A reporter’s diary from 2015 traces the rise of gau rakshaks in Rajasthan.
The lynching in Alwar in the name of cow protection was not a sudden, spontaneous act. Rajasthan labour minister Jaswant Yadav Tuesday blamed “Hindu fury” for 28-year-old Rakbar Khan’s brutal killing in Alwar on the suspicion of cow smuggling.
But what BJP’s Yadav forgot to reveal was that the so-called Hindu fury in Alwar was manufactured over time.
Three years ago, I had travelled to Ramgarh to witness how the ground was being prepared for this day.
They didn’t have to even utter the words ‘kill Muslims’ in the dog-whistle politics. Coded euphemisms were sufficient for the bunch of angry Hindu men who enjoyed police and political support.
When one thinks of gau rakshaks (cow protectors), the image that comes to mind is that of a lathi-wielding, tilak-bearing angry jobless Hindu youth. In fact, there are many among us who would say that the real cause of the hate is unemployment.
But three years ago, Ramgarh’s cauldron of hate and anger was being brewed by men with jobs, families and economic stake. A middle school Sanskrit teacher, a dairy owner, a man who made marble statues of Hindu martyrs and deities, a TV shopkeeper, a doctor and an elected politician who later came to Delhi to count condoms on a beleaguered campus.
Cow vigilantism was the minimised window of their careers.
The self-styled gau rakshaks identified 50 villages in Ramgarh. Their goal was to prepare 20 young men in each village for the mission of saving cows. The young men would then act as a “network of informers”. They would be the eyes and ears of the mission to warn others about suspicious Muslim men who were smuggling cows for slaughter. They were motivated by a paralysing paranoia about an international ‘conspiracy’ to destroy Indian cows.
The chosen youth were bombarded with a steady stream of rhetorical information about fake currency rackets, beef markets in distant Bangladesh, Muslim boys with fake Hindu names, growing ISI presence in the area and the paranoia about Indian cows going extinct and being visible only on wall calendars in the not-too-distant future. The dairy owner told the youth that when the cows disappear, there would be no milk for children in the village.
The gau rakshaks circulated videos and photographs of tied-up cows crammed into trucks. The videos showed some rescue efforts by vigilante teams and some beating of Muslims.
Twice a week, the village youth gathered to conduct all-night vigils, armed with hockey sticks and machetes. The Ramgarh towners guided and led them. They would spread out on rural dirt tracks, hide behind water wells, and man the roads leading to the highway.
They were told to look out for mini-trucks ferrying cows. They would let out strange calls into the night air to communicate with others on the vigil.
The youth were all on an important mission to rescue cows and save the nation from shadowy enemies of their culture and way of life.
The group leaders said that they belonged to the Ramgarh chapter of the Vishva Hindu Parishad and Shiv Sena. They vehemently denied they had anything to do with the BJP. But pressed further, they said, “It is finally our government now, it listens to us. The police pays more attention to our calls now and send its men immediately.”
The local BJP MLA Gyan Dev Ahuja — a burly, moustached politician — said that he offered these men financial support and helped them conduct public meetings to spread awareness about cows.
“People who enact the drama of secularism in India actually dishonour the cow,” said Ahuja.
The local police station’s backyard had a pile of vehicles impounded during civilian beef vigils. The police claimed all these mini trucks were ferrying cows for slaughter.
Speeches, handbills and WhatsApp messages eulogise the cow and endow it with mythic powers in India. Cow protection is linked inextricably to national security. As long as the cow is safe and healthy, our borders are safe too, they are told repeatedly. In the cow’s body resides the health of the republic.
The cow urine, milk and dung can rid our illnesses. Modern urban ailments like blood pressure can be addressed by just caressing a cow. “Scientifically proven,” piped in the doctor.
There is real gold to be extracted from a cow’s urine and silver from its saliva, according to international research scientists.
The image of a wish-granting cow is also circulated, the kamadhenu.
Ahuja told the motley group of cow-protectors that the state of California is electrified by cow urine. The cow is the way for India to regain its prosperity. But he also warned them that if the blood of a cow falls on the soil, there will be earthquakes, volcanos and famine.
Locating the cow’s enemy
The cow in Ramgarh had an enemy. Conveniently, it was the Muslim-majority neighbouring region of Mewat in Haryana. They called it ‘mini-Pakistan’. The region and its influence, they claimed, bled into Ramgarh. And was apparently also the beef trail to Bangladesh.
Every day cows are killed and biryanis are sold on the Mewat highway, they told the villagers. The Muslims of Mewat had guns and fired at unarmed cow protectors.
The villagers were told during a night patrol, “If we want riots, we can engineer it a thousand times. That’s not our aim. We just want to protect the cow.”
The enemy is not just in the neighbouring villages. The enemy is also located in history.
The back of one booklet said: “They came after the temples, then they came after our cows. Their goal is to destroy Hindus.”