RASHTRIYA Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement on Tuesday that ‘gau rakshaks’ (cow protectors) should not be equated with anti-social elements seems to contradict Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement about two months ago asking state governments to prepare dossiers on gau rakshaks as “80 per cent of them do illegal activities by night and become cow protectors by day.” Almost as a counter-argument to Modi’s description, Bhagwat said: “Gau rakshaks operate under the law. The administration must keep (this) in mind. Those who break the law shouldn’t be compared to gau rakshaks.” Bhagwat’s defence of cow protectors, made on the occasion of the 91st foundation day of the RSS, was obviously aimed at clearing the doubts in the minds of the members of the organizations associated with the Sangh Parivar which have been engaged in cow protection in particular and the RSS workers and sympathizers in general who are strong votaries of cow protection that arose in their minds after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech. They were bewildered by Modi’s comment, because before he became Prime Minister he had been a strong votary of cow protection. At least they did not expect Modi to equate cow protectors with anti-social elements!
However, they were wrong in thinking that Modi’s view on cow protection had in any way changed after he became Prime Minister. He had not denounced the “cow is a sacred animal to Hindus” ideology of the RSS. He had only sounded alarm bells for the state governments to be vigilant about not allowing criminals to take over the cow protection movement. The background in which Modi spoke was disturbing to him and to the nation. Dalits were being attacked by violent groups masquerading as cow protectors. A few weeks before Modi’s speech, seven members of a Dalit family at Una in Gujarat were mercilessly beaten by ‘gau rakshaks’. They were attacked with iron rods and sticks. The Dalits were skinning a cow carcass in a village when higher caste men came in a car and accused them of slaughtering the cow. The Dalits said they had got a dead cow and were skinning it. The higher caste men attacked the Dalits with iron rods, sticks and a knife. After beating them up in the village, they put four of them in their car and drove them to Una town. There, they stripped them, paraded them on the streets and hit them in public view.
Could we by any stretch of imagination respect these violent attackers as “gau rakshaks”? These are the people who were acting purely out of social prejudice and caste hatred. Who were they to decide it was a slaughtered or dead cow? Even if we assume for a moment that the Dalits had slaughtered a cow, the higher caste men should have reported the matter to the police. If the police failed to act they could have organized protests against their non-action outside the police station or the concerned district’s SP’s office. They had no right to physically assault the Dalits mercilessly, parade them in public and rob them of their cell phones. The Una police booked the six accused for attempt to murder, dacoity and criminal intimidation and atrocity.
A series of such violent incidents had taken place across the country since Modi took over as Prime Minister. A man was killed in Haryana when he was transporting his newly purchased bullocks to his fields. A 12-year-old boy and a man were hanged from a tree in Jharkhand by ‘gau rakshaks’. A 19-year-old Kashmiri, who was driving a beef-laden truck, was burnt to death inside his truck on the Jammu-Srinagar road by ‘gau rakshaks’.
Clearly, this has to stop. No one can be allowed to take the law in his hands. In most of the states cow slaughter is banned (except in West Bengal, Kerala, northeastern states and Sikkim). The law has been made over the years very deterrent in some states. The right way for all of us would be to treat cow slaughter as a crime like other crimes and leave the matter to the law enforcing authorities. We have criminalized smuggling, drug abuse and in states like Gujarat and Bihar, liquor. Murder and robbery are major crimes. Have we been able to eliminate smuggling, drug abuse, illicit liquor trade, murder and robbery? Likewise violations of cow protection law might take place. Yet, three things should be clear: One, we have to have a law; two, the authority must enforce the law; and three, citizens cannot enforce the law. Citizens can keep vigilance on non-enforcement or improper enforcement of law, but they cannot enforce the law. Gau rakshaks should reserve their anger for law enforcers, not alleged law violators.