The death of a man from injuries at the hands of “cow protection” vigilantes in Rajasthan’s Alwar district rightly animated Parliament. The details of the violence inflicted by a mob on Saturday are chilling and vividly caught on mobile phone video, and demand an assurance from the government that justice will be done. It is unfortunate that as the opposition raised the issue, the response from the treasury benches was anything but satisfactory. In fact, coupled with comments from spokespersons of the BJP and even the Rajasthan Home Minister, the message from the authorities indicates that an outrageous equivalence is being sought to be made between the lynch mob’s actions and the victims’ alleged — simply “alleged” — actions. The facts are these. Pehlu Khan, the deceased, and four others were on their way back to Haryana after buying cattle in Jaipur. A mob set itself upon them in Behror on the Jaipur-Delhi National Highway. The violence was explained as an attempt to prevent the “illegal” transportation of cattle. Instead of condemning the violence and stating that nobody has the right to attack individuals no matter what they may and may not have been doing, all that has emanated from ministers at the Centre and in Rajasthan is evasive prevarication. State Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria said no one had the right to take the law into his own hands, but added it was “all right” that those illegally moving cattle were nabbed. In the Rajya Sabha, Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi implied that no incident of such cow vigilantism had occurred.
Over the last three years, governments in different States, most of them ruled by the BJP, have tightened existing laws against cow slaughter. It is no accident that the period has been attended by an aggressive vigilantism. From the killing of a man in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh in 2015 on suspicion that he had beef in his possession, to the flogging of a group of Dalit men who were skinning a dead cow in Una in Gujarat last year, cow vigilantes, in the guise of being gau rakshaks, have created an atmosphere of fear. It is disturbing that legislative initiatives and mob violence have been moving in step. It is also true that while distancing organisations of the Sangh Parivar from the incidents, individuals affiliated to these organisations, including the BJP, have played down the instances of violence by focussing on how the alleged crimes had offended believers. And in this constant din of pledging support to the larger effort to protect the cow, there is little official deliberation on the actual implementation of anti-cow slaughter laws, let alone a recognition of the incentives these laws create for the illegal movement of animals across jurisdictions. By failing to condemn lynch mobs for murder and bring vigilantes to book, the government only diminishes Indian democracy.
Source: The Hindu, April 7, 2017