On 11 July, seven members of a Dalit family in Gujarat's Una town, involved in leather trading, were attacked and brutally assaulted. Four of them were stripped half-naked, tied to a car, dragged for about a kilometre and then beaten up with iron rods and sticks. What was their crime? They were found skinning the carcass of a cow brought from a neighbouring village by the self-proclaimed gau rakshaks.
Retaliating against the oppression, violent protests broke out throughout Gujarat. Many from the Dalit community attempted suicide in protest. While violence escalated in the state, the only assurance that came from the Anandiben Patel-led Gujarat government was that of a CID probe into the alleged assault.
In the last few days, Rajya Sabha has been in uproar over the atrocities against Dalits in Gujarat with Opposition parties demanding a check on the cow vigilante groups. JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav posed questions that everyone in India should be asking: “Who created these gau rakshaks? Why doesn’t the government ban them?"
The horrifying incident of the four Dalit youths getting beaten up in front of a crowd was recorded and the video went viral on social media. The fact these gau rakshaks can record their brutal crimes and circulate them publicly without any fear proves that they have the backing of the state and the right-wing Hindu political outfits.
Politics surrounding cow and the violence perpetrated in the name of cow protection has escalated in the last few years. Last year, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, by a right-wing Hindu mob over rumours of possessing beef. The political debate raged on whether Akhlaq indeed had beef in his possession or not, while the bigger question of how did a group of men get the licence to beat up a man for possession a kind of meat was somewhere lost. A year later, an FIR was filed against the Akhlaq family under the Cow Slaughter Act with no concrete steps from the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government to prevent such brutalities.
A few weeks ago, a video surfaced of gau rakshaks forcing two men to eat cow dung. The vigilante group claimed that they had received a tip that they were illegally transporting beef. Dharmendra Yadav, president of the Gurgaon Gau Rakshak Dal, was quoted by The Indian Express as saying that they had to chase these men for seven kilometres. "When we caught them, they had 700 kg of beef in their car. We made them eat the panchgavya (cow dung concoction) to teach them a lesson, and also to purify them," was his bold claim.
In Haryana, BJP government of Manohar Lal Khattar has gone ahead and proposed 'Gau-Rakshak Task Force'. Never mind the state of law and order and crime in the state, the Haryana government has constituted three teams for the protection of cows, which include legislators and officers of municipal corporations, district administration and the police.
Veneration of the cow is not new in India.
The adage of "gau hamari mata" and cow worship has been instilled in the Hindu psyche for a long time. But the cow is also the most political animal in India. Mukul Kesevan argues that it is a political assertion. "Cow-protection in modern India has become a species of lethal lapel-pin politics. Violence in the cause of cow-protection is the official blood sport of the Hindu Right."
Every time, a crime takes place in the name of cow slaughter, the ministers of the Narendra Modi governments limit themselves to paying lip-service and cloaking the incident under vague terms "unfortunate," "condemn" or "upset over the incident," while these gau rakshaks become more brazen under the protection of the right wing groups. Political outfits like the RSS, VHP and their Hindutva agenda have given confidence to the gau rakshaks to put on an air self righteousness and spread violence in the name of justice.
A fact-finding team that visited Una following the assault of Dalits, said that the Dalit community has become a "soft target" of the cow vigilantes. Kaushik Parmar of the fact-finding team said that it was not an one-off incident as many have become victims of these gau rakshaks.
"Earlier, such cow vigilantes used to target those who are involved in cow slaughter. But since last seven to eight months, they have started targeting Dalit community members — who are involved in the leather business and are soft targets — to show off their bravado," he said.
Firstpost's Sandipan Sharma writes, "Somehow, they (gau rakshaks) seemed to have not only organised themselves in vigilante groups in Gujarat, but have also become bold enough to act and then publicise their barbarity. If the BJP wants to assuage Dalits, it must not only ensure strict punishment to the guilty, but also outlaw such groups."
The situation in Gujarat has given an opportunity to politicians like Mayawati, Arvind Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi to train their guns against the Modi government and gain some brownie points. The turmoil in Gujarat that followed is the incident is a testimony of the Dalit community's desperation to get justice. With an eye on the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, the BJP is out to woo the Dalit votes.
In the face of the recent violence, the party needs to rethink its Hindutva agenda and rein in its foot soldiers. The rising Dalit anger against the saffron party could cost it an important state.
Updated Date: Jul 22, 2016 15:32 PM