The government of India should prevent and prosecute mob violence by vigilante groups targeting minorities in the name of so-called cow protection, said Human Rights Watch.
A 104-page report, "Violent Cow Protection in India: Vigilante Groups Attack Minorities," prepared by the international organisation Human Rights Watch mentions the use of "communal rhetoric" by members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to spur a violent vigilante campaign against consumption of beef and those engaged in cattle trade.
At least 44 people, between May 2015 and December 2018, - including 36 Muslims - were killed in such attacks, the report read. It added that police often stalled prosecutions of the attackers while several BJP politicians publicly justified the attacks.
"Calls for cow protection may have started out as a way to attract Hindu votes, but it has transformed into a free pass for mobs to violently attack and kill minority group members," said Human Rights Watch.
"Indian authorities should stop egging on or justifying these attacks, blaming victims, or protecting the culprits."
The report details 11 cases that resulted in the deaths of 14 people, and the government response, in four Indian states – Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Jharkhand – selected because of their large numbers of reported mob attacks.
These policies and the vigilante attacks have disrupted India’s cattle trade and the rural agricultural economy, as well as leather and meat export industries that are linked to farming and dairy sectors, Human Rights Watch said.
The attacks, often by groups claiming links to militant outfits linked to the BJP, largely target Muslim, Dalit (formerly known as “untouchables”), or Adivasi (indigenous) communities. The inadequate response from the authorities to these attacks is hurting communities, including Hindus, whose livelihoods are linked to livestock, including farmers, herders, cattle transporters, meat traders, and leather workers, Human Rights Watch said.
In almost all of the cases documented, the police initially stalled investigations, ignored procedures, or were even complicit in the killings and cover-ups. “Police face political pressure to sympathize with cow protectors and do a weak investigation and let them go free,” said a retired senior police officer in Rajasthan. “These vigilantes get political shelter and help.”
In several cases, political leaders of Hindu nationalist groups, including elected BJP officials, defended the assaults. In December, an angry mob set fire to a police station and burned several vehicles in Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh after villagers found some animal carcasses that they said came from slaughtered cows.
Two people, including a police officer who confronted the mob, were killed. Instead of condemning the violence, the chief minister described the incident as an “accident,” and then warned that, “Illegal slaughtering, and not just cow slaughter, is banned in the entire state.” A senior police official said investigators were determined to prosecute those involved in slaughtering cows. “The cow-killers are our top priority,” he said. “The murder and rioting case is on the back burner for now.”
with IANS inputs