The reasons for the underlying increase in cases of violence surrounding cow protection are not difficult to detect when one sees the union minister for social justice and empowerment in the Narendra Modi government virtually certifying gau raksha samiti-sponsored vigilantism as a legitimate activity.
Talking to The Indian Express, Thawar Chand Gehlot said: “... These are all social organisations. It could be for gau raksha sewa dal, it could be for eliminating social evils; people keep forming these social groups and doing things. Someone may have informed them (about cow slaughter) and they would have rushed. What they need to do is find out its veracity and then go.”
Gehlot was responding to the question about whether the Centre has any plans to rein in the gau rakshaks. His answers made it obvious that it didn’t. In fact, Gehlot’s description of gau rakshak dals — that they are like other “social organisations that are formed for a cause” — reinforces the perception that the government is being unduly benevolent and suspiciously indulgent towards the gau rakshaks.
That perception further gains ground given the rapid reports of gau raksha-related violence, to which the government refuses to react. Just the mere suspicion of beef consumption or the transportation of cows for slaughter has become justifiable grounds for thrashing people, if not outright killing them. In this chaotic, but sustained atmosphere of violence, specific communities — Muslims and Dalits — are bearing the heaviest brunt of violent vigilantism.
On the heels of the flogging of four Dalits in Gujarat, on the suspicion of cow slaughter, came the news of the thrashing of two women in Madhya Pradesh, following rumours that they were carrying cow meat. Gau rakshaks have been proven wrong in both cases. But facts do not matter; only the ‘sentiment’ provoked by rumours of beef eating does.
Rather than unequivocally condemn the attacks, Gehlot seems to find excuses for them. “There is a law prohibiting cow slaughter. The Centre has it, so do the states, and there are rules too. Laws are in place but what can one do about rumours…” the minister told The Indian Express. Although, he pleads helplessness in the face of rumours, it would not be out of place to ask: What precisely is the job of the central government and its ministers, other than holding up the rule of law and ensuring acts of vigilante violence do not repeatedly occur against citizens?
Besides, why invoke the law that bans cow slaughter in such cases of violence? Vigilantes operate outside the legal framework. In fact, rather than insinuate that rumours are a justifiable trigger to vigilantism, the minister should have plainly condemned the attacks launched merely on grounds of suspicion.
In his interview, Gehlot equates the gau raksha sewa dal to social organisations. However, how many social organisations does the minister know which act in this manner to enforce their ideology or further their cause? Imagine the consequences that, say, Greenpeace — an environmental organisation blacklisted by the government — would have to face if it leveraged vigilante tactics to protect the environment across the country.
The prime minister’s silence on all such occasions has now become a routine matter. It would seem that the more urgent the knock on the prime minister’s door, the more firmly he bolts the door. It’s hardly a wonder then that his colleague — in this case the minister for social justice — too does not believe that it is incumbent upon him to unequivocally to condemn such violence. The PM’s silence has justified the inaction of others.
As for the vigilantes themselves, a strong signal of disapproval (not just statements of sweeping generalities issued from time to time) could perhaps have had acted as a deterrent. But the lack of reaction from this government makes amply clear what kind of ideologies they wish to deter, and which they don’t.
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Updated Date: Jul 29, 2016 11:18:03 IST