Hindu cow mobs rule as re­li­gious de­bate rages

Kuwait Times - - NEWS -

TARANA­GAR: As a truck screeches to a halt on an In­dian high­way in the mid­dle of the night, de­vout young Hin­dus armed with sticks scram­ble in­side, search­ing for cows they con­sider sa­cred. Al­most ev­ery night, the vig­i­lantes lie in wait for sus­pected cat­tle smug­glers in the desert state of Ra­jasthan, ready to fight to pro­tect the an­i­mals, a revered sym­bol of In­dia’s ma­jor­ity Hindu re­li­gion. “Smug­glers of­ten open fire or try to run us over. I even get death threats but noth­ing both­ers me,” said Bab­u­lal Jan­gir, a leader of the Gau Rak­sha Dal (Cow Pro­tec­tion Squad). “My heart beats only for my dear cow mother.”

Cow slaugh­ter and consumption of beef are banned in Ra­jasthan and many other states of of­fi­cially sec­u­lar In­dia, which has sub­stan­tial Mus­lim and Chris­tian pop­u­la­tions. But the re­cent killing of at least three Mus­lims sus­pected of eat­ing beef or smug­gling cows by Hindu mobs have height­ened fears of ris­ing violence against In­dia’s re­li­gious mi­nori­ties. The deaths have also sparked a wider de­bate about grow­ing re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance since Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s Hindu na­tion­al­ist gov­ern­ment came to power at gen­eral elec­tions last May.

Dozens of au­thors have re­turned In­dia’s high­est lit­er­ary award in protest over the rise in violence, which they fear in­cludes the re­cent mur­der of a sec­u­lar in­tel­lec­tual, while pe­ti­tions de­mand­ing gov­ern­ment ac­tion have at­tracted sig­na­ture from sci­en­tists, ac­tors and film­mak­ers. The gov­ern­ment has been ac­cused of fail­ing to rein in Hindu hard­lin­ers, while its min­is­ters have at times ap­peared to be in­flam­ing the de­bate. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suf­fered a crush­ing blow in a week­end state elec­tion, in part, an­a­lysts say, be­cause of its at­tempts to po­larise vot­ers along re­li­gious lines.

Beaten to death

In Septem­ber, a Mus­lim fam­ily was at­tacked out­side Delhi by a group of Hin­dus af­ter false ru­mors they were keep­ing beef in their home. The fa­ther was beaten to death and his son was se­verely in­jured. Sev­eral other in­ci­dents were re­ported weeks later, in­clud­ing the killing of a truck driver in north­ern Hi­machal Pradesh state for at­tempt­ing to smug­gle cat­tle to a slaugh­ter house. Crit­ics say Hindu hard­lin­ers and their rad­i­cal el­e­ments have be­come more em­bold­ened since Modi’s land­slide vic­tory last year. Jan­gir said his squad has grown to some 20,000 mem­bers, rang­ing from farm­ers to lawyers and teach­ers, along with a fast grow­ing net­work of in­form­ers prowl­ing Ra­jasthan’s ma­jor roads.

“It is ex­tremely dis­turb­ing when or­di­nary peo­ple take the law into their hands,” said Za­farul Is­lam Khan, pres­i­dent of the All In­dia Mus­lim Ma­jlis-e-Mushawarat, a lead­ing Mus­lim body. “They (right-wing groups) have their goons go­ing around say­ing ‘we will dis­pense jus­tice, there is no need for courts’. What is really sad is that they seem to enjoy po­lice and po­lit­i­cal pa­tron­age,” he said. But Jan­gir, who runs a fur­ni­ture busi­ness, has no sym­pa­thy for beef eaters and his team have no qualms about dis­pens­ing “rough jus­tice”, usu­ally in the form of beat­ings. “Any­one who eats cow meat should be handed the death sen­tence,” the 42-year-old said, ad­just­ing buck­les on his bul­let-proof vest. On the night an AFP team joined one of their pa­trols, the mob be­came heated when cows were found in­side a stopped truck. The anx­ious driver was fi­nally al­lowed to pro­ceed when he pro­duced doc­u­ments show­ing the cows were headed for a dairy, not an il­le­gal slaugh­ter house or across the border to Bangladesh where beef is in high de­mand. “Our Hindu scrip­tures say 330 mil­lion gods and god­desses re­side in one cow,” said Manoj Jan­gir, an­other squad mem­ber, who has a de­gree in po­lit­i­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion.

‘Our blood starts boil­ing’

The BJP has re­jected the violence and de­nies lo­cal me­dia re­ports the Modi gov­ern­ment is mov­ing to in­tro­duce a na­tion­wide ban on cow slaugh­ter. “No one can in­dulge in any kind of violence. We don’t sup­port th­ese groups,” GVL Nar­simha Rao, a BJP spokesman said. In southern Ker­ala and the re­mote north­east-ar­eas with large Chris­tian pop­u­la­tions-beef is legally and widely con­sumed. But in Ra­jasthan and other states, eat­ing, killing or sell­ing cows is a non-bail­able of­fence, though the consumption of buf­fa­los is al­lowed as they are less revered. In western Ma­ha­rash­tra, of­fend­ers can be jailed for up to five years.

Still, an il­le­gal trade thrives in truck­ing cows across the coun­try into Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity Bangladesh. “It is a kind of do or die thing for us. When we see how cows are stuffed in­side trucks our blood starts boil­ing,” said Mani­ram Babu, 31, a me­chanic and squad mem­ber. “We get very emo­tional and then we can’t stop our­selves from teach­ing them (the smug­glers) a les­son or two.” — AFP

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