Mumbai: In the week Madhya Pradesh (MP) chief minister Kamal Nath intended a law to prosecute cow vigilantism–the first in India–a Bajrang Dal mob attacked 25 men for “illegally” transporting cattle, chained them together, abused them while chanting “Gau mata ki jai (hail mother cow).”
The police first arrested the victims on charges of animal cruelty under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and later three attackers, who are out on bail. The victims remain incarcerated.
This is the 131st bovine-related hate crime to be reported in India since 2010, according to our database that tracks such violence, which has claimed at least 47 lives and injured 264 people.
The attack in the southern MP district of Khandwa on July 8, 2019, was the eighth cow-related hate crime this year. The 25 men were attacked for “illegally” transporting cows to Maharashtra, the attackers alleged.
The police said the animals were bullocks and calves, the transport of which in MP and Maharashtra requires special permits, which the transporters allegedly did not have.
The attackers tied the group together with a rope and paraded them for a distance of 2 km. Videos circulated on social media revealed that the men were forced to do sit-ups and were abused, as they chanted “Gau mata ki jai.”
Police confirmed to FactChecker that they first arrested the victims on charges of pashu kroorta (animal cruelty). They later arrested three attackers, who were later released on bail. The victims of the violence were in prison when this story was released.
Police act against victims in a third of cases nationally
The police action in Congress-ruled MP followed a national pattern recorded by our database of police acting against victims in about a third of these cases under various state cow-protection laws.
About 98% or 127 of the crimes recorded in the database, built with English media reports and on-ground verification, took place after 2014, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) first came to power at the Centre.
The incident from Khandwa was reported from the district’s eastern Khalwas area in Sanwalikheda village.
“We registered a case against the 25 people under Section 429 of the IPC for pashu kroorta (animal cruelty),” police inspector S S Rawat of the Khandwa police station told FactChecker.
“They were brought to us by the Bajrang Dal. We got them evaluated at a hospital, and they only have minor injuries.”
A case has also been filed against the attackers who brought the group of 25 men to the station, under various sections of the IPC for unlawful restraint, unlawful confinement, obscene acts or words in public, voluntarily causing hurt, and a criminal act done by several persons to further the common intention of all.
Of the mob, Rawat said: “Three people have been arrested. However, given that it was a bailable offence, they have now been bailed.”
He said the mob of attackers predominantly comprised members of the Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). In 2018, the US’ Central Intelligence Agency deemed both these organisations to be “religious militant organisations” and “political pressure groups”, the Tribune reported in June 2018.
Rawat denied allegations that the victims were transporting cows. “They were transporting bullocks and calves,” he said. The victims said they were transporting the bovines to a cattle fair in Maharashtra, NDTV reported on July 8, 2019.
Both MP cow-related attacks this year linked to VHP
This is the second such crime to be reported this year since the BJP re-emerged as the clear winner in the recent 2019 general elections, winning 28 of 29 seats in the state. Since 2010, the state has reported 10 cow-related hate crimes, our database shows.
Both attacks this year were reported after the Congress won the state in December 2018, replacing a three-term BJP government, and were attributed to Hindu right-wing organisations linked to the VHP.
MP’s first incident this year took place a day before the Lok Sabha election results on May 22, 2019 in Seoni, south-eastern MP, where a group of men including the district administrator of the Sri Ram Sena, an off-shoot of the VHP, attacked a Hindu and his two Muslim friends for allegedly “carrying beef”, as FactChecker reported on May 27, 2019.
“The government should investigate the facts before conducting any trial, but ever since the Congress has come to power, innocent people are being punished,” said Kamal Patel, a BJP leader.
“If the [District] Collector or SP (Superintendent of Police) is responsible for accusing innocent people, then the chief minister will personally monitor the situation,” said Sajjan Singh Verma, minister for MP’s environment and public works departments.
MP intends law to penalise cow vigilantes
This week, chief minister Kamal Nath is to table in the legislative assembly an amendment to MP’s anti-cow slaughter law, enacted in 2004. If the amendment is successful, it could be the first law in India to specifically address cow vigilantism.
On June 26, 2019, the MP state cabinet approved an amendment to the state’s cow protection law, the Madhya Pradesh Govansh Vadh Pratishedh Adhiniyam. The amendment to the state law seeks to include a clause to prosecute those who commit violence on the pretext of gau raksha or “cow protection”, with a minimum jail term of six months and a maximum of five years, with a fine that ranges from Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000. Those abetting such violence may be jailed for one to three years.
In 2004, then chief minister Uma Bharti of the BJP brought into force a law that enforced a ban on cow slaughter, including the sale or donation of cows for slaughter. Those found guilty could be fined up to Rs 10,000 and jailed for up to three years.
Six years later, in 2011, the BJP government under former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, amended the law, raising the jail term to seven years and included a minimum fine of Rs 5,000.
The government also reversed the innocent-until-proven-guilty principle, placing the burden of proof on the accused.
(Mehta, a second-year political science undergraduate at the University of Chicago, is an intern at FactChecker.in.)