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5 August, 2018 10:41:59 AM
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All for a cow

Cattle slaughter is banned in most states of India but a recent phenomena is the emergence of cow vigilante groups claiming to be protectors of cattle
Kumkum Chadha
All for a cow

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi  gifted 200 cows in a symbolic gesture to villagers in Rwanda, there was a sense of discomfort in some sections back home. It was not because of the gift that the Indian Prime Minister had given as cows. On this the Prime Minister was simply contributing to Rwanda’s flagship programme Girinka in which the poorest get cows from the government and gift the first female calf to a neighbour to promote brotherhood. The exercise also enables the poorest in Rwanda to have a livelihood.
The word Girinka can be translated as ‘may you have a cow’ and describes a centuries-old cultural practice in Rwanda whereby a cow was given by one person to another, as a sign of respect and gratitude, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.  The programme is based on the premise that providing a dairy cow to the poor transforms livelihoods, reconciles communities improving agricultural productivity through the use of manure as fertilizers which would lead to improving soil quality and reducing erosion through the planting of grasses and trees, it said.
Since its introduction, hundreds of thousands have received cows through the Girinka Programme. The programme has contributed to an increase in agricultural production in Rwanda — especially milk production and products, reduced malnutrition and increased incomes.
Pitch this against the lynchings by cow vigilantes in India and it immediately conjures up images of blood and violence, the most recent being in Alwar in Rajasthan, where Rakbar Khan alias Akbar was lynched by a mob. According to the post mortem report, he died of shock apart from the fact that he had sustained injuries.   

Akbar and his friend were reportedly stopped by villagers, suspecting the duo to be cow smugglers. While Aslam  managed to escape, unknown locals beat Akbar up with sticks till he collapsed.

The Police in turn came under attack for the delay in taking Akbar to hospital. It took them over two hours  to a hospital barely 4 km away from the  spot where he was lynched.  The cops  even stopped for tea before getting him to the hospital, where he was declared brought dead.

The Police later admitted to an “error of judgement” on their part on grounds that the cops did not realise he had critical internal injuries.

Aslam Khan, who escaped the lynching  told police that the men who attacked them claimed the support of an “MLA” and that they “could not be harmed”.

32- year old Rakbar was transporting cows along with Aslam when they were stopped, allegedly by villagers in Lalwandi. Rakbar was beaten to death but fortunately for Aslam, he managed to escape.

Juxtapose this with a Union minister felicitating those guilty of lynching the innocents. Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha stoked the fires when he not only garlanded  eight people convicted of lynching a Muslim cattle trader in Ramgarh area of Jharkhand's Hazaribagh district but also received them warmly and willingly had himself photographed.

The eight men were part of a group of 11 gaurakshaks who were convicted of the murder of Alimuddin Ansari, a cattle trader, in March this year. However, the life sentences of eight of the convicts, including a local BJP leader, Nityanand Mahato, were suspended by the Ranchi High Court. Post release, the eight men went to the house of Sinha, where the minister garlanded them and posed for photographs. These went viral reiterating the political message that the BJP, including its ministers were patronising the gaurakshaks for the sake of electoral benefits. What is more shocking is that Sinha is not rooted in the RSS ethos having spent major part of his life working abroad.

Cattle slaughter is banned in most states of India but a recent phenomena is the emergence of cow vigilante groups  claiming to be protectors of cattle. These groups have accused Muslims and Dalits of cattle theft or slaughter, and targeted them, perpetrating violence  leading to a number of deaths.

Most of India’s 29 states have either banned or restricted the killing of cows. In Gujarat it is punishable by life imprisonment. Rajasthan has a cow-welfare ministry. In the “cow belt” of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, “cow protectors” armed with bats, swords and guns look for vehicles that are transporting cows across state borders. They have been known to extort money from drivers without verifying whether the cows they carry are being sent to slaughter.

Their usual mode of operation is to stop trucks carrying livestock or hides, accuse the owners of having slaughtered cattle, beat them up and release them after they hand over all the cash they possess.

These gau rakshaks take pride in their work and think nothing of  posting videos of their beating of young men who are on their knees begging for mercy.   While there is no data forthcoming from the government, according to IndiaSpend, a data-journalism website, 97% of all cow-vigilante attacks reported since 2010 took place after the BJP’s ascent to power  in 2014. The targets have been Muslims and Dalits, the latter because they  traditionally skin the carcasses of cows. Failure of the government to investigate these attacks is common knowledge but what is worse is the blatant promotion by BJP leaders that has encouraged gau rakshaks to take law into their hands and propagate violence.

Finally breaking his silence and Prime Minister Modi saying that , "Killing people in the name of gau bhakti (cow worship) is unacceptable. This is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve of", is being seen as a mild response to a crime that is assuming alarming proportions.   The Supreme Court, in turn, has come down heavily on mob killings stating that  in the name of cow protection, no citizen can take the law into their hands and the government must act. "It is the state's duty to ensure order and prevent mobocracy," the court said adding "Horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be allowed to become a new norm and has to be curbed with iron hands". It also urged that parliament to bring in a separate law against lynching. Cow-related violence has

triggered bitter tensions between the Muslim and Hindu communities. Being depicted as beef eaters, Muslims are at the receiving end at the hands of pro BJP elements  on the one hand and lumpen elements on the other. With the RSS backed BJP advocating a hindu rashtra, or India to be a country of Hindus, plurality is under threat as is secularism. Hate crimes have become a norm and the government has failed to protect religious minority from being attacked.

Worse still there is a complete absence  of remorse at gruesome attacks with voices from the BJP, law makers included, saying that  cow-smugglers are cow-killers and sinners like them need to be punished adding that the problem of lynching will be solved if the “sin” of cow killing ends. RSS is on record to state that people should stop eating beef to curb mob lynching incidents.

The rhetoric as also fanning the communal divide seems to work politically for the BJP and with the 2019 elections fast approaching the party is quite comfortable pushing the Hindu agenda and what could be better than doing it in the name of the cow which has become an excuse to attack people. Therefore, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor’s statement, though controversial,that it was safer "to be a cow than a Muslim" at many places in India, has resonance.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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