The gau rakshak dals are on a rampage. There is hardly a single week without news of vandalism, rape, killing and looting by these so-called protectors of gau mata and proponents of ultra-nationalism. While most of the victims of these crimes have been Muslims, the Dalits and Tribals have not been spared either. Some attacks which have gained public attention, the killing of Akhlaq in Dadari (UP) last year, Majloom Ansari and Imtiyaz Khan in Latehar (Jharkhand) in March and, most recently, Ayyub last week in Gujarat. There are cases of alleged rape as well (like the one in Mewat, Haryana). These attacks are not just limited to the states of Haryana and Gujarat, but are also being carried out in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Himachal, and even parts of the north east. The most unfortunate part has been that despite wide reporting of these cases, these attacks continue to take place.
While all this is going on, there are well-meaning people who have been suggesting and asking Muslims to come out and protest against these attacks and killings against them. I am partially in agreement with them – Muslims must protest, but that alone will not solve the problem. I believe that as long as the majority remains silent, things are unlikely to change in the long run. Dalits have been protesting against similar atrocities against them, resulting in massive uprisings in Una and elsewhere, but that has hardly deterred gau rakshaks from continuing their crimes against the Dalits.
It would also be unfair to suggest that Muslims have been totally silent on the issue. Last month saw a public meeting in Delhi organized by a Muslim group called Ittehad-e-Millat Council (IMC) demanding a “complete ban on beef exports from India”. It is another matter that the media chose to ignore this meeting completely.
One may choose to disagree on whether a ban on export is a genuine way-out. However, it is quite clear that the ban was demanded keeping in mind the continuous attacks on Muslims and Dalits in the name of protecting cows. In other words, it was a form of protest that was adopted by the organisers. The council in its memorandum, which was endorsed by representatives from Muslim and Dalit communities, noted
“We would like to express our apprehensions with respect to the atrocities, suppression and discrimination meted out to the Muslim minority, on the pretext of cow protection, beef eating, terrorism, national security, etc. Since the death of a man beaten to death after being accused of eating beef last September in Dadri, vigilante groups of cow protectors have flourished.”
It was also announced that if these demands were not met by the government, the protesters would take their agitation to the streets and Ramlila Grounds.
In my opinion, part of the reason for continued attacks is not just the political patronage that is enjoyed by these cow vigilantes groups, but also the strength that they draw from draconian laws and provisions enacted in the name of preventing cow slaughter and protecting and developing animal husbandry, especially cows. Legislations like the Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan (Cow Protection and Development) Bill 2015 passed by the Haryana Assembly on March 16, 2015 – it bans the slaughtering of cows and the sale of beef in the state, and also its import – are a case in point. The amendments in the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976 are another good example. Fortunately, unlike in Haryana, a later ruling by the Mumbai High Court allowed for the consumption and import of beef to the state of Maharashtra.
These laws are often used as proxies to target those who eat beef or those involved in its trade. In fact, as we have seen in various cases, it hardly matters whether the meat belongs to a cow, buffalo, goat or chicken. The mere possession of meat can make someone suspicious and vulnerable—both in front of vigilante groups as well as state agencies. And by the time that it can be proved that it was not cow meat, an irreversible damage has already been done. This is in contradiction to the fact that, as pointed out by some specialists, “slaughter does not drive down animal numbers, but actually supports their reproduction, as is evident in the case of India’s buffaloes.” In fact, they “also have mounting evidence to show how slaughter bans actively depress cattle rearing.”
I would like to state that one can’t get rid of their responsibility by merely appealing to Muslims (and Dalits) to standup and fight back, especially when these attacks are carried out keeping in mind that it has the support of a majority of Indians. As long as public perception persists that beef eating is opposed by majority of India or “against Indian culture”, vigilante groups will continue unchallenged.
What we must remember is that the target might be Muslims and Dalits today but if this is allowed to continue, it won’t be far when no one will be there to defend our rights, the democracy and the constitution, which we often boast about. Preaching to victims is not going to help. The privileged must rise in rage. Otherwise, very soon, there will be nothing left to be proud of.
Though I do not deny the power of agency, I insist that in order to counter majoritarian violence, a majority of the people have to stand up and say enough is enough. It is imperative for the majority to disassociate from and denounce the practices carried out in their name. Let’s wake up, before it’s too late.
First published in NewsLaundry.com