Around midnight Chand
Begum looks at the small clock on the yellow wall and gets up with a start to
switch off the light bulb on the verandah.
“Unke chakkar lagne shuru ho jaenge ab (
heir rounds are going to begin now),” she says.
Within minutes there is the sound of police cars coming into the village. The family huddles together. “Thankfully they have not knocked on our doors even once so far,” she says.
Others in the village were so severely harassed that they have migrated to Gurgaon and Delhi and visit only during festivals. The sarpanch requested that the village not be named. “Whatever you write, I can assure you that some kind of retaliation will be seen from gau rakshaks or police,” he said.
This is Haryana, the most strident cow protector in India. Ruled by the BJP government headed by a former RSS pracharak with almost no public following, it is the latest battlefield for Hindutva warriors. Gau rakshaks, a group of newly-empowered, violent young men with a mission to save cows and stop beef consumption, have been set loose on the streets by the government.
Chand Begum and Muzaffar Husain, called the “Biryani wale” in the village, have four children. Their daughter, the eldest, is married to a truck driver in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh (UP). The three sons are all in the biryani business. One is a cook at a Delhi restaurant. The younger two, twins Rehan and Ehsan, have biryani stalls on the Sohna-Gurgaon road.
Husain retired as a chef from a hotel in Roorkee some years ago. The family owns a small parcel of land in the village on which they grow seasonal vegetables and wheat. The vegetables come to Ehsan’s help. He sells “Vegitabal biriyani”, as the banner on his stall proclaims. Two years ago, in Delhi, he noticed a proliferation of vegetable biryani shops. His brother told him it was a trend. “He told me it was becoming very popular since Hindus who are vegetarians love the taste of biryani but cannot have meat and this offers them both options. He then taught me how to prepare it.”
He now sells more biryani than his brother Rehan, who specialises in chicken and mutton biryani.
While sales for both have steadily increased over the years, this year has seen a fall for Rehan, especially in the last few months. “Ever since news of people mixing beef in biryanis spread, some people have stopped coming. Most importantly, the number of people who would stop their vehicles to buy biryani has gone down drastically.”
Of late many policemen and gau rakshaks who are local leaders have also started to descend on his shop asking for a sample that can be checked by government labs for beef. “Although they all know I never prepare beef they keep coming and taking away large quantities in the name of ‘samples’. Mostly they just eat it. Other people who sell biryani but are Hindu don’t face such harassment. Muslims are singled out,” Rehan says.
Muzaffar Husain says nobody in his family has ever eaten or prepared beef. “I have seen some poor people cutting chunks off half-rotting carcasses of cows and buffaloes since for them it is a source of nourishment. I do not find anything wrong in it. Now the law says not to eat cow meat; so be it.
“But shouldn’t gau rakshaks also focus more on the welfare of their gau mata rather than harassing poor people?” The “checking” for beef in the state picked up in the month before the Bakr-Eid. Although the Husain family has not been questioned yet, others have even been beaten up on mere suspicion.
Some months ago a family in the village was found to be awake at night since there was a gathering of relatives. A team of gau rakshaks barged in—an illegal act—and started looking for beef. The head of the family, who requested anonymity, said they told him they knew “cows are butchered in the village every night”. The village is 40 per cent Muslim and butchering a cow or any other animal in the village is not possible without the knowledge of the Hindu neighbours, mostly Yadavs and some Jats. Someone had complained to the police, the gau rakshaks claimed.
“They checked our toilets and even our cattle in the shed outside the house and beat me and my two sons (aged 12 and 15). They took my sons to separate locations in the village and kept beating them asking them to ‘speak the truth’ and said they would offer ‘forgiveness for the sin’ if we admitted to slaughtering cows.” They left without finding beef but the family has since stopped consuming buffalo meat and also avoids cooking mutton at night.
In Haryana, the state
manages the cow protection business. After coming to power in October 2014, one
of the first tasks of the government of Manohar Lal Khattar was to pass a law
banning beef. A ban on cow slaughter was already in place but the RSS-BJP
combine wanted to stop even the consumption of beef. Haryana has large Dalit
and Muslim populations.
The state passed the Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan Act, 2015 in March last year. It has the harshest punishment under law for cow slaughter, consumption or export. The law defines a cow as including bull, bullock, ox, heifer or calf, as well as a disabled, diseased or barren cow. Beef means the flesh of the cow in any form, including meat packed in sealed containers produced or imported into the state.
Cow slaughter is a non-bailable
offence, with a sentence of three to ten years and a fine of Rs 30,000-1 lakh. It
also bans export of cow for slaughter, and a person sending cows outside the
state must apply for a permit. Punishment for export without permit is rigorous
imprisonment for a term not less than three years, and extending up to seven
years, and a fine of Rs 30,000-70,000.
