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Nearly a week after they assaulted a Muslim couple in a train over suspicion of carrying beef at Khirkiya Railway Station in Madhya Pradesh, members of a ragtag group called the Gauraksha Commando Force (GCF) have succeeded in equating the crackdown on them with an attack on Hindutva.
Responding to a call given by Hindu Ekta Manch (HEM), the Khirkiya-Chhipabad town observed a complete bandh on Monday to protest the alleged partisan approach of the police who have been accused of favouring Muslims.
The newly-formed organization has given the police and administration 48 hours to act against the ‘real culprits’ who allegedly beat up GCF members inside a Government Railway Police chowki or face an indefinite bandh.
The Gauraksha Commando Force has no legal or administrative recognition in Madhya Pradesh but the young, and often unemployed members believe they have a moral sanction to take the law into their own hands. Their smart identity cards identify each member as a ‘cow saviour’ with a stated mission to ensure “cow slaughter free India”, and, thereby, to save “Hindu Religion”.
“We are forced to carry out searches because the police don’t do their job. Why does the government pass anti-cow slaughter legislation if it’s not serious about protecting the Gaumata?’’ they ask when questioned about their illegal actions.
The GCF operates only around Harda district but Gauraksha Samitis exist everywhere in the state and their members often carry out similar operations on state and national highways when they see vehicles carrying cattle.
The cow protection committees have proliferated in the state after the BJP came to power at the end of 2003. The first cabinet decision taken by the government, then headed by Uma Bharati, was to clear a strict anti-cow slaughter act that was amended once again a few years ago.
Cattle traders often accuse the cow vigilantes of harassment and extorting money for transporting cattle with all valid permissions. The recovery of carcasses, even of cows dying a natural death, is a continual source of tension for the police and the administration. Authorities often slap the National Security Act (NSA) on those held for cow slaughter.
Between 2011 and 2015 more than 12,000 people were arrested under the amended law and more than 1500 of them were convicted, numbers that don’t tell the real story because many cases go unreported when those caught prefer ‘settlement’ over litigation and harassment.