Mainstream, VOL LIV No 34 August 13, 2016 [Independence Day Special 2016]
Cow Vigilantism as Terror
Can the Saffron Establishment ever wash its hands off the growing menace?
Monday 15 August 2016
The following is a write-up prepared by the New Socialist Initiative on Cow Vigilantism. It has been sent by Subhash Gatade who is actively involved in the NSI.
Cow vigilantism, which has received tremen-dous boost since the ascendance of the BJP at the Centre, got its first fitting reply in Gujarat recently. The way in which a self-proclaimed Gau Rakshak Dal—owing allegiance to the Shiv Sena—attacked in Una (July 11, 2016) a group of Dalits who were skinning a dead cow, publicly flogged them, led them to the police station charging them with cow slaughter, and even circulated a video of the whole incident on social media to spread further terror, has caused tremendous uproar.
Thousands and thousands of Dalits have come out on the streets in different parts of the State, gheraoed government offices, damaged govern-ment property, enforced Statewide bandh and tried to bring the government to its knees, demanding severe punishment to the guilty and strict action against the police and government officials who failed to act upon their complaint when they were being publicly brutalised.
The wave of protests has still not ebbed. The anger still simmers. Protest rallies still continue.
There have been thirty incidents of suicide attempts by Dalit youth protesting the Una incident within a span of just one week. People across the political spectrum are appealing to the angry youth not to resort to this extreme step and continue with the peaceful struggle. Undoubtedly, the Una incident and the consequent Dalit assertion is proving to be a great turning-point in the history of the Dalit movement as Dalits have ultimately realised that politics of Hindutva is no friend of the Dalits and in fact, it is geared towards strengthening and further consolidating the purity and pollution-based caste system. The growing disenchantment of Dalits with the politics of Hindutva was very much evident when their protests reached Narendra Modi’s home town of Vadnagar itself where thousands of Dalits participated in a militant demonstration blaming the Prime Minister himself and BJP for the brutal thrashing of Dalits. Videos of the protest showed many Dalit people shouting, “Hai re Modi...hai-hai re Modi”—modification of a slogan used by women during Hindu funeral processions. (http://www.-hindustantimes.com/india-news/dalits-protest-una-thrashing-in-modi-s-hometown-blame-bjp-and-hindutva/story-PcDEifwFGlHn20fLwuv TOJ.html) The outrage has rekindled memories of the militant Dalit assertion in the early eighties led by the earlier generation of young Dalits wherein they had fought to defend the policy of reservation and also dared to take on the Hindutva formations head-on.
It has also been a great learning experience for ordinary Dalits who comprise around eight per cent of the population in the State and who were largely co-opted by the Hindutva formations in their project of hate and exclusion. One unique form of struggle adopted by the protesters this time has rattled the ruling elite tremendously and has the potential of nationwide resonance. It involved throwing of carcasses of dead cows at government offices, outside the houses of promi-nent politicians, removal of which became a strenuous affair even for the establishment. A large section among them have boycotted work of collecting dead bovines and have even declared that henceforth they are ready to die of hunger but would not take up the occupation again. In fact, by this simple act the Dalits have rather issued a warning to the Manuvadi/Brahminical forces that the day they resolve to leave all those ‘dirty’ professions. for which they are stigma-tised, a catastrophe-like situation awaits the former. One of the activists, who ‘pioneered’ this unique form, told a correspondent that they have stopped doing it to teach them a lesson—“The gaurakshaks beat us because they think the cow is their mother. Well, then, they should take care of her and pick up her carcass when she dies.”
Fact-finding reports, which have appeared in sections of the media, tell how the police did not stop the perpetrators on their way and also took hours to lodge a simple FIR and arrest the criminals. There are even unconfirmed reports that local police had tipped the Gau Rakshak Dal about the skinning of the dead cow. The complicity and connivance of the local police is evident also in the fact that despite enough proof available with it in the form of the video of the incident about involvement of more than thirty people in the thrashing incident, it has kept the number of arrests limited to eight only and is trying to portray it as a one-off incident.
The unfolding Dalit outrage, which found the State Government in deep slumber, has brought to the fore many other similar recent incidents where Dalits had come under attack at the hands of Gau Rakshaks and the silence maintained by the police which had even refused to entertain complaints lodged by the victims. It has also given vent to the pent-up anger of the Dalits against daily humiliations and discriminations faced by them, widespread existence of exclusion and untouchability in social life, denial of basic human rights and manifold spurt in atrocities in the State in recent times and failure of the powers that be to take proactive measures to curb the growing menace.