The law empowers a police officer above the rank of sub-inspector, or any person authorised by the government, to enter, stop and search any vehicle used or intended to be used for the export of cows. The officer can enter and search any premises used or intended to be used for slaughter, and seize any documents regarding activities related to slaughter and export of cow.
In short, the law allows cow vigilantes the run of the state, to inflict street justice on alleged cattle smugglers.
“In many cases these people actually have personal vendetta or are used by someone with a grudge against them to punish them as smugglers or consumers of beef. The law allows us to check for consumption of beef in any way possible and these people take advantage by flaunting their political links,” said a senior police officer in Chandigarh who did not want to be named.
In a case of vigilante justice, on June 10 a group of men forced two alleged beef suppliers, Rizwan and Mukhtar, to eat panchgavya—considered a holy purifier—a concoction that contains cow dung and cow urine apart from “sacred” curd and milk, among other things. The video went viral on social media and police had to arrest the vigilantes, but it doesn’t happen in most cases, as many policemen on the ground told Fountain Ink.
“In most cases we try to sort it out on the spot. If the man really is carrying beef he is punished on the spot and let off with a warning and some humiliation. Bigger suppliers we arrest and put in jail,” a senior police officer said.
Sanjeev Kumar, a gaushala owner in Panipat who helps rescue sick cows, claims he has seen gun fights between rival exporters of cow leather. Each group arms and finances its own posse of gau rakshaks. “The police remain meek spectators when such a fight ensues. In cases where the policeman is injured, you can count on the possibility that it is a fake injury. When they catch some people to be put in jail they indulge in these kinds of dramatics for effect. I have seen them fire shots to just bruise a policeman several times during such so-called raids.”
While the police have nabbed some beef suppliers, there have been some encounters people like Kumar say are fake. “It is a reaction to police brutalities and the attacks by gau rakshaks on mere suspicion. Some people who transport buffaloes have been targeted and have started to keep guns to protect themselves. Now when gau rakshaks attack a person he will obviously use his weapon. But police have started labelling them cow smugglers, which is why so-called encounters have become frequent.”
Two women said they were raped by four gau rakshaks in Mewat on August 24 while their uncle and aunt were murdered. One, with a 9-month old son, told police she tried to flee but was forced to stay when the attackers threatened to kill her child. She later said the men told them they had been raped because they were beef-eaters.
“It seems to be a motivated statement. Our initial investigation has revealed that the crimes were the result of personal enmity. But we are still investigating and if such an angle is found action will be taken against other people involved. As of now, the (four) men are in custody and the investigation is on track,” Haryana police chief K. P. Singh said, over the phone.
In Haryana any mob of
young men hunting “cow smugglers” are effectively an arm of the state. They
have their own surveillance and intelligence gathering systems, and conduct
raids jointly with police. In this mishmash of the legal and the illegal, of
the ideology laid down in chaste Sanskritic Hindi by the RSS, and implemented
in the gutter drawl of its foot soldiers, lies a state where the fringe is the
Significant police resources have been diverted to prevent cow smuggling and beef eating. Every district has 15 policemen in the gau raksha task force. The team is led by an inspector and two sub-inspectors.
Giving these teams directions is the Gau Sewa Ayog, a cow service commission, set up in 2010 under the Congress government of Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
“Even then, the decision was made to appease right-wingers in the state,” said a senior Congress leader close to the higher echelons of the state unit. Then, it was mostly social activists and workers who were nominated to positions in the Ayog. But the Khattar government has effectively handed over the Ayog to the RSS.
The Ayog, with a strength of 21, has nine government officials including from the departments of animal husbandry, agriculture, finance, revenue and disaster management, development and panchayats, police and urban local bodies, and one representative of the Chennai-based Animal Welfare Board of India as members.
The Gauputra Sena along with the police patrol the highways, flagging down trucks at will.
In a notification
issued on November 19, 2015, the Haryana government appointed 10 non-permanent
members led by Bhani Ram Mangla as chairman while Rishi Prakash Sharma, a
former RSS pracharak, was named vice-chairman. Both are RSS loyalists and
Mangla is considered “very close” to Khattar. He hails from the Punhana village
in Mewat district, which is Muslim-dominated, and was considered the first
choice because he has “a deep understanding of the issue” of cow smuggling and
slaughter. He was president of the Gauvansh Vikas Prakoshth of the BJP for five
years during which his work was appreciated in Sangh circles.
