Dangerous vigilantism

Updated - November 17, 2021 05:07 am IST

Published - July 21, 2016 01:55 am IST

Even as the reverberations of the > violence inflicted on a group of Dalit men by “cow protection” vigilantes near the small Gujarat town of Una are felt in Parliament, > the protests continue to spread across the State . Large parts of Saurashtra, the region rocked most by agitations led by Dalit groups, were practically shut down on Wednesday >after a bandh call , and different modes of protest have been adopted. It is a protest that appears to have grown organically in response to the violence the men bore on July 11, a video of which had been posted online by one of the assailants. They were stripped, flogged, bound and paraded on accusations that they had killed a cow for skinning. It is a videographic record of both random and systemic cruelty. The various modes of protest must be seen as a cry for redressal and systemic social change all around. Some have protested >by attempting suicide , and one died after consuming a poisonous substance. Certain protesters have taken to dumping animal carcasses near a district official’s office. There has been mobilisation on the streets across Gujarat, with one policeman succumbing to injuries after stone-pelting by protesters. There are plans for more State-wide protests. This is a rage that needs a comprehensive and holistic response rather than a confrontationist approach relying heavily on firefighting.

Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel has met the victims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the atrocity and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke about the assault in Parliament, terming such acts against Dalits a social evil that everyone must come together to combat. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has sought to corner the Bharatiya Janata Party for “social terror”, and party leaders are scheduled to visit Una, as are representatives of many other political parties. The victims of the Una assault must be reassured by the authorities seeing to it that their assailants are punished; moreover, the administration must ensure their safety, so that reprisals are not visited upon them. But for this to happen, the Central and State governments need to level with the people. Cow protection ( gau raksha ) cannot be a cover for the pursuit of the kind of aggressive vigilantism that has been witnessed in different parts of the country, more often than not as an exercise in communal consolidation. That violence and intimidation in the name of the cow (or beef) will not be tolerated is a message that needs to go out quickly and unequivocally — not only from the Gujarat government but also from the Centre.

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