For ‘gau rakshaks’, cow a medium to extort cash
Jaipur: The killing of a Haryana Muslim dairy farmer who was attacked along with four others in Alwar on April 1 by an alleged right-wing Hindu group while transporting cattle purchased in Jaipur has put the spotlight on gau rakshaks (cow protection vigilantes).
In Rajasthan, they operate under different names – Gau Raksha Dal, which claims to be a national body with presence in 22 states; the Rashtriya Mahila Gau Raksha Dal that operates in Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh; and Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
The national vice president of Gau Raksha Dal, Babulal Jangid says the body has the biggest network of gau rakshaks, down to the tehsil level. “But we never indulge in violence. Our men call the police when they receive information about bovines being transported. Our focus is on saving the cattle; for the smugglers, there is police,” the 43-year-old says.
Jangid claims that the organisation has 15,000 workers but “there’s no registration and no record on paper” and that “we know each other and operate through contacts.”
Rashtriya Mahila Gau Raksha Dal, a body of 2,200 women gau rakshaks is headed by 39-year-old Sadhvi Kamal. The saffron-clad woman hit the headlines recently after she forced the administration in Jaipur to seal a hotel for allegedly serving beef. The hotel is owned by a Muslim businessman.
Sadhvi Kamal also claims credit for a road jam in Chhoti Sadri in Pratapgarh district in June 2016 after a mob of around 150 people thrashed three alleged cow transporters and stripped one of them.
And then there’s Bagranj Dal and its parent body, the VHP. It is alleged that people who waylaid two vehicles carrying cows near Behror in Alwar belonged to these groups.
VHP state president Narpat Singh Shekhawat denies the charge. “I am going to sue papers which are calling those lumpen elements members of our group,” he says.
These fringe groups became active after the BJP-led government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge 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 community, merely on suspicion.
“It’s a business,” says Noor Mohammad, a social activist who works with Meo-Muslims in Rajasthan’s Mewat region, a hot bed of cow smuggling and slaughter. “The gau rakshaks want money. If you pay them, they let you go. Otherwise they snatch it from you and lodge police case against you for cow smuggling,” he says.
Rajasthan’s crime statistics appear to buttress Mohammad’s claim.
In 2015, state police closed 73 cases registered under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995, after they were found to be fake. In 2016, 85 such cases were closed, and in 2017, until February, 5 cases have been dropped.
On an average, more than one case of cow smuggling is registered daily in the state, Rajasthan Police data shows.
In 2015, 543 cases were registered. This came down to 474 in 2016. This year, until February, 95 cases have been lodged under the bovine act.
The Alwar police registered a case of illegal transport of bovines against the five men assaulted on Saturday. “For export of bovine from Rajasthan for agricultural or dairy farming purposes or for participation in a cattle fair, a special permit needs to be issued by the district collector or an officer authorised by him for the purpose. These men from Haryana didn’t have this permit,” says superintendent of police Rahul Prakash.
Kavita Srivastava of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) counters the SP. “They were illiterate dairy farmers. They didn’t know the legalese. Police have no moral authority to book them for smuggling when they had transport permits from a municipal body,” she says.
PUCL has demanded ₹1 crore compensation to the family of Pehlu Khan who died in hospital after Saturday’s attack, and ₹10 lakh each to the four people who suffered injuries. It has also demanded suspension of the station house officer of Behror police station and transfer of Alwar SP.
Cattle protection campaign is a milch cow for Hindu nationalist groups, adds Mohammad. “Cows seized during such actions are often found at houses of members of the management committees of gaushalas (cow shelters). They happily milk them instead of keeping them at the shelter. The seized cattle are sometimes handed over to the gau rakshaks for paltry sums,” he alleges.