All the other 10 members, listed either as “Volunteer Gau Sewak” or “Representative of Gaushala”, have also had traditional ideological affiliations or memberships of the RSS, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or Bajrang Dal. Most noticeable is Acharya Yogendra Arya, president of the now infamous Gau Raksha Dal which has more than 4,500 members and is at the forefront of action against cow smugglers and consumers. He also heads the Haryana Gaushala Sangh, an association of almost 400 gaushalas. Among other members, Ram Lal Bagri, Shravan Garg and Ramji Rawat have held positions in the RSS while Daya Shankar Tiwari, Prabhati Lal and Parmanand Giri are VHP members. Vidya Sagar Baghla has been a member of the Bajrang Dal for almost 30 years.
We have support from almost all sections in the state irrespective of political affiliations. Gau raksha is the responsibility of every Hindu and people have come forward in large numbers for that endeavour. Some Muslims also support us. It is only a small section that benefits from the trade in cow flesh and that cannot be allowed to continue.
One of the members, requesting anonymity, says, “Congress appointed people who were sewaks but did not have the strength to enforce the law against beef. RSS has both the strength and the resolve to do so.” The point he pushed was that the state followed the Punjab government law of 1955, when Haryana was still a part of it, and which was ineffective due to a low conviction rate. The RSS was determined to ensure more convictions, so the law was changed. The previous law allowed beef export under licence from the government, while the RSS wanted a blanket ban on slaughter and consumption.
Some units of the Sangh are now propagating the idea of banning the slaughter and consumption of buffalo meat as well, on the lines of the law in Chhattisgarh but it has not found much support as there is a large population of buffaloes sold in the open market by farmers. A ban would hit their income.
The Ayog’s first job has been to make sure that there is a network of people on the ground. According to more than one Ayog functionary, there are at least 20-30 people from various Hindutva organisations in every district working in their personal capacities. They coordinate with police and private gau rakshaks from various gaushalas on action plans in their districts.
“We have support from almost all sections in the state irrespective of political affiliations. Gau raksha is the responsibility of every Hindu and people have come forward in large numbers for that endeavour. Some Muslims also support us. It is only a small section that benefits from the trade in cow flesh and that cannot be allowed to continue,” Mangla says.
He did not consider beef a source of nutrition for the poor. “It is a myth. Beef was introduced to insult Hindus and some Muslims continue to do this. (Narendra) Modiji has insisted that people torturing innocent citizens in the name of gau raksha must be stopped and we are working on that. In fact we in Haryana started working towards this even before the Prime Minister made his statement (against fake gau rakshaks).”
Mangla was referring to the process of inviting and empowering private gau rakshaks to assist the police. Police teams are required to keep a check on the people who break the new law and coordinate with local gau rakshaks for tip-offs.
The “tip-offs” from local men are possible because of an extensive network of the RSS and its affiliated organisations as well as the BJP. The gau raksha campaign has the support of all Hindu communities, most importantly the powerful Jats. Although politically they reacted violently against the BJP government during the agitations for reservations in government jobs earlier this year, the general sentiment is to support Hindu revisionism. The community has a history of cow worship and protection because of its largely agrarian background and is at the forefront of cow protection programmes.
The other active community has been the Yadavs, who are in majority in many districts in southern Haryana and traditionally cattle breeders.
The Gau Putra Sena
(Army of the Sons of the Cow) is in action late at night on the
Gurgaon-Jhajjhar highway. Their mission is to check trucks for cows or beef.
It’s a group of young men with swagger, and the conviction of the righteous.
Their partners are cops in the police control room vehicle number two. Head
constable Jaikishan and his subordinates Ram Vilas and Yogesh Kumar from
Dhulena Chowki are with the Sena team, providing legal cover to its
enthusiastic pursuit of cow smugglers.
Such checking takes place in the evening and through the night because “smugglers try to hide beef in the rear of the vehicles in carefully attached parcels which are otherwise clearly noticeable in daylight,” says Jaikishan, resting his hand on his sizeable paunch. While truck drivers keep insisting that there is nothing close to beef in their vehicles, they are forced to uncover their cargo for inspection. In cases where they know the drivers, they let them go after asking for a “permit charge”, a small bribe that rights all the wrongs of the world.
The head of the Sena is Sunil Nimana, tall, bearded and silent. He has been on maun vrat (vow of silence) for almost a month. Pradeep Nimana, his associate, says, “Bhai Sahab is on maun vrat to push for the funding of our gaushala.” Run by Nimana and his gang the gaushala exists on a portion of land rented from a farmer many years back but is now overcrowded because of the stray and sick cattle they have been receiving after their collaboration with the state government. Another worker Sanjay, in pink turban, says, “We are committed to gau mata but the government cannot expect us to do all the work and not help us in return. We are attacked by cow smugglers, too, but do not have any weapons or other means to defend ourselves.”
