Cow vigilantism in India: 2017 sees 26 cases of cattle-related violence; most in 8 years

Editor's note: Earlier IndiaSpend erroneously reported that so far the country has witnessed 27 cow-related instances of violence this year instead of 26.

There have been 26 incidents of cow-related violence in 118 days since 55-year-old Pehlu Khan died after a mob attack on April 1, 2017, according to an IndiaSpenddatabase that records such violence in India. We have now recorded as many as 70 cases of cow-related violence over eight years.

Created through a collection and content analysis of reports in the English media – which tend to have the greatest spread of national news – the database shows that 97 percent (68 of 70) of such incidents were reported after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government came to power in May 2014. More than half or 54 percent of the cow-related violence – 38 of 70 cases – were from states governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), when the attacks were reported, revealed our analysis of violence recorded until 27 July, 2017.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The data shows that Muslims were the target of 51 percent (36 of 70) cases of violence centered on bovine issues over nearly eight years (2010 to 2017) and comprised 86 percent (24 of 28) killed in 70 incidents.

As least 136 people were also injured in these attacks, and more than half (54 percent) of these attacks were based on rumours, our analysis of the IndiaSpenddatabase revealed.

Despite the increase in violence related to bovine issues, particularly over the last three years, the ministry of home affairs does not collect data on lynchings, said this government statement to the Lok Sabha on 25 July, 2017.

National or state crime data does not distinguish general violence from cow-related attacks and lynchings, so the IndiaSpenddatabase is the first such statistical perspective to a growing national debate over such violence.

In nearly half the attacks (49 percent), police register cases against victims

Of 70 attacks over eight years, 68 (97 percent) occurred, as we said, after Modi's government came to power (2014-2017), with most attacks within seven months in 2017. The year 2016 reported the second-most cases of cow-related violence at 25 incidents, as IndiaSpendreported in June, 2017.

In nearly half or 49 percent (34 attacks) of cases reported, police registered cases against victims or survivors – as they did in Mandsaur – an analysis of our cow-related-violence database revealed. The police response to the mob in Mandsaur is contrary to the prime minister's recent rhetoric against violence perpetrated in the name of cow protection.

On 29 June, 2017, a day after protests in Indian cities, London and New York against the government's slow response and silence after nationwide attacks against mostly Muslims and Dalits, Modi, speaking at the centenary celebrations of Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat, said, "Killing people in the name of gau bhakti (cow worship) is unacceptable. This is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve of."

"No one has the right to take law into his or her hands. We belong to a land of non-violence. Violence is not the solution to any problem."

"No one spoke about protecting cows more than Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinobha Bhave. Yes it should be done," the prime minister said. He ended the statement saying, "Let's all work together. Let's create an India our freedom fighters would be proud of."

A day before the start of the monsoon session in Parliament on 15 July, 2017, the prime minister, at an all-India meeting of the BJP, once again criticised cow vigilantes and put the onus on state governments to stringently act against them. He said:

“We believe cow is our mother, she is tied to people's emotions. But it must be understood that there are laws to protect cows and there is no option to break it," the prime minister tweeted on  16 July, 2017.

"In the name of cow-protection, some anti-social elements are trying to spread chaos. People are taking advantage of this to spoil the fraternal spirit of this country."

"This is impacting the country's image. State governments should take strict action against such anti-social elements."

Offences promoting enmity between different groups up 41 percent over last three years

As many as 1,235 cases related to offences promoting enmity between different groups – under section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, etc.) and 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) of the Indian Penal Code – were reported during 2014-16, according to a 25 July, 2017 Lok Sabha reply to a question on lynchings.

"[Under sections 153A and 153B of the Indian Penal Code] the National Crime Records Bureau [NCRB] maintains data on offences promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth etc… However, it does not maintain data on cases relating to cow 'vigilantes', cow trade and trafficking," Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, minister of state for the home ministry, told the Lok Sabha in his reply.

"Offences promoting enmity between different groups" increased 41 percent over three years to 2016, rising from 336 to 475. Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, reported the most (202) cases, registering a 346 percent increase, from 26 in 2014 to 116 in 2016. Uttar Pradesh was followed by Kerala (151), Karnataka (114), Telangana (104) and Maharashtra (103), among the top five states, over three years.

Cases in Uttarakhand increased at the greatest rate nationwide, 450%, from four in 2014 to 22 in 2016.

Source: Lok Sabha

The government also said that there is no proposal to promulgate a law against lynching.

With mob violence in the name of cow protection rising, the National Campaign Against Mob Lynching, a committee of civil society members, has proposed a new law. The Manav Suraksha Kanoon (MASUKA) suggests no bail for those accused of mob lynching, life imprisonment for those convicted and immediate suspension of the concerned station house officer. An online petition demanding MASUKA has received over 34,000 signatures.


Published Date: Jul 29, 2017 01:29 pm | Updated Date: Jul 29, 2017 08:19 pm


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