In a public interest litigation (PIL) filed at the Gujarat High Court (HC) in 2016, following the atrocities on Dalits in Una alleging killing of cows, the respondents sought time to reply on action taken by the state. The respondents include the state government, additional chief secretary (ACS) of Home Department and the principal secretary of Ministry of Panchayats.
The PIL sought to end “unlawful activities in the name of cow vigilantism” and submits to have been filed in the interest of the Dalit community, particularly on the behalf of those in villages. Ambedkar Karwan, the petitioner organisation, stated that skinning animal carcasses is a traditional occupation for many Dalits.
“Many hooligans and cow vigilante groups have flourished in the state over the past few years, doing moral policing by forcing themselves as protector of cows… They circulate news and videos of their self-style raids and barbaric acts to prove their existence and create terror among Dalits and Muslim communities who are involved in meat business,” stated the PIL.
The PIL has referred to the July 2016 incident of Dalits who were flogged at Mota Samadhiyala village of Una. A group of cow vigilantes had assaulted several members of a family who were skinning a cow carcass.
“The administration is keen on implementing the law protecting cows as a sacred animal, but there is no protection available to the persons who work on these cows once they are dead. The state government is very much interested in so-called “Gau Raksha” that it is not bothered to control the illegal actions of the “Gau Rakshaks”,” the PIL states, citing a 2011 amendment to the Gujarat Animal Preservation Act that put a stop to cow slaughter in the state.
The 2016 PIL further states that the ACS has become a “spectator” of incidents of atrocities and that no guidelines or circulars have been provided by the police department, regarding the action that must be taken by them against such hooligans.
However, Advocate Ratna Vora, who is also the president of the petitioner-organisation, submitted that this has been taken care in a 2018 Supreme Court order which lays down the guidelines to curb lynching incidents by Gau Rakshaks. The PIL states that despite stipulation under the Gujarat Panchayats Act for systematic disposal of carcasses, no specific guidelines or circulars are issued to this effect.
Therefore, the PIL’s prayer, which sought that the court direct the ACS to issue circulars to all police departments and officers to take proactive action in such cases of cow vigilantism, has been taken care of.
However, in light of other prayers regarding cow vigilantism, a reply on behalf of the government is expected by February 18.
One such prayer seeks the court’s direction for the formation of a committee — comprising members of the civil society and government departments — to frame rules with respect to systematic disposal of carcasses, while ensuring alternative livelihood options for those engaged in the profession of skinning of carcasses.
The Una atrocity victims had recently written to the President of India seeking his intervention in providing them with land, as they have been rendered without a source of income in the aftermath of the assault inflicted on them.
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