Over the last few months, national discourse has remained focused on the acts of violence against members of minority communities by self-styled Gaurakshaks. Killing of a Muslim youngster Junaid by a mob allegedly calling him a “beef eater” triggered great outrage on social media and #NotInMyName protests by left liberals. However, Police investigation into Junaid’s murder later revealed that clash between the two groups which led to his death got triggered over a train berth. But in the meantime, India was already termed Lynchistan/Lynch Repulic by a large section of international media where majority Hindus are supposedly attacking minorities over trifling matters like eating beef. PM Modi has reprimanded acts of violence by cow vigilante groups on more than one occasion. Parliament has debated the issue and this month Supreme Court has asked State government to take certain steps to curb violence by “cow vigilante groups”.
Off course it cannot be denied that some unruly and anti-social elements have committed some crimes in the name of cow protection and there should a clamp down on such people. However, the narrative that Indian Muslims are facing some organized wide spread persecution for eating beef is patently false. While few incidents of violence by Gaurakshaks have received great coverage, grave crimes committed by cattle smugglers against innocent men and women, Hindus as well as Muslims, seldom make it to the national headlines and never to the international headlines.
For example, on September 14, 2017, cow smugglers crushed to death a BSF Jawan Tusharkanti Das in West Bengal’s 24 Pargana when he along with his colleagues tried to stop their truck for search. However, this was not the first time when cattle smugglers attacked law enforcement officers. On April 5, a truck laden with cattle mowed down and killed Police Officer Chandan Thakur in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar when he tried to stop it for regular search on a check point. In a similar incident in August last year, cattle smugglers had crushed to death Police constable Triloki Tiwari in UP’s Jaunpur when he along with his colleagues tried to stop their pick up van for checking. In September 2015, a gang of cattle smugglers ambushed and killed UP Police sub-inspector Manoj Mishra in Bareilly’s Faridpur as he had cracked down upon such illegal activities in that area. In Feburary 2015, cattle smugglers mowed down four cops in Mathura’s Kosi Kalan killing two of them and seriously injuring the other two.
Returning to this year’s incidents, on July 10, a Police party in Haryana’s Rewari had a close shave when it tried to stop a vehicle of cattle smugglers for search and they opened fire on the Police. All this tells about the audacity of these cattle smugglers. During the last week of August, cattle smugglers fired upon cops on four different occasions in Haryana’s Ballabhgarh district.
On March 5, 2017, cattle smugglers shot a farmer Brahmapal Sharma in Saharanpur’s village Pahasu. His only fault was that on seeing some suspicious activities outside his house in the wee hours, he inquired as to what was going on. Cattle smugglers immediately shot him in the thigh.
And this isn’t just about the cow but milch cattle in general. On July 1, a farmer named Charan Singh was shot dead by cattle smugglers in Agra’s Kotrekapura village who were trying to forcibly take away a buffalo from his house. On July 15, cattle smugglers forcibly took away two buffaloes from the house of Sangram Yadav in Jaunpur’s Baramanpur village. He and his wife Pramila were badly thrashed and cattle smugglers also robbed Pramila of her sacred mangalsutra when she tried to resist them. What needs to be understood here is that a good milch buffalo now costs anywhere between Rs 75,000 to Rs 150,000 and poor farmers invest their hard earned savings and take loans to buy milch cattle as it provides fixed income as well as a hedging option against all the problems and risks of our farm sector. So this kind of rampage by cattle smugglers touches the countryside at the grass root level and as governments failed to finish cattle smuggling syndicates, farming communities started to project these so called Gau Rakshaks groups which function in a law enforcement vacuum.
Then there is the issue of social reaction against animal cruelty. While a large part of India’s population is non-vegetarian, we as a society never welcomed open gory violence against animals. This is not just about religion but our centuries old civilizational ethos. Constitution of India takes cognizance of this fact when while enumerating fundamental duties of citizens it exhorts them “to have compassion for living creatures”: Article 51A(g). On July 14, when a Hyderabad techie and his friend from Delhi who were on a sightseeing tour near Vishakhapatnam with their families tried to perform this duty, by questioning severe caning of cows, cattle smugglers not only thrashed them but also molested three women in the group. A recent HT Report gave a spine chilling account of atrocities being committed by cattle smugglers on animals at the Indo-Bangladesh border.
And there is not always a communal angle to this problem. In April this year, a case surfaced in Baraut town of U.P.’s Baghpat district where one Irshad Qureshi and his family faced regular intimidation by cattle smugglers as they suspected him to be a Police informer. Cattle smugglers tried to abduct and kill him. Unable to get any protection from the Police, Irshad put up a sign board offering to sale his house and leave the place for all time to come. In another similar recent case, a Muslim Gau Rakshak Asif Bharti tried to immolate himself as cow smugglers killed his brother Dilshad two years ago because he was instrumental in crackdown upon beef mafia which was running illegal slaughter houses which do not follow food safety standards. However, their family continues to face threat from beef mafia as Police failed to provide any protection to the family. Question we need to ask ourselves that why we are not raising our voices for these victims of cattle smugglers? Aren’t we creating social space for cow vigilante groups by ignoring ghastly acts of violence by cattle smugglers? Recently Supreme Court has directed States to compensate victims of violence perpetrated by cow vigilantes. But the question is who will compensate victims of violence perpetrated by cattle smugglers?
(The author is a lawyer, columnist and security affairs analyst. He tweets @DivyaSoti)