Bhopal Archbishop : Vigilante brutality is unacceptable

The recent attack by so-called cow vigilantes in Madhya Pradesh has brought a call by the Catholic Archbishop of Bhopal for stringent action to ensure peace in India’s multi-faith society.

About a week ago, police in the Seoni district of the central state of Madhya Pradesh detained five people for beating up a Muslim man and woman and their Hindu driver. The so-called “cow protectors” accused the three of transporting 140 kilograms of beef. The meat, it is learnt, has been sent for laboratory verification.

The attack on the three — a Muslim man and woman and their Hindu driver — happened on May 22. The arrest came following public outrage after a video on social media showed a group of men tying them to a tree and beating them.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal

In the video, a victim was seen being untied and pushed to the ground before being thrashed with sticks. The attackers then forced him to hit the woman with a slipper and shout “Jai Shri Ram” (Hail Lord Ram). Clearly, the actions of these goon shad less to do with cow-protection and more to do with threat, intimidation, and humiliation, say some observers. They assaulted and battered a man and outraged the modesty of a woman, all on video, yet police hesitate to take firm action.

A state law prohibits cow slaughter and consumption of beef, making them punishable crimes. Ever since the BJP government came to power, gangs of so-called ‘cow protectors’ are used to frighten and harass minorities.

Both the attackers and the victims are in judicial custody, police told media. Police removed the violent video from social media to check its spread.

“This kind of brutality is not acceptable in a civilized society,” Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal told ucanews.com. “It is high time that the government took stringent action against cow vigilantes who take the law into their hands.”

Madhya Pradesh is currently ruled by the Congress party, which last December unseated the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that had ruled the state for 15 years. So far, the state government has been ineffectual in curbing cow-related violence.

Certain Hindu groups, who revere the cow as their ‘mother-god’, support cow vigilantism. It began to take a violent turn across the country after the BJP assumed power in New Delhi in 2014.

At least 28 people were lynched between 2010 and 2017, with 97 percent of cases happening since 2014, according to published reports.

The last five years have brought several incidents of cow vigilantes attacking people on suspicion of transporting cows for slaughter or carrying beef.

Laws exist in 24 out of the 29 Indian states significantly restricting or banning cattle slaughter, economically marginalizing Muslims and Dalits, many of whom work in the beef or leather industries.

The latest action by cow vigilantes “amounts to challenging the state,” said Archbishop Cornelio, urging the state government to bring lawbreakers to justice to ensure communal peace.

“This kind of open display of act of terror will lead to communal division and lawlessness, and no civilized society can afford it,” the prelate said, noting that cow vigilantism has virtually become an attack on Muslims.

Prominent Muslim leaders such as former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti were among politicians who condemned the incident.

Mufti said she was “horrified to see cow vigilantes thrash an innocent Muslim with such impunity.” She wanted Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath to take “swift action against these goons.”

A Christian leader Prabhakar Tirkey observed that the BJP’s recent landslide victory in the national election has emboldened hard-line Hindu groups.

“Unless the top leaders of the Hindu party initiate action against such elements, it will continue,” he told local media.

Recognizing the challenge posed by cow vigilantes to peaceful coexistence of different communities, India’s Supreme Court in July last year recommended parliament draft a law to nip the menace in the bud. However, no follow up action seems to have happened so far.