The violence in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr district is yet another notice of the toll being taken on civic order on account of the failure to crack down on vigilante mobs. Two persons, including a police inspector, lost their lives to bullets fired in Syana when villagers gathered outside a police post in protests over a rumour that cow carcasses had been found in the vicinity. In a curious coincidence, Monday’s violence touches back to the hate crime that marked the beginning of this long spell of vigilante violence over ‘cow protection’ across north India. Subodh Kumar Singh, the inspector killed in Bulandshahr, had been the first investigating officer when Mohammed Akhlaq was lynched near Dadri, also in western U.P., on September 28, 2015 on a rumour that he had beef in his possession. Then as now, an equivalence was sought to be made between the crime of mob violence and murder on the one hand, and the rumoured cow slaughter on the other. Alongside those charged with the violence, who include members of the Bajrang Dal, an FIR has been filed against seven Muslims for alleged cow slaughter. Investigations should reveal whether the mob at the police post formed organically, or whether there was a conspiracy to set up a communally polarising confrontation. In the din of pledges of speedy investigation by everyone from police to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, there is no equivalent messaging that no rumour or act of cow slaughter justifies mob violence.
Ever since the BJP came to power nationally in 2014, its governments in the States have moved to tighten laws prohibiting cow slaughter. Attendant to the legislative prohibition, bands of gau rakshaks, or cow-protection vigilantes, have created an atmosphere of fear, purportedly acting on suspicion of cow slaughter to round up and lynch at will cattle traders and passersby alike. Probes into the killing, in most cases, move in parallel with investigations into the allegations of cow slaughter or the possession of beef. And in a pattern that has crystallised, the hurt sentiments of gau rakshaks are played up to reinforce an equivalence between actual murderous crime and rumoured cow slaughter (often, as in the case of Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan’s Alwar district in April 2017, just for transporting cattle). The police, picking up the political signalling or even out of fear of being outnumbered, tend to play down the gravity of the crime — as in the case of a lynching in Hapur this year, initially projected as an outcome of road rage. In a disturbing indication of the impunity gau rakshaks believe they enjoy, they have captured on camera incidents of violence, including Monday’s. Why wouldn’t they, when the state has been playing to their script.