The lease of Nimana’s gaushala is about to expire in a few weeks and he doesn’t have the means or the money to shift. He has bought land close to his village but to get it registered as a gaushala he will have to pay ₹4 crore as registration fee, which he cannot afford. The silent fast is to support his demand that the state government waive this fee in recognition of the work his group is doing.
“We are farmers. We do this to protect gau mata and the government must support us,” Pradeep says. “We understand his demand; his group has apprehended many street vendors selling cow meat. I hope the government helps him,” says Jaikishan.
Speaking of the collaboration between gau rakshaks and police, Bharti Arora, Deputy Inspector General of police who heads the unit of the state police that keeps a check on cow slaughter and smuggling, says, “The (state) government has worked out a safe mechanism and has also provided the necessary documents for people who are genuine cow protectors. We do rely on their support and actionable information from them is always worked upon.”
The Gau Putra Sena is among the groups that raided several biryani sellers in the name of cow protection across the Mewat-Gurgaon-Jhajjar region. “Teen chaar toh maine akele daboche bhaiji (I nabbed 3-4 of them myself, brother),” says Sanjay, raising his head and puffing out his chest. “Some people run off at the sight of us or our vehicle. Yeh pehchaan hai hamaari (That’s our mark).”
These are the good gau rakshaks, the ones with identity cards from the state government, and given legitimacy by police.
Constable Yogesh screams at a truck driver. “Open the trunk or I’ll set your truck on fire!” The truck driver, a short man speaking in a low voice, says he is transporting electrical material to a company his employer has a contract with.
“Where are you from?” Yogesh asks.
“Musalman hai? (Are you a Muslim?)”
“These Bihari Muslims eat the most beef. They have spoilt the atmosphere here. Earlier, Muslims from here would slaughter and eat beef in their villages quietly. Now that there is a market for it, they roam around selling it on the roads,” Yogesh says.
The cow vigilantes have close links in UP and Punjab, and say they coordinate on missions. Pradeep says he has travelled to Muzaffarnagar and Badhaut in UP many times to assist fellow gau sewaks in rescuing cows that were about to be slaughtered by Muslims in the slaughter-houses.
“Many times we were fired upon and our team responded with fire. We need that kind of attitude here too,” he says. He has applied for a gun licence but laments that the process is too slow for him. Like him, thousands of people in the state claiming to be gau rakshaks have applied for gun permits in the name of protection from cow smugglers.
“Most are bogus claims but we are working on the applications. Local intelligence inputs are required and take time to complete,” a police officer in Chandigarh handling gun licence requests said.
The basis for the ban
on cow slaughter, which is in place across the country excluding the seven
north-eastern states, Bengal and Kerala, is Article 48 of the Constitution.
Listed in Part IV, the Directive Principles of State Policy, it talks of
scientific animal husbandry and calls for a ban on cow slaughter.
The version of the Constitution prepared by the Drafting Committee and published on February 21, 1948, did not contain any provision for a ban on cow slaughter. Senior Congress leaders Pandit Thakurdas Bhargava and Seth Govind Das proposed a provision for cow protection as Article 38A then, which said: “The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and in particular take steps to preserve, protect and improve the useful breeds of cattle and ban the slaughter of cows and other useful cattle, specially milch cattle and of child-bearing age, young stock and draught cattle.”
The reply by the drafting committee had said the issue “involved questions of policy”. But the president of the Constituent Assembly and later India’s first President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, had taken a stand that “cow slaughter should be stopped by legislation”, as is revealed by the letter he wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru on August 7, 1947, barely a week before independence.
Rajendra Prasad had raised the issue with Mahatma Gandhi, too, owing to the overwhelming demand for a ban on cow slaughter from a large section of the Hindus. However, Gandhi was opposed to such a ban. In his prayer discourse of July 25, 1947, Gandhi said, “In India no law can be made to ban cow slaughter. I do not doubt that Hindus are forbidden the slaughter of cows. I have been long pledged to serve the cow but how can my religion also be the religion of the rest of the Indians? It will mean coercion against those Indians who are not Hindus.”
Probably in the light of this assertion by Gandhi, the Congress Assembly Party debated this provision in detail and Thakurdas Bhargava had to provide a vital assurance that it must be done “without using any sort of coercion”. Bhargava had wanted the article on cow slaughter to be included in the Fundamental Rights section, but had to relent. “I do not want that due to its inclusion in the Fundamental Rights, non-Hindus should complain that they have been forced to accept a certain thing against their will,” he said in his speech as mover of the provision.
