Gujarat plagued by vigilantes

Updated - July 22, 2016 03:23 pm IST

Published - July 22, 2016 01:00 pm IST - AHMEDABAD:

Demonstrators stop a train at Udhna, Surat, on Thursday in protest against the assault on Dalits.

Demonstrators stop a train at Udhna, Surat, on Thursday in protest against the assault on Dalits.

As many as 200 cow vigilante groups have sprung up Gujarat. They have become a law and order problem because of their aggression and the way they take law into their hands. So much so that Chief Secretary G.R. Gloria told The Hindu on Thursday: “We are going to take strong action against such groups. These vigilantes are self-proclaimed gau rakshaks but in actual fact they are hooligans.”

With names such as Gau Raksha Samiti, Gau Raksha Ekta Samiti, they have percolated from taluka to even village level and the groups take law into their hands to deal with minorities or Dalits, who run slaughter houses or meat businesses.

A senior government official characterised them as “local lumpen elements who have emerged as extra-judicial forces and operate with impunity. They have become a real nuisance.”

He pointed out that “local policemen are complicit in the activities of these groups because they act as informers of police and also many times, they extort money from those in animal trade or in the slaughter house line.”

Armed members of such groups often intercept vehicles transporting animals or raid slaughter houses where they suspect cows are being slaughtered. In the last year there have been around a dozen instances of such groups intercepting vehicles or raiding slaughter houses.

“I was badly beaten up by people from the Gau Samiti three months ago when my tempo carrying two buffalos was intercepted on the national highway near Vadodara. They first asked how many cows were being carried in my vehicle to the slaughter house,” said 28-year-old Altaf Kureshi, a driver in Ahmedabad.

Plea for ban

“Earlier, there were only a few animal protection groups in the State and they were mostly Jains, because Jainism believes in absolute non-violence. But lately, such forces have come up in every nook and corner of the State and their main activity is to terrorise minorities and Dalits,” said general secretary of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Gautam Thakker. He would urge the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to direct the State government to shut down such vigilante groups, Mr. Thakker added.

Kaushik Parmar, who led a fact-finding committee to Mota Samadhiyala village near Una — where some Dalits were beaten up for skinning a dead cow, leading to the current upsurge — said that it was not a one-off episode. Dalits were at the receiving end of the cow protection committees for many months now.

“They had become the target,” he said, adding that “there have been at least three such incidents in the past two months in the area when the Dalit community members were beaten up by these so-called cow vigilante groups. All those are related to skinning of dead cows.”

According to Dalit rights activist Martin Macwan: “Without any legal sanctity or authority, these vigilante groups, patronized and sheltered by local politicians, have become a force in the State. After minorities, they are targeting Dalits now.”

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