The criminal acts by the Gau Rakshaks and the impunity with which they are ready to take law into their hands—which has received nationwide attention—has also been an occasion for the senior members of the bureaucracy to speak out about the menace they have become all over the State. Chief Secretary of the State G.R. Gloria is reported to have told a national daily:
‘These vigilantes are self-proclaimed gau rakshaks but in actual fact they are hooligans.’ According to him, there are as many as 200 cow vigilante groups in Gujarat who have ‘become a law and order problem because of their aggression and the way they take law into their hands’ and the government is going to take strong action against them. The Chief Secretary was even categorical in admitting that lower level police personnel are hand in glove with these vigilantes. (http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/vigilantes-are-the-new-security-threat/article8882354.ece)
It is worth emphasising that not long ago even the Punjab-Haryana High Court, while ordering a CBI probe into the death of Mustain, a transporter, at the hands of members of another ‘Gau Raksha Dal’ in Kurukshetra, Haryana (March 2016), had underlined the growing criminalisation of the cow protectors who work with impunity. It said that the so-called cow vigilante groups, constituted with the backing of political bosses and senior functionaries governing the State, including police,
..[a]re bent upon circumventing law and fleecing poor persons ferrying their animals, be it for any personal domestic use or otherwise... Apparently even the senior functionaries of the police are hand-in-glove with such vigilante groups. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/Cow-vigilante-groups-bent-on-circumventing-law-HC/articleshow/52197819.cms)
Dalit anger witnessed on the streets of Gujarat —variously described as Dalit rebellion by a section of the commentators—has had a spiralling effect in other parts of the country as well, and has also helped galvanise the entire parliamentary Opposition camp which has even demanded that there should be immediate ban on all such Gau Rakshak Dals and all such miscreants who operate under its name and engage in mayhem. Members of Parliament on the floor of the House have denounced all these vigilante groups who are targeting Muslims as well as Dalits, brutalising them in very many ways and on occasions lynching them and explained how the policies and programmes of the powers that be has created a conducive atmosphere for their proliferation and demanded a ban on them.
The manner in which cow is being moved to the centre-stage of politics and where a mere rumour that it is being slaughtered somewhere gives miscreants a licence to take law into their own hands with due connivance of the police and administration, is being compared with neigh-bouring Pakistan where the ‘crime of blasphemy’ serves a similar purpose. Pakistan has lost many precious lives and many more are rotting in jail due to its refusal to check religious fanatics for whom the blasphemy laws have become a tool to intimidate innocents. Concerns are being raised whether India would similarly go the ‘Pakistan’ way—unable to stop erosion of secular principles in the polity and facilitating further legitimacy to faith in social-political lives.
The open letter by Laloo Prasad Yadav to PM Modi in the aftermath of the Una incident captures the prevalent mood in the country; therein he had described how actions by cow vigilante groups—which are receiving state patronage—have created an ambience of terror and intimidation among farmers, tribals, Dalits and all those people who are engaged in cattle trading. In his open letter he has directly blamed the ‘RSS as well as PM Modi’ being responsible for this state of affairs. (http://hindi.catchnews.com/india/lalu-yadav-controversial-remark-on-una-incident-1469268538.html)
While the BJP and RSS, having lost the battle of perceptions, are busy counting their losses in the aftermath of the Una incident, and assessing its electoral fallout, the misogynistic remarks by a senior leader of the BJP targeting Ms Mayawati, leader of the BSP and who has been Chief Minister of UP, has added further fuel to the fire. It is a different matter that all their ‘regrets’ about these remarks expressed on the floor of the House have proved to be an eyewash and at the ground level they are trying to be on the offensive again utilising similar condemnable remarks allegedly made by fellow politicans of the BSP.
Coming close on the heels of demolition of the Ambedkar Bhavan in neighbouring Maharashtra by a BJP-led government—a decision which it regrets now because of the spurt in voices of opposition to this act—and the nationwide mass movement which emerged after the ‘institutional murder’ of scholar RohithVemula of Hyderabad Central University, and the alleged role of a few Central Ministers in letting it happen and a series of anti-Dalit actions and controversial statements by its top leaders targeting the community, or their attempts to discontinue the policy of affirmative action for Dalits and Adivasis, the unfolding Dalit anger has also seriously dented their well-planned strategy of consolidating their base among the Dalits at the all-India level. Undoubtedly Dalit outrage has not only put the saffron dispensation at the State as well as Centre on the defensive and has put paid to their well-calibrated strategy of appropriating Ambedkar by projecting him as a ‘Hindu Social Reformer’.
