The attack of the Gau rakshaks and the danger of vigilantism

In a tragic turn of events a group of the so-called Gau rakshaks attacked a dairy farmer in Alwar, resulting in his death.

According to one of the various versions surfacing, the dairy farmer, Pehlu Khan, had purchased a milch cow (initially he was planning to purchase a milch buffalo but then changed his mind) because the seller was able to demonstrate to him that the cow was giving more milk than the buffalo. Whatever is the true narrative, right now, this is the story that everyone knows.

He, his son Irshad, and a few more men were carrying the milch cow and other cattle in a couple of pickup trucks when they were waylaid on National Highway 8. The so-called Gau rakshaks accused Pehlu Khan of smuggling the cow for meat and beat him to death while his son watched helplessly.

I’m going to use “the so-called” with Gau rakshaks because I personally know some excellent people doing great job for cow protection and in no way, they think like these Gau rakshaks.

This attack is reminiscent of the attack in Dadri where Akhlaq was beaten to death for allegedly eating beef. Even till now nobody knows whether beef was actually consumed or not, or even if it was consumed, why it was anybody’s business in the village to take the matter to such an extent.

Attacks in the name of protecting cows, and other facets of our culture and tradition, have been alarmingly increasing, and nothing justifies these outrageous attacks. These attacks are so toxic that in their wake they leave nothing but destruction: destruction of the families of the victims, and destruction of the cultural values they pretend to be fighting for.

Such acts of vigilantism aren’t just restricted to cow protection. The same mentality is in action when couples are attacked in the clubs, on the streets and in the parks or for simply being in the company of the opposite sex. The same mentality encourages the Muthalliks of the world to take it upon themselves to beat some cultural values into “wayward” youngsters.

Salil Chaudhary, a disabled activist and writer, was attacked in a cinema hall because he couldn’t stand up when national anthem was being played (this mildly makes me nervous because being wheelchair bound, I cannot stand when the national anthem is being played in the cinema hall and I keep sitting on my chair). Another man was rudely treated for the same reason by a couple who took it upon themselves to instill some sense of nationalism in him.

What prompts people to take law into their own hands? What makes them think that they have the right to attack another citizen of the country, verbally or physically?

It’s a deep-rooted, cultural flaw. There is this sick mentality that as long as you are representing something religious, something cultural, you can get away with anything. Try refusing a “chanda” for a mohalla puja. You will be beaten up and if you are not beaten up, you will at least get a few abuses from the religious persons collecting the money.

The same mentality is manifest even during festivals like Holi, Chhat and during Tazia processions where people assume that brazenness is a part of the celebration (or mourning in the Muslims’ case). The “bura na mano holi hai” concept is sometimes stretched too far culminating into many people hating the festival instead of enjoying it. Women prefer to lock themselves inside because the hooligans have turned this marvelous festival of colours into an ordeal and even a nightmare.

The controversy that involves the arrest of Yogi Adityanath actually started when a Tazia procession was passing in front of a marriage hall. Some of the people participating in the procession decided to pay a visit inside the marriage hall and take some liberties simply because they were drunk on their collective presence. The rest is history.

Once we were passing through a Chhat procession near the Kalindi Kunj Bridge. Young Bihari boys walked on the roads as if there was a zombie apocalypse. They were hooting, they were shouting vulgarities and they were openly consuming beer and alcohol and brandishing their bottles in the air. They often ran towards passing vehicles with gaping mouths and flailing arms as if they had lost their minds. Any small misunderstanding, any sign of protest from the passers-by, could have taken a nasty turn. It was scary, to put it mildly.

Why turn your festival so ugly?

All these are related proclivities. Bring in religion, tradition and culture and there is basically a free for all situation in our cities, towns and villages. Get yourself associated with a cultural organization and if that cultural organization enjoys a bit of presence in your locality, you can practically get away with murder. When you add politics to it, even the pretense of living in a civilised world evaporates into thin air.

The video of a Muslim Samajwadi Party leader openly telling the crowd that all they have to do is tell their name and the police in his constituency won’t dare to arrest you, recently went viral. Even the starry-eyed supporters of Yogi Adityanath cannot make sense of his silence while someone standing nearby exhorts the crowd to dig out corpses of Muslim women and rape them. When it comes to totally taking law in your own hand, nothing trumps politics. Try to travel on a road from where the cavalcade of even a small minister is passing by.

If you feel all these are unrelated attributes, they are not. The same mentality that encourages a Muslim leader to tell his audience not to fear the police because a Muslim leader is going to make sure they are not arrested, encourages the so-called Gau rakshaks to declare themselves as the guardians of the culture and take extreme steps.

Such tendencies originate from a sense of security. Very few criminals commit a crime thinking that they will be punished. They commit the crime knowing that they can get away. The usual crimes like theft, robbery, murder and rape happen because the person committing the crime thinks that he or she is too smart to get caught. The people committing crimes like the murder that happened in Alwar think that they enjoy the protection of some political party or an influential religious or cultural group.

Yes, cows, many feel, must be protected. Yes, the concept of nationalism in our country has become skewed and terrorists and extremists are portrayed as victims and crusaders. Love for one’s country is suddenly deemed as jingoism and aggressive nationalism. And yes, not all Western values are paragons of progressivism and virtues. In fact, many Western societies are collapsing due to inherent faults in their lifestyles and value systems.

But this gives you no right to make it incumbent upon yourself to make sure people toe the line of your religious and cultural beliefs.

It’s precisely the incidents like these that make people wary of calls to adhere to regressive religious and cultural norms of dress and certain behaviours, no matter from which a religion these calls come. When the anti-Romeo squads were activated in Uttar Pradesh recently lots of indiscretions took place despite the fact that it’s a step in the right direction. Innocent couples were harassed. Fortunately, Yogi Adityanath publicly decried such acts and instructed the police to make sure no innocent couples were harassed and action must be taken only at those places where a crime is actually taking place or where some sort of harassment or eve teasing is actually taking place.

Despite the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently warned the so-called Gau rakshaks to rein in their aggression and function within the peripheries of law and order, it seems a strong message hasn’t been delivered. These rogue elements, in the guise of working for the betterment of their religion and culture, I simply using the current atmosphere to carry out their own nefarious agendas.

In any society when people start taking the law in their own hand, or if they are, whether overtly or covertly, allowed to get away with a few acts of violence just because they pretend to subscribe to a particular ideology, it isn’t just the credibility of the ideology that diminishes, the roots of the society that ideology is supposed to serve are also shaken. It’s not about people being on your side or on another side, it’s about what’s right and what’s wrong.

If not already arrested, these men must be hunted down by the police and an example must be made out of them. There is no place for such vigilantism in the society and in fact, these people give a wrong meaning to vigilantism. This is plain criminal activity.

And when these people are brought to book the media should never fail to report the justice being meted out to them so that the others get the message across.

I don’t care much about being politically correct. Things are just right or wrong and yes, sometimes there are grey areas in this is why we write, don’t we?

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