Supreme Court advocate and author A. G. Noorani, in a piece published by Frontline in June, said Article 48 in its present form was “conceived in deceit” by right-wingers like Bhargava within the Congress as also “executed through fraud”.
The SC upheld the right of the people to slaughter and consume beef in the country through various judgments and also pointed out that unproductive cattle above the age of 14 could be used for slaughter and consumption. Beef is not a luxury but a necessity for a large section of people. As per an estimate by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), 5.2 crore people in India consumed beef or buffalo meat in 2011-2012. According to the National Commission on Cattle set up by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002, “extreme poverty and customary practices in the coastal areas and among some sections of scheduled tribes, scheduled castes and other backward castes also make them beef eaters.” The Council of Leather Exports says 25 lakh people are employed in the leather industry and a majority are poor. Among them, there are at least eight lakh Dalits.
However, a controversial judgment by the SC in 2005 has facilitated a complete ban on cow slaughter. In State of Gujarat vs Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kaseab Jamat the SC said, “…so far as the determination of the position of Directive Principles, vis-a-vis Fundamental Rights are concerned, it has been an era of positivism and creativity. Article 37 of the Constitution, while declaring the Directive Principles to be unenforceable by any court, goes on to say “they are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country”. The end part of Article 37—“it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws” is not a pariah but a constitutional mandate. The court read this to mean that even fundamental rights can be subjected to restrictions based on a reading of the directive principles of state police.
This allowed Gujarat to implement a complete ban on slaughter of cows, consumption and sale of beef in the state. This precedent Maharashtra and Haryana to formulate laws that enforced a blanket ban on cow slaughter.
Cow vigilantism has
affected Mewat district—with a Muslim majority—the most. Kareem Ali, who sold
buffalo meat biryani once a week on the Gurgaon-Mewat road, not far from where
Ehsan and Rehan run their shops, claims that he has stopped using buffalo meat.
“Two days before Eid there was news that police and teams of gau rakshaks have started raiding biryani sellers. I only used buffalo meat but threw all of it in a dump for dogs to eat. Who would believe me if I said it was not cow meat?” He said gau rakshaks were not so much about saving cows as they were about teaching Muslims a lesson. “Has the condition of cows really become better? The number (abandoned, stray) on the roads keeps increasing by the day. Had we been slaughtering them would this have happened,” he says sitting at his shop where he now sells tea, samosas and other vegetarian items.
Satbir Singh, an officer with Haryana’s Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, says, “There are more than 1.5 lakh stray cows roaming the streets and judging by the number of cases of injuries to cows or other treatments we provide for cows when their owners bring them in, the numbers are going up consistently.”
This is not far from the general trend in the country—as per the cattle census of 2012 the population of cows went up 6.52 per cent over the period 2007-2012 taking the total to 12.3 crore.
The RSS, however, will have none of it. Shrikant Raut, an RSS worker who often travels to Haryana, is close to many leaders of the Haryana Gau Raksha Dal led by Acharya Yogendra Arya who is also a member of the Gau Sewa Ayog. Raut’s latest endeavours have been to train gau rakshaks on how to “nab” cow slaughterers and consumers of their meat.
Sitting at a gaushala owned by a “gau bhakt” in Karnal, he says, “In Maharashtra we have nabbed many offenders through our networks across the state. In some cases [gau rakshaks] have broken the law but in general our focus has been to bring the offenders to book. Our Constitution clearly says cow slaughter is banned. But there are people–I won’t name a community since there are many Hindus too among them–who break this law and insult us.” Even though Maharashtra allows beef from outside the state to be imported, Raut says his aim is to ensure beef consumption is totally banned.
“All states that have implemented laws against cow slaughter do not implement them strictly. We have to persevere to create a group of volunteers and workers who report these matters to the police and make sure action is taken. Once the law is implemented, no cow will ever be martyred.”
He says implementation of Hindu laws “as per the Constitution” means a Hindu code of living in the country. “You see, cow slaughter was banned from the beginning but governments did not apply it to appease Muslims. Once Gujarat did it with an iron fist we have seen the results. Our Constitution has all provisions [to make Hindu code possible] but one has to fight for it [legally].
“Just as Muslims consider burning or desecration of Quran ‘martyring’ it we too consider the killing of cows to be martyring of our mothers,” he says, clenching a fist. Matters of food security do not bother him. “Dalits even eat pigs; all tribes in the northeast eat pork, but will Muslims eat it because it is the cheapest food available? Faith matters more, and India is Hindu-dominated. Our faith will have to be respected. If Pakistan can ban pork, why can’t we ban beef?”