Whatever might be their claims vis-a-vis Hindu Unity, this incident—which was no exception and a part of an unfolding pattern of denying basic human rights to Dalits, intimidating them and using them as stormtroopers for their anti-minority actions—has laid bare the essentially Manuvadi/Brahminical core of their ideology based on exclusion and hate. In fact their worldview is basically antithetical to any vision of Dalit empowerment/emancipation or for that matter inclusive development. And it has further demonstrated that their feverish attempts notwithstanding to aggravate tensions between the Dalits and Muslims at the grassroot level on any flimsy pretext, in their worldview of Hindu Rashtra both of them are equally dispensable. The unprecedented fury shown by the Dalit masses in a State which has been ruled by the Hindutva forces for more than 15 years, and was projected by them as a unique ‘Gujarat Model’ of development prior to the elections to Parliament in 2014, has shaken the latter to the core and left them scrambling for solutions. They are slowly realising that the assertion of the Dalit masses has the potential of disrupting all their political calculations in the coming elections to different State Assemblies—Punjab, UP and Gujarat itself—which are scheduled to be held in 2017.
Another ignoble aspect of the present phase of ‘Dalit Uprising’ is the role of the media which (barring exceptions) seems to have become a handmaiden of Hindutva’s exclusion-centred politics. A cursory perusal of the coverage of the corporate funded and controlled media demonstrates that it has refused to report Dalit mobilisations on a massive scale that have consistently challenged and questioned Hindutva politics. A representative example of their Varna-dominated, anti-Dalit worldview can be had from the way they completely under-reported the massive gathering in Mumbai recently where more than 1.5 lakh people had gathered to protest the demolition of Ambedkar Bhavan by the BJP-Shiv Sena regime. Forget being watchdogs of democracy as it is being projected elsewhere, forget its role of being objective in reporting events and analysis, it seems much too happy in its metamorphosis of being the spokesperson of the powers that be—a situation much worse than what existed during be Emergency when ‘it was asked to bend and decided to crawl’.
It needs to be underlined here that the depre-dations of the cow vigilante groups are not limited to Dalits alone, in fact, Muslims have been their chief targets—as a cursory perusal of events since the last two years makes it obvious. The latest in the series happened to be from Gurgaon where two Muslim transporters were attacked by a Gau Rakshak group and were fed with cow dung laced with urine since they were found to be carrying cattle. A video of the said incident had also gone viral. A leader of the group even claimed on camera that they have done it to ‘purify’ the Muslims of their sins. (http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-gau-raksha-dal-force-fed-beef-smugglers-cow-dung-and-make-them-drink-cow-urine-2229190) And since Haryana happens to be a BJP-ruled State—which is also contemplating forming a ‘Cow Protection Force’ much on the lines of Home Guards and has also appointed a special officer of the IAS rank to curb ‘cow smuggling’, there was no action against the perpetrators.
It was only last year that Palwal in Haryana witnessed a communal riot-like situation. The immediate trigger for the situation was the cow vigilantes themselves who had attacked a truck carrying meat and had spread the rumour that it was carrying beef. Police reached there within no time and instead of taking action against the perpetrators charged the driver and owner of the truck with criminal conspiracy and sent them to jail. The very next day the government announced that all cases filed earlier against ‘cow protectors’ would be withdrawn immediately making it obvious how it would have no qualms if similar actions occur in future.
At the end of December last year, village Banokhedi, district Karnal (Haryana) witnessed indiscriminate firing by a cow vigilante group on a canter (mini-truck) which was carrying people—most of them belonging to the minority community—who were travelling from Punjab to UP for the coming Panchayat elections. (Refer: Lok Lahar, December 14, 2015) It led to the death of one youth and serious injuries to several others. Cow vigilantes attacked the truck in the middle of the night and what was more worrisome, there were a few policemen also with them. Later five people were arrested, among them were two policemen as well.
