October 20, 2015

Like anti-blasphemy laws across the border, India’s legislation on cow slaughter and protection (Apoorvanand)

The Indian Express - 20 October 2015

The Pak parallel
by Apoorvanand

Like anti-blasphemy laws across the border, India’s legislation on cow slaughter and protection may have become a tool to harass and intimidate minorities.

Yet another killing in the name of protecting cows. I am constantly having to revise my draft. When I first wrote this piece, it was in Himachal Pradesh. Now, the latest killing is in Jammu and Kashmir. Of course, it took 10 days for Zahid Ahmed Bhat to die after he was attacked. Days after Bhat was attacked, a killing took place in Sirmaur district of Himachal Pradesh, barely 80 km from the state capital. Noman Akhtar, allegedly a cattle smuggler, was transporting five cows and 10 bulls in a truck with four other people. Apparently, cow protectors informed the police about the smuggling and movement of the truck. However, they did not wait for action to be taken. They chased the truck on motorbikes, forced it to stop, and lynched the five “cow smugglers”. Akhtar was found in the nearby forest with multiple head injuries and died later in hospital. His four associates survived and have been duly arrested under laws prohibiting cow slaughter and cruelty to animals. Akhtar’s killers have not been apprehended. The survivors have not been able to identify the attackers.

The police did what it could. There are laws against cow slaughter and cruelty to animals — and there were allegations against Akhtar and his associates. But there are questions, too. Was there a formal complaint against the four? Did the police satisfy itself that they were breaking the law? Could they not have been engaged in legitimate commerce? How do we conclude that the cows and bulls were being taken for slaughter? It cannot be denied that the five were chased and attacked by a mob. But where is the urgency in arresting the killers?

Mind you, Himachal is ruled by the Congress. So please don’t rush to the Centre asking for justice. Before that, we must turn to Haryana, bordering Himachal. A day before the attack, its chief minister advised Muslims and Christians that if they wanted to live in India, they should give up eating beef. He is not a fringe element and was reportedly carefully picked for this post by the prime minister. Steeped in the RSS tradition, the Haryana CM is the official and inner voice of the BJP.

Days before the lynching in Sirmaur and just after the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, a man in Mainpuri, Uttar Pradesh, again a non-BJP state, barely escaped death after being brutally attacked for allegedly killing a cow. It was later reported that he was simply skinning a dead cow. But the charge still remains as he is a Muslim and was found handling the cow.

The cow is to Muslims of India what the Quran and Prophet Mohammad are to Hindus and Christians of Pakistan.

The cow has been declared an article of faith for Hindus. Others cannot touch it in any way.

If they do, they blaspheme. We did not need a Zia-ul-Haq for a law against blasphemy.

We did it here through liberal democratic means by instituting laws, state after state, which are now known as laws to prevent cow slaughter and cruelty to animals.

Non-Muslims dare not go near the Quran or the Prophet in Pakistan for that may prove fatal. A similar situation is fast developing in India, where Muslims would not like to be seen anywhere near a cow. The cow is now a source of oppression and, in many cases, death for Muslims of India.

Vigilante groups in Pakistan target and kill people in the name of protecting the Quran and the Prophet. The state cannot act against them. We find this uncivilised and unacceptable. Yet, here in India, we have hundreds
of such vigilante groups in the name of “gau raksha samitis” and “gau seva mandals”. According to a story in The Indian Express, “Over 200 cow-protection groups work in the Delhi-NCR region and members… educated and fluent in social media — their preferred tool to network, share text and images, and mobilise — form its backbone. They are a far cry from the flag-bearing, slogan shouting activists and most of them channelise modern-day resources to bolster their cause.” It was found that in Dadri alone, there were six such groups. They should be declared unlawful
as they have a clear intent to target people in the name of protecting cows. Not that these groups were formed only after May 2014, but as one cow protector put it, “Because of a BJP government at the Centre, groups like ours now feel empowered.”

In rural India, the cow has long been a tool to settle scores with neighbours or rivals. The reality of the traditional Hindu attitude is best depicted in Godan, a novel by Premchand. Hira, younger brother of Hori, the tragic protagonist of the novel, poisons Hori’s cow out of jealousy. The whole village gangs up to force Hori to seek “prayashchit (penance)” for the death of a cow in his house. The heartlessness of his co-villagers ruins Hori.
According to the RSS narrative, Muslims are the political rivals of Hindus — and also their neighbours. But since Gandhi and Nehru conspired to make them equal citizens of a Hindu country, ways have to be found to show them “their place”. The cow has proved useful for this. If Hindus hold it sacred, they can also kill whoever defiles it. And Muslims are the first suspects.

The supremacy of the Quran and the Prophet in the Islamic world has been used in Pakistan to keep minorities in perpetual fear. The same is happening in India to keep Muslims and Christians terrorised.

In Pakistan, we have seen brave politicians like Salmaan Taseer asking for anti-blasphemy legislation to be amended. He had to pay with his life for speaking up. His killer is revered as a saint, a saviour of Islam. After so many killings and statements legitimising them in the name of the cow by leaders of the ruling party, will we recall the courage of Gandhi and say that laws against cow slaughter have no place in a secular country like India? Will we petition the Supreme Court after so much evidence has come to light on the victimisation of Muslims and Dalits, and ask it to outlaw so-called cow protection groups? Will we call them by their real name — illegal grouping of potential killers?
We cannot have private armies, even if to protect the holy cow.

The writer teaches Hindi at Delhi University
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