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Gujarat's cow vigilantes don't love their Gau Mata, they just hate Dalits

Rathin Das | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST
Caste attacks
  • Track record of cow vigilantes show that they mostly attack minority communities
  • Cow vigilantes use saffron designations on car number plates as security cover
What\'s the truth?
  • While dozens of cows die from eating contaminated fodder, these vigilantes are strangely silent
  • Even when specifically asked about these deaths - they have \'convincing\' explanations
More in the story
  • Let\'s face it, it\'s less about the cows and more about the caste of the \'killers\'
  • The problem is age old - and the ruling BJP is just aggravating it

The stripping and beating up of four Dalit youths in Una town of Gir Somnath district in Gujarat's Saurashtra region by a cow vigilante group on Monday is symptomatic of at least two trends prevalent in the BJP-ruled state.

First one is definitely the rising clout of Hindu vigilante groups in different spheres of life all over the country ever since the change of guard at the Centre in 2014.

The second factor is the deep-rooted anti-Dalit sentiments in the Saurashtra region.

Also read: Latehar lynchings: Watch a cow-preacher's sermons that openly incite violence

The third factor, that cannot be formally attributed, is the lure of quick money from television channels for such 'sensational' videos which can also be used to create a hype about how 'people' themselves are becoming vigilantes against those killing or disrespecting the 'Gau Mata'.

The self-styled cow protectors, who carried out the beatings merely because the Dalits were found skinning the carcass of a cow which died due to natural causes, had come in an SUV which proclaimed on its number plate "President, Hindu Shiv Sena, Gir Somnath district".

In Gujarat, there are several thousand cars and SUVs with their number plates proclaiming the owner's 'designation' in some saffron organisation or the other, it is a sure-shot source of immunity at the street level - with the police as well as vis-a-vis other 'less fortunate' road users.

Muscle power

The mention of number plates with the prominent proclamations of designations in saffron outfits is relevant to the Dalit beating incident as the owners of these vehicles are basically extortionists.

Such incidents of violent interventions by the Sangh Parivar activists have been a regular occurance in Gujarat for the last two decades since the BJP came to power in the state in 1995. However, their numbers are increasing day by day. These incidents are also getting reported more often or 'recorded' due to the proliferation of video cameras and mobile phones.

In October 2003, two minority individuals were killed in communal riots in Viramgam town following VHP activists spotting two butchers skinning a cow which died due to natural causes.

History at work

"Such belligerent incidents are definitely a result of rising 'Hindutva' hooliganism as a result of the BJP being in power in the state as well as the Centre," said eminent social scientist and author Achyut Yagnik.

Yagnik has penned several books on the social and political history of Gujarat since its days of maritime trade with overseas countries.

Also read: Watch: 4 tannery workers stripped, thrashed for alleged cow skin possession

He said that the police do not generally take any action against these goons who indulge in extortion in the name of Hindutva. Moreover, Yagnik added, the Saurashtra region of Gujarat has a traditional anti-Dalit sentiment propagated by the rulers of its erstwhile princely states.

Even Mahatma Gandhi's and Sardar Patel's influence could not rectify the anti-Dalit sentiments in the region, Yagnik said driving home the point that the Dalits are always at the receiving end irrespective of any misdeed or not.

Do these people really care about the cows?

Yagnik also doubted the Saurashtra people's 'love' for cows as they often abandon old, unproductive bovines in the streets after tying a red scarf around their neck.

The social scientist's doubts seem absolutely valid if one compares the track record of these cow vigilantes with bovines that die by the dozens in the 'gaushalas' after consuming contaminated grass.

No VHP, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Shiv Sena or Gau Rakshak Dal activists have ever rushed to protest at any gaushala where plenty of cows have died after eating contaminated fodder or grass sourced from some businessman or from grazing on a field next to a chemical factory.

Firstly, the saffron activists feign ignorance about these mass cow deaths. When informed, they love to presume that contamination is a natural cause of death for cows.

The latest such incident was the death of 32 cows at a gaushala run by the Dakor temple trust in June this year. The cows died of consuming toxic fodder donated by a businessman - but there was no saffron rage over the issue.

In February, as many as 25 cows died in a gaushala run by a religious trust in the Jain pilgrimage centre of Palitana in Bhavnagar district.

Also read: Latehar's deceased cattle trader Majloom Ansari was a cow protector of sorts

The cause of death was attributed to poisonous grass gifted by a businessman but the VHP didn't raise any eyebrows. After the press reported the bovine deaths, local VHP leaders did visit the gaushala management's office but returned happily thereafter.

Where's the anger now?

In December 2005 too, at least 41 cows had died within two days soon after grazing in a field behind a pharmaceutical company in Ankleswar in Bharuch district of central Gujarat.

The VHP didn't protest despite many journalists asking them - "Are you calling for any bandh on the issue?"

The highest toll of gaushala mass deaths of cows was 102 at Vadodara in March 2015, again due to poisonous grass donated by a well-wisher. The saffron brigade soldiers didn't lynch anyone nor did they call for a bandh - there wasn't a whimper of protest.

Admitting that the deaths of 102 cows might have been caused by poisonous grass, Dr Vallabh Kathiria, Chairman of Gujarat Gau Seva and Gauchar Development Board had sought to explain the tragedy by saying that many cow lovers donate three or four truck-loads of grass every day to these animal shelters and there might have been poison in any of these.

That's the official version for death of the 102 cows from the chief of the government agency for cows' protection. But four Dalits were beaten mercilessly just for skinning a cow that actually died naturally. In the cow lovers' scheme of things, the cause of death is not important but the identity of alleged 'killer' is.

Also read: A letter from 'Gau Mata' to Rajasthan students, Holy Cow!

First published: 13 July 2016, 7:54 IST