To protect Indian culture, protect gau: Adityanath at meeting of cow vigilantes
The cow is a sacred animal for Hindus. Vigilante groups that claim to be working to stop its smuggling and killing have been behind a string of attacks in recent years, some of them leading to deaths.
“There is only one way to protect Indian culture: to protect gau (cows), Ganga, and (goddess) Gayatri,” pronounced Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister Yogi Adityanath at India’s first national convention of cow protectors (gau rakshaks) in Lucknow organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to set “the agenda for the future” . “Only the community that can protect this heritage will survive. Otherwise there will be a huge crisis of identity, and this crisis of identity will endanger our existence,” he said to a round of applause from hundreds of gau rakshaks who had come to listen to him from across the country.
“I want to clearly state that it has only been seven months since this government came to power, but this is the first government that has put locks on the gates of illegal slaughterhouses and recovered 33,000 hectares of grazing land. Today, no one can dare to smuggle even a pinch of cow meat out of Uttar Pradesh,” the chief minister continued. Shoving his smartphone in the air, Ratnesh Veerval, a gau rakshak from Chittorgarh, started broadcasting the speech live on Facebook, tagging members of his vigilante group back home, only to find his idol change tack.
“Our working style shouldn’t cause aggravation in society,” said Adityanath. He appealed to them to find a solution to what he outlined as the biggest problem currently facing cows in UP. “The problem is not that people will smuggle cows. Or that people will illegally kill cows. The problem is that everywhere you look, people have abandoned their cows. They are trampling fields and hurting farmers. You should work to make sure that every family in your village takes responsibility for their cows whether they are yielding milk or not. Every family should be linked to a cow.”
Adityanath’s reference is to a problem plaguing the bovine economy in the country. Worried about attacks by gau rakshaks, and crimped by tight regulations that prevent or restrict slaughter, farmers who can no longer afford to care for cattle that have turned unproductive are abandoning them.
Veerval was a little disappointed at the messaging. He claims to spend a few hours every day in such selfless service, offering Facebook photos of him nursing sick cows as evidence, but what drove the jobless ITI-certified technician to gau raksha were the nightly raids chasing cow smugglers. He travelled to Lucknow hoping someone would address the matter of certificates allowing people to legally transport cattle. “Thrice, my friends and I have caught smugglers during our raids, and each time they have showed us these certificates and driven off,” he said. He looked at the stage again where Adityanath was followed by a senior VHP leader advising gau rakshaks to “not post negative messages on social media.” Veerval said he knew what that meant. “They are basically saying,’Don’t post angry messages about Muslims, but only about our service to gau mata’. That’s all I do anyway.”The speaker also urged them to restrategise towards better efficiency. “Make new block-level committees. Include a retired police officer, a lawyer, a saint, a veterinarian, and a woman rather than forming groups of young men. You should know what to do after rescuing a cow: How to file an FIR, how to sign a bond, how to file insurance. Study your state’s laws regarding cow protection.”
Sitting in a back row, Alok Pal wrote every word down in his notebook. Things were tough for gau rakshaks in Kolkata, Pal, a shopkeeper, said. “In Bengal, the government gives full immunity to Muslims to kill cows. It’s the gau rakshaks who have to operate in secret. I am going to follow all of these directions.”
No matter how confused they felt towards the end, the gau rakshaks didn’t leave the building without issuing a warning.
“That Hindus are tolerant is a myth, a misunderstanding,” said a young VHP leader, “Our culture is known for both bhala (trident) and mala (garland). If anyone slaughters a cow in India, he will also be slaughtered.”