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photographs of Muslims tonsured in Sanavad ton of Khandwa district on August 31 (2) new

A 2011 act in MP to protect cows is being used by right-wing goons to harass and accuse people of carrying beef even as the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government and the police are mute spectators

By Rakesh Dixit in Bhopal


A draconian law on cow protection is being used to harass innocents in Madhya Pradesh for the last four years. The law—“Gauvansh Vadh Pratishedh (Sanshodhan) Adhiniyam” or the Madhya Pradesh Prohibition of Slaughter of Cow-Progeny (Amendment) Act—was promulgated in December 2011. It replaced the Madhya Pradesh Gauvansh Pratishedh Adhiniyam (Madhya Pradesh Bovine Prohibition Act, 2004), which was passed during the tenure of another BJP chief minister, Uma Bharati. Madhya Pradesh is the first state where the consumption of beef was made illegal.

The couple assaulted by goons.
                                                    The couple assaulted by goons.

Under the 2011 Act, “a police constable or anyone authorised by a competent authority shall have the power of entry, inspection, search and seizure and to present the case in court.” It says that “no person, including a transporter, shall transport or offer to transport or cause to be transported any cow progeny, either by himself or through an agent, servant or any other person acting on his behalf, within the State or outside it, with the knowledge that the calf would be or was likely to be slaughtered”.

Between 2011 and 2015, more than 12,000 people have been arrested under the amended law and more than 1,500 of them have been convicted. However, these numbers don’t tell the real story because many cases go unreported as those caught prefer to “settle” them.

ASSAULTED OVER BEEF

The latest incident of harassment occurred at Khirkiya railway station in Harda district of MP on January 15. Seven members of Gauraksha Samiti suddenly swooped down on a general compartment of the Kushinagar Express in the middle of the night and started searching passengers’ luggage. They had been tipped off that some passengers were carrying beef. When the passengers, including Mohammad Hussain (43) and his wife Naseema Bano (38) who were on their way to their hometown in Harda, objected, the right-wing goons assaulted them. Finally, they traced a black bag containing “beef”.  The bag belonged to none of the passengers targeted by the men. Moreover, subsequent laboratory tests proved that the bag contained buffalo meat, not beef.

Cattle transporters are increasingly coming under attack
                            Cattle transporters are increasingly coming under attack

Such incidents were too common in Madhya Pradesh in the past to get adequate media attention. But the national uproar over the lynching of a Muslim in Dadri on September 28 last year over suspicion of keeping beef in his home seems to have made the media more aware and the police, more alert. However, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government bowed down to Hindutva forces despite the police getting clinching evidence against the main culprit.

A posse of Government Railway Police (GRP) force intervened to avert the situation from turning more violent. The police arrested two members of the Gauraksha Samiti from the spot. They were booked under Sections 294 (obscene language), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) of the IPC and Section 153 of the Railways Act (endangering safety of passengers travelling by railway by wilful act or omission).

 THREAT BY GOONS

However, the unseemly episode did not end with the arrests. The next day, the “chief” of the arrested duo, Surendra Singh Rajpurohit alias Tiger, warned Harda’s Superintendent of Police Prembabu Sharma to be ready for a repeat of “September 2013”, where more than 40 right-wing activists were allegedly involved in riots in Khirkiya-Chhipbad after the carcass of a cow was found in a field. The Gauraksha Samiti had alleged that the cow was slaughtered, but the veterinary hospital in Khirkiya later said the animal had died after consuming polythene bags.

An audio of Rajpurohit’s threat on the phone to the police officer has gone viral, where he was heard accusing the police of partisan action against Hindus. Telling Rajpurohit not to threaten him, SP Sharma purportedly said: “Even if I die, I won’t let the riots take place again.’’

The youth tonsured in Sanavad town of Khandwa district
       The youth tonsured in Sanavad town of Khandwa district

However, when the media reported the audio conversation, the SP went on the back foot, saying that what Rajpurohit had said did not amount to a threat. Named in nearly a dozen cases of arson and rioting, Rajpurohit is currently on bail. The police did not register a criminal case against him.

The reason for the police pusillanimity on such communal issues is not far to seek. Right-wing activists, more often than not, get away by terrorizing alleged cattle smugglers or beef carriers in the state. When the police choose to act, various outfits join ranks to exert pressure on the BJP government to undo the police action. These outfits allege harassment of “innocent Hindus” and appeasement of “beef-eating Muslims”. The Shivraj Singh government yields to their pressure.   In the Khirkiya episode too, this is what happened.

Despite the clean chit to Rajpurohit, the Hindu Ekta Manch (HEM) forced a complete bandh on Khirkiya-Chhipabad town to protest the alleged partisan attitude of the police. HEM, incidentally, is like numerous amorphous outfits which have different names. Most of them are fronts for the Bajrang Dal and the Vishva Hindu Parishad.

COMMANDO FORCE

One such organization which was involved in the Khirkiya incident is called the Gauraksha Commando Force. It was formed by Rajpurohit a few years ago and its members carry smart identity cards identifying them as “cow saviours”. Other cow protection committees too have proliferated in MP after the BJP came to power in 2003. The first cabinet decision taken by the government, then headed by Uma Bharati, was to clear a strict anti-cow slaughter act.

Cattle traders often accuse these cow vigilantes of harassment and extortion for transporting cattle with all valid permissions. The recovery of carcasses, even of cows dying a natural death, is a continual source of tension for the police and the administration. On August 31 in Sanawad town of Khandwa district in west Madhya Pradesh, members of the Gauraksha Samiti thrashed and partially tonsured four persons while accusing them of carrying cattle for slaughter in two pick-up vehicles. 

The victims had bought the cattle for agriculture purposes from a weekly fair and produced the receipt of the purchase to the assailants but to no avail. The cattle buyers were then forcibly taken to the near-by Dhangaon police station where they were booked under the 2011 law for cow slaughter that puts the onus of proving the prosecution wrong on the accused. 

A person found guilty of cow slaughter is liable to imprisonment up to seven years and a minimum fine of Rs 5, 000. It even empowers a head constable to arrest a person charged with consuming beef or slaughtering a cow. The arrest can be made on mere suspicion and that was what the police did in this case. The police however, spared the assailants.

 Earlier, on August 12, Bajrang Dal activists vandalized trucks allegedly involved in cattle smuggling in Jabalpur in central Madhya Pradesh. The police stopped several trucks carrying cattle on suspicion of smuggling.
Goons stormed the spot. When it transpired that the cattle was not being smuggled, they created a brawl and alleged that the animals were being carried in the trucks in an inappropriate manner due to which some died and several others injured.

Chief Minister Chouhan maintains that the anti-cow slaughter act is necessary to boost the agrarian economy that is hugely dependent on cattle. Ironically, buffalo slaughter is permitted in the state and Madhya Pradesh is one of the biggest exporters of buffalo meat in India.

One man’s meat is obviously another man’s poison.

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