India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is increasingly using communal rhetoric to spur a violent vigilante campaign against religious minorities, reveals a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The 104-page report titled, “Violent Cow Protection in India: Vigilante Groups Attack Minorities,” states that between May 2015 and December 2018, at least 44 people – including 36 Muslims – were killed in attacks across 12 Indian states. The victims were accused of consuming beef or engaging in cattle trade. Troublingly, the violence was often justified by BJP politicians, said HRW.
About 90 per cent of these attacks were reported after the BJP came to power in May 2014.
Police, the report further adds, often stall the prosecutions of the attackers.
“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 Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Indian authorities should stop egging on or justifying these attacks, blaming victims, or protecting the culprits.”
The HRW report further recounts that in December, an angry mob set fire to a police station in Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh after villagers claimed to have found carcasses of cows. Two people, including a police officer, were killed. The chief minister of UP instead of condemning the violence describe the incident as an “accident,” before warning that “illegal slaughtering, and not just cow slaughter, is banned in the entire state.”
“These policies and the vigilante attacks,” states the report, “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. The attacks, often by groups claiming links to militant outfits linked to the BJP, largely target Muslim, Dalit, or Adivasi (indigenous) communities.”