On April 1, Pehlu Khan, a Muslim man in his 50s, was beaten up by cow vigilantes in Rajasthan’s Alwar district while transporting cows. Khan died two days later.
But even in death there was no reprieve for Khan. Rajasthan home minister Gulab Chand Kataria said that Khan had three cases of cow smuggling registered against him and was transporting cattle without valid documents, an allegation Khan’s family has vehemently denied. According to a report in HT on Wednesday, Khan was no smuggler and his son was let off in two cases.
Kataria also accused the Congress of playing divisive politics as the cows were being transported by Muslims and those who caught them were Hindus. “You (the Opposition) are always creating communal frenzy.... Cow smugglers are not Hindus or Muslims, but only criminals and law does not differentiate,” alleged Gulab Chand Kataria in the Rajasthan assembly. A good thought but we have never heard gau rakshaks targeting any Hindu cattle trader, legal or illegal.
Sadly, Kataria’s ‘Khan, a cattle smuggler’ comment also found support from Alwar superintendent of police Rahul Prakash.
The senior police officer claimed that the local police has filed cases against 14 people under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and are deeming them as cow smugglers. He added 15 men from Haryana’s Mewat district -- including Pehlu Khan -- had no verified documents to prove that they were in the dairy business and not cow smugglers.
Even if Kataria and Prakash are correct in their assessment that Pehlu Khan was a cattle smuggler, what is stopping them from adding a caveat to their comments that no citizen has any right to take law into own hands.
This victimisation of the victim, a political strategy the BJP has near-perfected, helps them to keep control of the political narrative and also consolidate its support base at the cost of social peace and cohesion.
The same strategy was adopted when a mob lynched a Muslim man, Mohammed Ikhlaq, in Dadri village in Uttar Pradesh in 2015, on the suspicion that of stealing and slaughtering a stolen cow calf. Even though the police failed to find any credible evidence of cow slaughter, the court had to intervene to stay the arrest of Akhlaq’s family members.
The BJP’s victimise-the-victim game must stop. Vigilantism has no place in a democracy.