The menace of cow vigilante groups is not limited to one particular area or State, it has spread all over the country. A few months back cow vigilantes had lynched two youths belonging to the minority community (one of them a minor) near Latehar, Jharkhand and left them hanging on a tree, as they were also found carrying cattle and the cow protectors wanted to ‘teach them a lesson’. Sarahan village, District Nahan (Himachal Pradesh) was witness to an attack on a group of minority youth by cow vigilantes (October 2015) which led to the death of one them and four others were seriously wounded. Cow vigilantes alleged that the youth were engaged in cow smuggling. Last year a similar group attacked a Kashmir-bound truck with a petrol bomb which led to the death of a young man, Zahid (19 years), because of serious burn injuries. It was only a few months back that Mehbooba Mufti, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, wrote to the Chief Minister of Punjab how people from Kashmir, who are meat exporters and traders, are being regularly brutalised in the State by self-proclaimed Gau Bhakts. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/Cow-vigilante-groups-bent-on-circumventing-law-HC/articleshow/52197819.cms)
It is futile to imagine that the BJP—an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—would rein in cow vigilantes, just because Dalits are feeling outraged over some incidents involving them or sections of the judiciary or even the executive are appalled at their transgressing of constitutional values and principles or the peace and justice-loving people of the country are reminding the pracharak-turned-PM that he had declared in the august House of Parliament that for him ‘Constitution is the most sacred book’ now.
We should never forget that the Sangh Parivar operates through its vast network of what are known as anushangik (affiliated) organisations— with a strict division of labour between them— to further the agenda of Hindu Rashtra. In fact, it would leave no stone unturned to deflect attention of the people from its essentially Varna mindset which refuses to even acknowledge that assertion of Dalits has its basis in the age-old hierarchy-based system. They would be ready to go to any extent to silence all such voices which are questioning them, challenging them and are in a position to put roadblocks on their ‘path to victory’. An inkling of what is in store for all such voices can be had from the unprovoked attack on a public meeting protesting Dalit atrocities in Gujarat organised by a Dalit group in the heart of the Capital itself by an organisation which is alleged to be close to the Hindutva brigade. (http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/protesters-clash-at-jantar-mantar/; https://tahlkanews.com/singh-sena-attack-on-dalit-at-jantar-mantar/97975)
The ongoing attacks on Dalits in the ‘model State of Gujarat’ or an overall spurt in atrocities against Dalits presents before all those Dalit leaders who had joined the Modi bandwagon before his ascent to power and in a way helped sanitise his controversial role in the Gujarat carnage (2002) when he happened to be the Chief Minister, a pertinent question. Whether the likes of Athavales, Udit Rajs and Paswans would still cling to the apron-strings of power, further facilitating white-washing of this essentially anti-Dalit and anti-oppressed regime or would listen to the clarion call given by the Dalits on the streets of Gujarat that without fighting the RSS and Modi-led BJP, Dalit emancipation cannot even be imagined.
The unfolding Dalit outrage also poses an important question before the Dalit movement itself. Whether the anger witnessed would just peter out or would be able to reinvigorate the radical agenda of Ambedkarite politics centring on caste annihilation and fighting capitalism and would present a systemic challenge before the Manuvadi-Hindutva forces forging alliances with like-minded forces. Parties like the BSP have a lot many things to answer on this issue.
No doubt, the unfolding cow vigilantism and continued silence maintained by the net-savvy PM over attacks on Dalits and minorities has further exposed the real agenda of this government. Analysts are predicting that the ruling dispensation will have to pay heavily because of its essentially anti-Dalit worldview in the coming elections to the State Assemblies. What is still unclear is how all such forces, formations who are opposed to the agenda of Hindutva and are keen to defend secularism in the country and further democracy at the grassroots level, are strategising so that the exclusivist agenda of Hindutva is delivered a crushing defeat not only at the electoral level but at the social level also and what role a reinvigorated Left is ready to play in the unfolding situation. It remains to be seen whether there would be parallel realignment of various social-political forces at the ground level comprehending the menace the very politics of Hindutva presents before the country.
The present moment in the country’s history is pregnant with tremendous possibilities and demands a creative, energetic and strategic intervention from the revolutionary Left.
One is reminded of the historic slogan raised during anti-fascist struggles in the thirties which declared that ‘Fasicsm Shall Not Pass’. It was a time when a united front of communists, anar-chists, socialists and republicans had come up and were fighting shoulder to shoulder; they were also joined in by non-party people from town and country, because everyone had realised what a victory for fascism would mean to Spain. (https://www.marxists.org/archive/ibarruri/1936/08/23.htm)
Perhaps there is a need to learn from all such experiences and forge the broadest possible unity to confront its 21st century avatar in this part of Asia and declare from rooftops: ‘Communal Fascism Will Not Pass!’