Cow Vigilantes Get Political Shelter, Police Pressured to Let Them Go Free: Human Rights Watch Report
90% of religion-based hate crimes in the last decade were reported after BJP came to power in 2014, the report states.
Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the Centre in 2014, the communal rhetoric used by it’s members has fuelled vigilante violence against those linked to beef consumption, finds a latest report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
HRW has examined the link between cow-protection, political Hindu nationalism and the administration’s failure to ensure constitutionally and internationally recognised human rights of minorities in India.
The report, ‘Violent Cow Protection in India: Vigilante Groups Attack Minorities,’ describes that cow-related violence is perpetrated mostly on Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims by Hindu right-wing groups which claim to be affiliated to militant Hindu outfits which have tie-ups with the BJP.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his silence on cow-related vigilante violence only in 2018 when he said “I want to make it clear that mob lynching is a crime, no matter the motive,” however, according to HRW, he “appeared to dismiss claims of growing Muslim insecurity as being politically motivated” .
Citing the Hate Crime Watch database of Factchecker.in, the report states that between January 2009 and October 2018, at least 91 persons were killed and 579 people were injured in incidents of crimes targeting minorities. Around 90 percent of these attacks were reported after the BJP came to power in May 2014. At least 44 people were killed between May 2015 and October 2018 across 12 states. Additionally at least 280 people were injured in 100 attacks across 20 states.
66 per cent of all attacks between January 2009 and October 2018 occurred in states run by the BJP. Muslims were victims in 62 percent of the cases and Christians in 14 percent.
The reports states that compared to the five years before the BJP came to power, in 2014 to 2018 there has been a 500 percent increase in the usage of communally divisive language in speeches by elected representatives, 90 percent of whom belong to the ruling BJP. The finding is based on a survey by NDTV. The report adds that cow-protection was a major theme in such speeches.
“We won’t remain silent if somebody tries to kill our mother. We are ready to kill and be killed,” BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj’s remark from 2015 has been cited in the report, along with similar comments by Haryana Chief Minister ML Khattar, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and several other BJP lawmakers.
Lack of Accountability
According to the report, since 2014, several BJP-ruled states implemented stringent cow-protection laws and policies. “Many of the new legal provisions make cow slaughter a cognizable, non-bailable offense, putting the burden of proof on the accused, in violation of the right to be presumed innocent.”
Examples from states such as Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat corroborate the above claim. In the wake of Pehlu Khan’s lynching in Alwar in 2017, Rajasthan’s then home minister had reportedly said, “People know cow trafficking is illegal, but they do it. Gau bhakts [cow worshippers] try to stop them. There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s a crime to take the law in their [own] hands.”
There is political pressure on the police to let those accused of such violence walk free. Richhpal Singh, a former additional superintendent of police in Rajasthan told HRW, “Police face political pressure to sympathize with cow protectors, and do a weak investigation and let them go free. These vigilantes get political shelter and help.”
Failure of Police
The report documents several cases of such vigilante violence and finds the conduct of police authorities “improper in eight of them. “in two, they delayed filing First Information Reports (FIRs) required to begin an investigation into a crime; in two others, they violated procedures, even allegedly falsified details in one of them; and in four the police were allegedly complicit in the death of the victim and tried to cover-up the crime. The police were compelled to respond only after media criticism, protests, or intervention through the courts by human rights activists and lawyers.”
In July 2018, to address the issue of mob-violence, the Supreme Court had issued “preventive, remedial and punitive” measures. HRW recommends that national and state governments implement the court’s directives and ensure proper investigation into such crimes. Additionally, the human rights organization has called for a campaign to “end communal attacks on Muslims, Dalits, and other minorities” and “reverse policies that are impacting livestock-linked livelihoods, particularly in rural communities; and hold to account police and other institutions that fail to uphold rights because of caste or religious prejudice.