igarh, in Western Uttar Pradesh, came quite close to a full blown communal clash earlier this year. A cow was found slaughtered in Tappal, a village 50 km from Aligarh, some time in June.
Thousands of people, armed to teeth, were swarming into the village to kill the person they suspected. Yes, somebody – predictably a Muslim – was about to lose his life just as Mohammed Akhlaq did three months later.
The story was widely reported in local papers. The police came to the spot to remove the carcass from the scene. They managed to do it only in their third attempt. But they averted a possible tragedy.
Everyone remembers the story in their own different ways. Everyone does because cow slaughter in Uttar Pradesh, as mobs have already shown, means certain death. Listening to various versions of this story recounted by people working to protect cows tells you a bit about them.
Take the case of Shivdutt Sharma, who runs a gaushala – a cow shelter – in Tappal. He left his family and made his life’s mission to tend to stray cows.
“We met thousands of people who came to Tappal to avenge the slaughter of the cow. We told them that the shelter is running out of money. That we desperately need money to feed the cows. Not one of them came forward.”
He thinks that all the people who’re ready to kill and be killed to protect cows aren’t doing Hinduism or the cow any good.
“Shouting that our mother cow is great, Hinduism is great or sloganeering against cow slaughter isn’t going to help the religion nor the cow. Let these people know that.”
This is an insider’s critique of the violence carried out in the name of protecting the religion, and for that reason cannot be dismissed lightly.
Though noteworthy also is Sharma’s warped ideas about cow and its benefits. Such as the belief that cow urine can cure people of cancer, or that its dung can protect people from a nuclear bomb. But that’s the extent to which his delusions go.
Pooja Shakun Pandey, national secretary, Hindu Mahasabha – an exclusively Hindu political party – on the other hand, thinks the victim of mob lynching in Dadri was a Pakistani agent. She also regrets taking “a decisive action” in Tappal. Members of her faction wish each other ‘jai gau maata’ every time they meet.
“Why does nobody talk about Mohammed Akhlaq’s visit to Pakistan? We know that he went there and spent time with terrorists. And look how prosperous he later became. Why isn’t media highlighting this aspect of his life?”
This, more sinister sort of delusion, is what binds a lot of cow protection vigilante groups together. Satya Prakash Nauman, who runs a group called Dharam Jagaran Samiti, which claims to have converted thousands of Muslims to Hinduism, thinks Akhlaq was a Pakistan agent who got what he deserved.
What these no-holds-barred interviews show is the similarity and the often self contradictory ideas of cow protectors. It is important to know what and how they think, because violence over the issue of cow slaughter is only likely to increase. Especially as communally charged Uttar Pradesh goes to polls in 2017.
You can see Part 1 of the series here: