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Modi’s words aren’t enough to deter gau rakshaks. We need a govt crackdown

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had warned cow vigilantes last year. But Pehlu Khan was still lynched. Without strict deterrents, the cow vigilantes will continue to run riot.

opinion Updated: Jul 16, 2017 07:20 IST
Dhrubo Jyoti
Dhrubo Jyoti
Hindustan Times
Modi,Narendra Modi,Gau Rakshak
Prime Minister Narendra Modi gives a speech during an event marking the 100th anniversary of Sabarmati Ashram and the 150th birth anniversary of poet and philosopher Shrimad Rajchandraji, Ahmedabad, June 29, 2017. Modi condemned the murder in the name of protecting cows, after a string of killings targeting Muslims and other minorities(AFP)

At a glitzy event in Delhi last August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dropped a bombshell.

“People who have set up shop in the name of gau raksha make me very angry…the states should prepare dossiers of such cow protectors,” he told a thousands-strong crowd, his comments beamed live across the country.

The remarks were seen as a watershed moment that would end the impunity with which self-styled vigilantes functioned in India, as chief ministers and top Hindu leaders all endorsed non-violence and said they stood for service to the cow, not killings in her name.

Except, things were back to the usual loot-kill-burn routine by next month. And when the new year rolled around, neither permissions nor government papers helped Muslim dairy farmer Pehlu Khan as he was lynched by rampaging vigilante groups in Rajasthan’s Barmer in April.

In fact, Modi’s warning doesn’t seem to have affected cow vigilantes at all. They feel more emboldened as states ramp up their cattle slaughter rules – it is punishable now with life in jail in Gujarat – and top leaders extol the virtues of the Hindus’ mother.

2016 was the worst year of cow-related violence by vigilantes and the first half of 2017 is already threatening to topple that record. Indiaspend analysed that 97% of all cow vigilante violence since 2010 was reported after Narendra Modi assumed power, and unsurprisingly, an overwhelming chunk of the victims are Muslim.

These cases include mob lynchings, assaults, rapes, stripping and hanging – but no prompt punishment or conviction. Presumably, the aura of impunity that cow vigilantes function under has not been hurt, despite the prime minister’s exhortation.

What is needed, then, is a firm policy remedy that cracks down on vigilante groups and doesn’t needlessly distinguish between good and bad vigilantes. The government and leaders need to come out and condemn each act of violence, and make clear that neither the state nor faith condone such violence. Prompt action and booking should follow each case to dispel the assumption of impunity because the vigilantes are Hindus.

More importantly, with incidents of mob justice rising, the governments need to set forward a clear policy and banish vigilante groups. Surely, the police are enough to check smuggling. Does India really need marauding cow vigilantes to check a trade that is manned mostly by the impoverished backwards, Muslims and Dalits?

On Thursday morning, the prime minister invoked Vinoba Bhave and Mahatma Gandhi to talk about cow service and condemn violence. It was almost a copy-paste of his remarks last August.

By evening, a Muslim man had been lynched in Jharkhand for allegedly carrying beef. As always, words with little real conviction hadn’t reached the people it needed to deter the most. One hopes that the prime minister doesn’t need to repeat himself this time next year. But without strong action, the hopes of that happening are dim.

First Published: Jun 30, 2017 11:45 IST