Justice Against Cow Vigilantism: SC Directs Centre & States to Act

In the fourth hearing of a clutch of petitions filed by various groups on the growing menace of cow vigilantism, the Supreme Court today directed all States and UTs to appoint nodal police officers in every district to tackle the menance

Cow Vigilantes

Four BJP-ruled States of Haryana, Rajasthan, Maharshtra, and Gujarat today accepted the apex court’s suggestion to appoint dedicated nodal police officers in the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) to prevent cow vigilantes or gau rakshaks, as they call themselves, from “taking the law or becoming the law unto themselves.”

A three-judge Bench of Chief Justive Dipak Misra, Amitava Roy, and A.M. Khanwilkar was hearing a batch of petitions including an intervention by Mahatma Gandhi’s great-grandson, Tushar Gandhi, about the lack of responsibility and accountability shown by the Centre and State administrations even as cow vigilantes wrecked havoc and resorted to murder in broad daylight in the name of the cow. Dalits and Muslims have been at the receiving end of a rash of violence unleashed by lynch mobs, especially in the northern States, who call themselves protectors of cows or gau rakshaks. Tushar Gandhi argued through his advocate Indira Jaising that the Centre cannot wash their hands off its constitutional responsibility under Article 256 to instruct the States to take “necessary” steps in law to save innocent human lives from fury of the mobs. The court then directed the Centre to respond to this submission. The court said the Centre should reply to this argument made by Mr. Gandhi in the spirit of “co-operative federalism”. “Non-violence is the founding faith of this country. The Centre cannot turn its back on the violence. The States have the responsibility to lodge FIRs against these vigilantes,” Ms. Jaising submitted.

“You have to stop it (violence),” Chief Justice Misra told Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the four northern States. The court specifically asked Mr. Mehta to take instructions from the Centre, to specify its role under Article 256 and the steps it would take from its side to prevent any future incidents of violence.

Pointing out that most of the violent incidents had occurred on highways, Ms. Jaising said, the States should take steps to initiate highway patrolling. The court also directed the Chief Secretaries and the Director Generals of Police (DGP) of States to consult each other and respond to the court. The Centre shall also indicate its views on this issue. Now the case has been posted for hearing on September 22.

At an earlier hearing the Centre had tried to wash its hands of any responsibility with the averment that ending vigilantism and violence by cow protection groups is a ‘State subject’ and the Centre has no role to play, though it condemns all forms of violence. A bunch of petitions led by Congress activist Tehseen Poonawalla had sought criminal action against cow vigilante groups whose recent rampages and lynchings have seen communal tensions rise in the country.

The petitions had also sought a direction to the Central and State govetnments to pull down all the videos of violence uploaded by cow vigilante groups from social media sites.

Another petition, recently filed in the same matter by Khudai Khitmatgars and Misaal has also submitted a detailed Study of the Violence that claimed 35 lives in 23 incidents. The grounds for intervention in this petition are sound. The petition states that:

