Religious intolerance in secular India continues to grow as hardline Hindus target those they believe are butchering cows, which are sacred to them.
The AFP reports vigilantes wait on the side of the roads waiting “for suspected cattle smugglers in the desert state of Rajasthan.” The state banned cow slaughter and consumption of beef.
“Smugglers often open fire or try to run us over,” explained Babulal Jangir, the leader of the Gau Rakasha Dal (Cow Protection Squad). “I even get death threats, but nothing bothers me. My heart beats only for my dear cow mother.”
Hindus killed four people in the last six weeks alone.
On September 28, a mob attacked a family over rumors they butchered a cow and ate the beef. Mohammed Akhlaq, 52, passed away on Tuesday. His son Mohammed Danish, 22, remains in the hospital in critical condition. Akhlaq’s mother, wife, and daughter also sustained numerous injuries.
“My brother threw goat’s skin in the garbage dump. But some people circulated a rumour that a cow was slaughtered and an announcement was made from the local temple,” stated his brother Mohammed Saifi. “Soon a mob of about 1,000 people, armed with lathis [batons] and swords, gathered and attacked the house of my brother. They did not even spare my 82-year-old mother Asgari Begum, who has suffered injuries, along with Akhlaq’s wife and daughter, Sajida Saifi.”
Another mob attacked and killed a Muslim man on November 2 in Uchekon Moiba Thongkhong in Manipur because they thought he stole a cow. The police discovered Mohammad Hasmat Ali, 55, in the early morning hours. He was married with three sons in Keirao Makting, “where he was headmaster of a madrasa.” Authorities could not find any criminal record or ties to a cattle business.
“Our Hindu scriptures say 330 million gods and goddesses reside in one cow,” said squad member Manoj Jangir.
Hindus also threw a bomb at a truck in Kashmir Valley they suspected carried beef, burning the Muslim trucker’s body. He died a few days later from his injuries. In Himachal Pradesh, Hindus killed a man they suspected “of smuggling cattle for slaughter.”
“Anyone who eats cow meat should be handed the death sentence,” declared Jangir.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have remained mostly silent despite the growing violence. His Hindu nationalist government, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), gained power in elections in May, but lost in the latest weekend elections because of their inability to control the Hindus.
“No one can indulge in any kind of violence,” said BJP spokesman GVL Narsimha Rao. “We don’t support these groups.”
But critics cannot believe Modi has not yet intervened “on an issue gripping the nation and condemn or even distance himself from comments made by members of his party.” The New Dehli police raided one restaurant because they thought the owners served beef, but it turned out to be buffalo. The party even ran ads that accused opponents of “insulting the holy cow.” Some of the well known critics spoke out about the violence:
These and other recent outbreaks of violence by Hindu nationalists have provoked a vigorous cultural and political backlash across India. Dozens of leading authors returned India’s highest literary award in protest. Hundreds of scientists, academics, actors and filmmakers have signed petitions or spoken out. On Tuesday, Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Congress Party and Mr. Modi’s longtime political opponent, led a march in Delhi to condemn “the atmosphere of fear, intolerance and intimidation in the country.”
But Hindus are determined to protect the cows.
“It is a kind of do or die thing for us,” said squad member Maniram Babu. “When we see how cows are stuffed inside trucks our blood starts boiling. We get very emotional and then we can’t stop ourselves from teaching them (the smugglers) a lesson or two.”