The Supreme Court asked the central government and five BJP-ruled states on Friday to say within three weeks why cow protection groups shouldn’t be banned amid growing outrage against vigilantes accused of violence and even murder.
The directive came on a petition filed by Congress leaders Tehseen and Shehzad Poonawalla, who called for cow protection groups to be declared illegal, saying there has been a spike in instances of vigilantism. The court sought responses from Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Rajasthan – all BJP ruled – as well as Congress-run Karnataka, setting May 3 for the next hearing. It also asked the Centre to reply.
The move came as the opposition attacked the government in Parliament for a second straight day for not doing enough to curb a spike in cow vigilantism. In Rajya Sabha, the Congress demanded an apology from Union minister of state for parliamentary affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi for “denying” the lynching of a Muslim man by so-called cow protectors in Rajasthan last week.
In October, the court had orally asked the states and Centre to file a response to Poonawalla’s petition. However it received no response.
On Friday, Poonawalla’s counsel, Sanjay Hegde, insisted on a response, citing last week’s lynching of the Muslim man to particularly push Rajasthan to reply.
The National Human Rights Commission also took suo motu cognizance of the attack and issued notice to the Rajasthan government demanding a detailed action report.
- Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka were initially asked in October to reply to a petition seeking curbs on cow-protection vigilantes
- On Friday, the petitioner stressed on the need for the courts to reply, and cited the killing of a Muslim man in Alwar last week to particularly seek a response from Rajasthan
- The plea sought to declare as "unconstitutional" certain animal protection laws in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka that protects such vigilantes
Cow vigilante groups became active after the BJP-led government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over at the Centre. They claim to protect cows from being taken to slaughterhouses.
Critics, however, accuse these vigilante groups of targeting people, mostly from the Muslim and Dalit community.
There has been a string of cow-related violence but various state governments have defended the action on the grounds of the sentiment attached to the animal, considered holy by many Hindus.
In Rajya Sabha, opposition members created a ruckus over the lynching in Rajasthan’s Alwar and sought an apology from Naqvi for his earlier comments on the incident. Naqvi said he had only denied any such violence in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and had not referred to Rajasthan.
“A criminal, a murderer, a hooligan, or a rowdy should not be looked at as a Hindu or a Muslim. A criminal is a criminal,” Naqvi told the House.
In his petition, Poonawalla said violence committed by these ‘gau raksha’ groups have reached such proportions that even Modi called them out as people who were “destroying the society”.
The plea alleged that these groups were committing atrocities against Dalits and minorities in the name of protection of cows and they needed to be “regulated and banned in the interest of social harmony, public morality and law and order in the country”.
It sought a direction to remove alleged “violent content” uploaded on social media and hosted by the cow protection groups. It also asked that laws protecting cow vigilantes in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka be declared unconstitutional.