Authorities are finally moving against the rising tide of ‘cow vigilantism’ in India after a train was attacked and railway staff beaten at Bhubaneswar Station in the Eastern State of Odisha.
Some 20 cows were being transported on the train to Meghalaya where they had been ordered by the State Government for dairy farmers, and there was no question they were destined for slaughter, authorities said.
“However, youths of a right wing organisation raided the parcel van suspecting cattle smuggling. Without knowing the truth, they unloaded the cows and attacked those who were tending the cows,” an official said.
The cow is a sacred animal for India’s majority Hindus, but use of the animal for dairy products is permitted.
After the Bhubaneswar incident Railway Police have opened a case against the youths, alleging railway staff and those tending the cows had been manhandled and the train delayed for 90 minutes. Interfering with the railway system is a serious offence in India.
A senior official of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) distanced the Government in New Delhi from the vigilantism.
Former President of the BJP, Nitin Gadkari said overseas news sources had tried to link the party with the incidents, simply because its majority support was among Hindus.
“It seems that every saffron clad person who appears on television is automatically associated with the BJP. Violence committed in the name of protecting cows is not part of our agenda. These people are not our people,” Gadkari said.
“The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has condemned these attacks. Our Government does not discriminate towards cast, creed and religion. Our fight is against poverty hunger and disease.”
Even so, the violence is increasing. Last month in the village of Jaisinghpur, 90 kilometres from New Delhi, a Muslim dairy farmer was beaten to death by cow vigilantes who accused him of slaughtering his animals, something that has been denied by his family.
Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have detained 11 suspected vigilantes after similar incidents there.
Human Rights Watch says 10 Muslims have been killed in cow vigilante attacks over the past two years.
Tensions between Hindus and Muslims have existed since the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 and outbreaks of violence have plagued the country ever since. There is a perception, especially in more remote areas, that the BJP is a party that favours Hindus and regards Muslims as second class citizens.
If this were true India, which has the second largest Muslim population in the world, could not function. However, as Gadkari pointed out, poverty, hunger and disease have still to be eradicated and while they continue to exist provide fertile ground for those who wish to promote discord.