Murder as alibi for protection

I was relieved when the prime minister, Narendra Modi, made a clear distinction between gau rakshaks and criminals. He condemned the ongoing criminalization of the cow protection agenda. He had lamented the miserable plight of India's cows, thousands of which perish from starvation. Plastic kills more cows in India than all the cow smugglers put together. Cows perish even in gaushalas, or cow shelters. Our cows are the victims of the lethal plastic-corruption combine.

By Swami Agnivesh
  • Published 6.09.18
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I was relieved when the prime minister, Narendra Modi, made a clear distinction between gau rakshaks and criminals. He condemned the ongoing criminalization of the cow protection agenda. He had lamented the miserable plight of India's cows, thousands of which perish from starvation. Plastic kills more cows in India than all the cow smugglers put together. Cows perish even in gaushalas, or cow shelters. Our cows are the victims of the lethal plastic-corruption combine.

It worries me that an assumption meant to mislead the country is being legitimized. It is necessary that we, as citizens, understand it for what it portends. The assumption is that the enemies of Muslims and Dalits, by reason of their hate and willingness to murder, are cow-lovers. This is a crude version of the cliché, 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend', which is discredited even in politics. It is an insult to the spiritual sensitivity and maturity of Indians that this idea is marketed under the label of Hinduism.

Citizens of a mature democracy have a duty to think for themselves. To surrender their rationality to the manufacturers of murderous propaganda who mask their indefensible interests behind aggressive religiosity is to consent to be a herd, driven here and there by unscrupulous elements. It is to become complicit in the annihilation of freedom as a spiritual and democratic value. History teaches us that only those who are mentally and spiritually free are entitled to political, social and cultural freedom.

The present-day gau rakshaks are de facto enemies of freedom. To see this aright, all we need to do is to focus on the idea of ' raksha'. The gau rakshaks who terrorize defenceless individuals are presumably 'saving' the cow. They are doing so, apparently, because they are committed to life. The sanctity we attach to the cow, which I endorse fully, is rooted in the sanctity of life itself. Underlying the cow-protection mission is, therefore, a commitment to the inviolability of life in all its forms and manifestations. If there is no life, there is no cow either.

The lie that lynching alleged cow-stealers and cow-slaughterers is justifiable vis-à-vis cow-protection is indefensible. Those who kill are killers. Murderers cannot be protectors of life. At least this much common sense we have, irrespective of our different religious and denominational labels. This common sense was articulated by Modi when he last spoke on the issue. The good sense Modi expressed has not prevailed. Instead, he was silenced by the militant peddlers of religious obscurantism. This is a front from which Modi, for all his famed invincibility, beat a hasty retreat. He has been silent on this count ever since.

Now, a word on the stupidity of assuming that killing human beings is legitimate if it is to express one's love for cows. This nugget of sinister obscurantism rests on the assumption that killing the presumed offender is all that one can do in the context. This is an insult to the rule of law. Only in a lawless society, or failed State, can killing be the sole response to killing.

What this mindset overlooks is the fact that the very sanctity of the cow issues from respect for life. The cow is a nourisher of life, not a signpost to criminality. So, the present-day gau rakshaks insult the cow - and mock the very logic of her worth - with the alibi of protecting her. I cannot help the feeling, and the indignation it breeds, that the gau rakshaks assault the idea of the cow, even as they lynch alleged cow-smugglers. Violence and the cow are incompatible.

Under no circumstance should cow protection be allowed to become an alibi for giving free vent to sadistic and criminal propensities. Especially so when violence is preferred to lawful remedies. Atrocities perpetrated on cows can be prevented or punished under provisions of the law. Religion should not be an excuse for taking law into one's own hands. Our gau rakshaks are not cow-lovers; they are man-haters and murderers.

Cow-protection related lynching presents the further problem of street courts and rogue justice. Highly educated and trained officers in our legal system take enormous pains to examine the pros and cons of a case and arrive finally at the culpability or otherwise of an accused. In the kangaroo courts run by gau rakshaks, judgment and execution of the accused happen at the same time at the hands of biased and bloodthirsty zealots. The complainants serve as judge-and-executioner. This is unacceptable, a naked defiance of the rule of law.

Our eyes are sought to be shut against the danger and depravity in the present scenario by the subterfuge of communal polarization, which is, in itself, an atrocity on our shared spiritual heritage. We have a duty to see through the stratagems to trap us in concentric circles of aberrations so as to shut our eyes of discernment and make us indifferent to our degradation.

But have no doubt: what looks like a mischievous cat playing somewhere out there could spring up as a bloodthirsty tiger, not long from now, in our own living rooms.