  1. Because there is a sudden rise in the incident mob lynching in the name of faith and caste especially in the name of cow or beef eating and there is no control of the administration i.e. union and the states to put a check on these types of violent incidents.
  2. Because there have been numerous incidents in which they have allegedly assaulted, harassed, threatened, and extorted money from Muslims and Dalits. Dalits, so-called “untouchables,” are equally vulnerable as they traditionally carry out jobs to dispose of cattle carcasses and skin them for commercial purposes, according to the research work of the petitioners there are 46 reported incidents of lynching in most of the cases the victims were killed due to the brutality of these vigilante groups and 124 injured as per Reuters report, between 2010 and June 2017 in cow-related violence.
  3. Because in a civilised democratic society like ours no individual or any group should be allowed to take law into their hands.
  4. Because as per Human Rights Watch report the Cow vigilante group network is affiliated with about 50 groups across the country and they have over 10,000 volunteers presence in nearly every state. Lynching has become a part of their strategy to punish or to terrorize the so-called perpetrators of crime.
  5. Because the incidents that have happened are not isolated or unconnected. The conspiracy invariably begins at the top where politically senior persons and senior religious leaders have instigated their followers to attack and kill Muslims, dalits and beef eaters. Despite having appropriate provisions in law to act against the instigators no action has been taken against them which give them freehand to further spoil the harmonious atmosphere of the country.
  6. Because the incidents of lynching are a part of organized hate campaign against the minorities and dalits, most cases the allegation of beef eating was fabricated and the hysteria that now surrounds the cow in India has been engineered to gain political mileage.
  7. Because in any case “no person has the right to take the law into his own hands” and execute any other citizen of the country.
  8. Because a just-concluded civil society fact finding of cow related lynching violence resulting in deaths and rape (July 2017) shows that legal proceedings in most cases is not satisfactory: in many cases, victims have had cross cases registered against them, in some, those are the only cases registered; elsewhere, police inaction against vigilantes in a  case of lynching resulting in death, led to the accused lynching another person to death. Where cases are ongoing against those responsible for mob lynchings, investigations are slow and fraught, and in many cases the accused have obtained bail, and are now threatening victim families and the witnesses. In the vast majority of cases victim families have not been provided any compensation or other financial recompense. 
  9. Because as per various report and investigations it was revealed that these violent cow vigilant groups are being funded by the particular political party and its non political wings. Their policies and statements have facilitated abuses by cow protection groups in BJP-ruled states of Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and others.
  10. Because the Caravan Journal titled as “In the Name of the Mother” dated: 1.09.2016 reveals the devastating style of functioning of these vigilante groups. According to the report, the Modi government increased the annual grant to the Gau Seva and Gauchar Vikas Board – a state-run organization whose main objectives are “to coordinate with groups involved in preventing slaughter of cow and progeny” and to ensure “effective implementation of cow protection laws” -from Rs 1.5 crore to Rs 150 crore. Moreover, between 2011 and 2014, the State Government disbursed Rs. 75 lakh in cash rewards to 1,394 gau rakshaks. The disbursement of such heavy amount of money have encourage them to work in autocratic style.
  11. Because the recent lynching of Junaid during his ride in local train to Ballabhgarh were he was brutally killed and two of his brothers seriously injured shocked the world and it was revealed from the testimonies of the injured and eye witnesses that the incident was a clear hate crime against the Muslim. The video of Junaid’s body after the postmortem clearly indicates the extent of hate against the community.
  12. Because these vigilante gropus infringe the Article 19(1) (g) of the Constitution of India as the Dalits attacked in regard to Una incident were involved in traditional profession of skinning the already dead cow for livelihood. Further, the Traders of livestock who carry valid licenses are also feeling threatened due to multiple attacks.
  13. Because the ugly vigilantism and selective attacks on minorities and dalits is also affecting the leather industry badly as they are also targeting the dalits involved in skinning a cow carcass for leather industry, hence effecting the supply of leather in proportion to its demand.
  14. Because the extremist Hindu groups have led vigilante mob attacks across the country to enforce “Nationalism.” Senior ruling party leaders, including elected officials and leaders of various groups who claim to promote Hindu rights, have instigated hate crimes. Self-appointed cow protectors are increasingly conducting raids and attacks, claiming the police don’t take adequate action against those slaughtering cows.
  15. Because the members of these vigilante groups are so intolerant that when the Prime minister’s commented against gau rakshaks and their vandalism and barbarism then these groups even reacted badly against the condemnation of their by the Prime Minister.
  16. Because the cow protection group spread the videos of their acts on Social Media thus causing tension between different communities and castes.
  17. Because the said vigilante groups also collect donations from public which are used to perpetrate violence and atrocities on the people belonging to Muslims and Dalits.
  18. Because the petitioners seeks the registration of an FIR against the people involved in hate crimes mentioned in the chart prepared by the petitioners, just and proper investigation and prosecution by a SIT consisting of officers from outside the state where the incident has taken place. Petitioner states that no meaningful action has been taken against the persons.
  19. Because the petition is far more comprehensive then the earlier petition filed by Martin Macwan filed Writ Petition (C) No. 768 of 2016 seeking certain reliefs in respect of the lynching and assaults. In terms of the coverage of 46 instances as well as numerous instances of instigation by political and religious leaders. Hence it is prayed that this petition may also be admitted and heard along with the abovementioned Writ Petition.

The petition prays for:

  1. Directions to the CBI to conduct Investigations Monitored by the Supreme Court in respect of the cases listed out in the Report  which are 19 instances of vigilantism, lynching, assaults, murder, rape and the like;
  2.  Directions to the CBI to investigate and prosecute in respect of the hate crimes as set out in Chart – A paragraph 11 of the Petition in respect of offences committed, inter alia, under sections 153 A & B, 295 A, 298 & 505 IPC;
  3. Directions to order the concerned states to pay substantial compensation to the victim survivors and their families and to rehabilitate them generously in terms of government employment, land, education, medical treatment and other benefits;



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