With the assumption of power by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in May 2014, Hindutva-linked cow protection groups have resurged back in the spotlight by either killing or beating cattle traders, beef-eaters and daily farmers, mostly Muslims and Dalits.
The majority of India’s Hindus consider cows as sacred. The cow is worshipped as a mother figure by Hindus and decorated during festivals. An organization by the name of Love 4 Cow Trust propagates and promotes love for cows. Some Hindus believe that drinking cow urine can cure several diseases which include arthritis, asthma, cancer and diabetes. Consequently, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a Hindu extremist organization, had launched Goloka Pay, a cold drink that contains 5% distilled cow urine, and cosmetics containing cow urine and dung. The BJP-ruled Rajasthan government also has a cow minister.
The slaughtering of cows or eating beef is illegal or restricted in most parts of the country. The Indian government tried to impose a nationwide ban on the sale of cattle for slaughter but the Supreme Court suspended the law. Millions of Muslims and lower caste Hindus depend on their employments in the meat and leather industries. Moreover, beef is much cheaper than chicken and fish and is a staple for poor Muslims, Dalits and tribal communities.
In 1870, the first organized Hindu cow protection movement was launched in Punjab. Dayananda Saraswati, a Hindu religious leader, founded the first Cow Protection Committee in 1882.
The traces of cow protection vigilante groups date back to late 19th century. In 1870, the first organized Hindu cow protection movement was launched in Punjab. Dayananda Saraswati, a Hindu religious leader, founded the first Cow Protection Committee in 1882. This committee provoked a series of communal riots in the last two decades of the 19th century. In 1893 alone, over 100 people were killed during religious riots over cow slaughter. In 1966, eight people died in riots outside Indian Parliament while demanding a national ban on cow slaughter.
During the 2014 election campaign trail, Narendra Modi accused the Congress led government of promoting a “Pink Revolution” – slaughtering cows and exporting meat for money. In a blog in 2012, Modi asked if we should be proud of the Pink Revolution which is founded on the killing of our “mother cow”.
After BJP assumed power, a rise in cow related violence was witnessed. Since 2010, at least 28 people have been killed and 136 wounded in 70 cow related violent incidents. 97% of these attacks have been reported following Modi’s assumption of the office of Prime Minister. More than half of the attacks (38 cases) were reported from the states which are governed by BJP. Out of the 28 persons killed, 24 were Muslims. 54% of these attacks were based on rumors. 26 cow related attacks were reported in this year alone, the most reported in the past eight years. The groups mostly involved in these attacks are associated with Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Gau Rakshak Samitis (cow protection committees).
Despite the considerable increase in the attacks, Narendra Modi and other senior members of the BJP have rarely spoken about the cow related killings in the last three years. In fact, several BJP leaders have been supportive of these incidents. The Dadri lynching incident is the case in point. Consequently, the cow protection vigilante groups feel more empowered with BJP at the Centre.
Apart from perpetrating violence, cow protection activists are involved in creating myths about bovine. One of the most common myths propagated by these activists is that bovine is under threat. However, the animal census shows that the cow and buffalo population has witnessed 6.75% increase between 2007 and 2012. Another common myth propagated is that beef eating arrived in India with the coming of Islam in this region. However, Dr. Dwijendra Narayan Jha, a historian of ancient India, in his book The Myth of the Holy Cow cites religious scriptures like Vedas and ancient texts to show that Hindus of ancient India did consume beef.
Dr. Dwijendra Narayan Jha, a historian of ancient India, in his book The Myth of the Holy Cow cites religious scriptures like Vedas and ancient texts to show that Hindus of ancient India did consume beef.
A popular myth is that India is a vegetarian country. However, the latest National Sample Survey Office survey states that 62.3% of Indian households consumed non-vegetarian food in 2011-12. It is also commonly believed that Muslims are mostly involved in the beef business. However, the top players in the beef exporting industry are Hindus. The Hindu beef exporters use names such as Al Kabeer and Al Noor for their companies which might indicate that these firms are Muslim-owned.
Hindus respect and show kindness towards cows is also a popular myth. American academic Wendy Doniger argued that Hindus do not always treat cows with respect or kindness. They are both beaten and frequently half starved. In past few months alone, several hundreds of cows have died across India due to the negligence of administrations of bovine shelters and starvation. In addition to numerous myths, campaigns had been launched demanding that cow should replace tiger as the national animal of India.
The weak legal structure also helps the cow protection vigilante groups to commit violence. The Indian Penal Code does not mention lynching and no law has been passed so far to deal with the rising number of lynching incidents. Moreover, national and state crime data does not distinguish general violence from gautankwad, a portmanteau in Hindi for cow and terrorism, and lynching.
The rising trend of gautankwad continues to undermine India’s status as a secular country. If BJP does not make efforts to stop these attacks then hatred towards the Centre will continue to increase among minorities and lower caste Hindus which can trigger a civil war-like situation in next few years. Therefore, it is important to crack down the groups behind gautankwad and to formulate a law to deal with such incidents so to stop the trend of rising intolerance in the Indian society.