Today, “Cow vigilantism” is commonly used in India to describe the current lawlessness happening under the rubric of Cow protection. The word “vigilant” means keeping lookout for possible difficulties or danger. The term “vigilante” refers to a self-appointed person or a group of persons that undertakes to enforce the law without any legal authority. It also includes persons who take the law into their own hands to avenge what they may perceive to be crime. No definition of “vigilante” includes what is happening in India: Murder and violence of men by other men in illegally and extra-judicially enforcing religious beliefs.
As a euphemism, Cow vigilantism conceals more than it reveals. It bestows a measure of social, moral and legal legitimacy to the so-called Cow protectors. More tragically, and to a large degree, it hides their criminality: It conceals the truth of men killing other men in the name of the Cow. Cow vigilantism as an expression has sadly become a convenient cloak for violence, brutality, murder and mayhem in the name of the Cow. The convenient robe of words “Cow vigilantism” and “Cow vigilantes” deceptively and quite ironically elevates murderers of men to the pedestal of protectors of Cows. Even the RSS chief recently acknowledged that the illegal and violent acts of the ‘vigilantes’ in the name of the Cow actually defile her. The truth is that in this immense profaning of the sacred underway in the violence in India, India is rendered a human abattoir – a slaughterhouse of men and women to save Cows from slaughter.
Cows are sacred to many; and one respects that. But violence by humans upon humans – regardless of the reason being sacred or profane – is inhumane; in any civilised society that much is common ground – at the very least it should be – among the killers and the killed in the Cow’s name. If this much can’t be presumed in a civil society, the society is uncivil and the continuing slaughter in the name of the Cow then is a much larger tragedy than previously feared.
In ancient India, often, and sometimes in modern India too, we have killed human beings of the so-called lower castes at the altar of the perceived to be angry and demonic ‘Gods’. In the modern and democratic India, when did we decide we shall continue to believe that protection of the sacred demands and deserves the brutalisation and murder of the alleged human desecrators and defilers? In order to ‘please’ the mighty gods – seen or unseen, perceived or unperceived, felt or unfelt, existent or nonexistent – the midget minds wreak havoc on our bodies and souls and the body and soul of India; causing wounds and scars – drenched in blood – the depth, despair and lethality of which they know not.
Yet we continue, existing, merely being. We dare not awake lest we rise to the human truth within us: That human life is sacred; that the holiness of the Cow mustn’t supersede the sanctity of human life. There once was a Mahatma in our country. We called him Bapu. We used to worship him. He worshipped the Cow and the man but had declared his refusal to kill man to protect the Cow. The ideological ancestors of the current killers of men in the name of the Cow silenced his body with bullets; but his thunderous message survives and even reverberates today – but not in the hearts and minds of the killers numbed by their own inhumanity.
In the ongoing insanity and horrific drama of the killings in the name of the Cow, someone has petitioned the Supreme Court of India to declare the killings of Dalits and other minorities to be a crime of “extortion”. Killing or assaulting men and women is already illegal. One would have thought there would have been no need for anyone to petition a court. But petition someone did because the governments of the day, blinded and stymied by their own political calculations, religious beliefs, biases and prejudices refuse to govern for all the citizens of the states and the country. The courts shouldn’t have to ask governments to protect people’s lives or to enforce the law; those are the fundamental moral and legal obligations all democratically elected governments owe to the people they govern; but not in India, sadly, eh!
“In killing men and women in the Cow’s name, the killers desecrate the Cow,” is what Bapu the Mahatma would have said. Violence in the name of the sacred makes the perpetrator profane. The murderers of Akhlaq and Alwar are indelible and inhumane blemishes splattered across the holy canvas of India struggling to free itself from the clutches of the frenzied violence in the name of religion.
Once before, during the Independence movement, India had allowed itself to be overtaken by the zealotry and politics of religion. The deep, deadly and divisive wounds of such zealotry and politics tormented and forever wounded the soul of the country ending in the deathly debacle of partition of 1947.
Once again, the slaughter of men in the name of Cows threatens to slash and slice the soul of India. In the matters Sacred or Profane, India can no longer afford to be a mute spectator to the brutal assassination of its multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-racial soul. It must speak out, speak up and, for all to see, stand up for its soul. The views expressed by the author are personal. Dosanjh is former Premier of British Columbia, and former Canadian Minister of Health. He tweets @ujjaldosanjh