, 2016 15:51 IST
A Dalit woman waits for a relative's release from a police station after protestors were detained for damaging vehicles and disturbing peace at Dholka town in Gujarat. A rally against an earlier attack on Dalits in Una town protested an attack by cow protection vigilantes on Dalits. (AFP)

Increasing cow vigilantism in India has a few common threads: rise in crimes against Dalits, fall in conviction rate, assaulters belong mostly to politically-linked influential Hindu upper castes and the victims are mostly Dalits or poor Muslims with no political voice.

Dalits and Muslims in the past year have faced the ire of emboldened cow vigilante groups under the aegis of right-wing Hindu groups: Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal. Attack have been reported from Daltonganj in Jharkhand to Una in Gujarat to Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh to Sonepat on Delhi-Haryana border to Chittorgarh in Rajasthan.

There may not be a direct link but these Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states also account for more than half of the crimes committed against Dalits in the country, the latest report from the National Commission for Scheduled Caste has shown.

According to the report based on data from the National Crime Records Bureau till 2015, crime against the weakest section of the society is on the rise.

Rajasthan with just 6% of country’s Dalit population accounts for 17% of total crimes against them. In about 60% of all the crimes in the western Indian state, Dalits were among the victims.

Madhya Pradesh that hogged headlined for the assault on women meat traders in Mandsaur and Ratlam districts on suspicion of carrying beef has seen about 50% increase in crime against Dalits between 2013 and 2015.

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The data also shows a spurt in crime against Dalits in two other BJP-ruled states--Haryana and Jharkhand--in addition to the non-BJP ruled states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. While officials attribute the increasing numbers to easier registration of cases, they don’t have a convincing answer on the falling conviction rate.

As per social justice ministry’s data to Parliament, the conviction rate in crimes committed against Dalits has been steadily falling since 2012. It fell to 23.5% in 2015 from 24.1% in 2012.

Rights activists say the rise in crime and fall in conviction rate are a double whammy and are an indication of how the system is weighted against Dalits.

Volunteers of the vigilante group of Gau Raksha Dal (Cow Protection Squad) gather to inspect a truck on a highway in Taranagar in Rajasthan in November 2015. (AFP)

“If we look at the trend in the past two years, most atrocities committed against Dalits are by upper castes having some political protection,” Paul Divakar, general secretary of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, said.

A similar trend of poor conviction is also visible in cases of “unidentified” members of cow vigilante groups booked for assaulting those in the cattle business – mostly Muslims or Dalit Hindus.

In Madhya Pradesh, over 100 cases of assault by the so-called vigilante groups against cattle traders were registered in the last one year. In Mandsaur, the police registered a case of assault against unidentified persons 24 hours after a video of the incident went viral.

As an inspector general level officer of the MP police said mostly the cases were registered against unidentified people and the police failed to identify them. “As the cases don’t progress, we have no option but to close them,” the officer said on condition of anonymity.

The profiles of the victims of these assaults make one thing clear that most of them are from poor Muslim families. In the case of the two Jharkhand cattle herders – Mazlum Ansari and Imteyaz Khan – who were hanged, one of the accused was identified as Mithilesh Prasad Sahu, linked to the local Gou Kranti Manch, considered close to a local BJP leader.

Two men, who were forced to consume cow dung in Kundli on Delhi-Haryana border by Haryana Gau Rakshak Samiti earlier this month, were Muslim cattle traders from Mewat region.

Similarly, the teenager stripped in Chittorgarh district of Rajasthan in May was a local Muslim and the accused were upper caste Hindus from a local cow vigilante group. A local BJP legislator came out in support of the gau rakshaks when the video of the assault became viral.

The growth of cow vigilante groups’ activism in India has been somehow aided by financial incentives to cow shelters that house the rescued bovines.

The Madhya Pradesh government allocated Rs 59 crore for cow shelters between 2004 and 2012. The Rajasthan government provided about Rs 15 crore to them between 2012 and 2014. States like Haryana and Jharkhand have started new schemes to fund cow shelters – at least one in every district.

All this clearly indicates that the rise of cow vigilantism in India in the last two years has been aided by the state (read BJP) governments with little protection of the weaker sections engaged in the cattle business.

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