For the fainthearted, here is a synopsis: Brave warriors of cow draw swords, shoulder automatic weapons, holster handguns, leap into SUVs and give chase to infidel trucks (intertitle reads “Buchado ke trak ka peecha karte hue” or “in pursuit of the butchers’ truck”). Said trucks are stopped at gunpoint, cattle are discovered and liberated. Trucks are torched and then the real fun starts. The cattle transporters are dragged to grim godowns and bound, hung by the feet or held down and thrashed mercilessly with lathis.
Sometimes their mouths are forced open for the warriors to urinate into. Then they are thrashed some more with particular attention to the knees and the soles of their feet.
The warriors also like to step on the prone, screaming buchads a lot. They love to film their exploits.
Obviously these are propaganda videos intended to inspire and attract more volunteers to the banner of the Cow Liberation Front. There are stirring soundtracks: songs of martial valour (Hindu jage to, vishwa jagega or “When Hindus arise the world will wake”) or keening, plaintive odes on the desecration of our land (Katrahi hai dekho gai apni Bharat mein – See, the cow is being slaughtered in our own Bharat). It is hard to tell how effective they are as a medium of radicalisation and they do fall well short of ISIS benchmarks of production and brutality. But their commitment to cruelty is pure and authentically nativist.
'Make in India' irony
It is all too easy I suppose for those of us with a secular palate to treat the ‘cow question’ as a bad joke and videos like these, for all their horrifying violence, as irredeemably if inadvertently parodic. But with the latest Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, criminalising the consumption of (cow) beef in Maharashtra you might wonder whether militant cow protection is a rising political force in this country.
On the one hand it is certainly a “divisive issue” with a torrid history of inflaming communal sentiments in our subcontinent. Mohammad Ali Jinnah was happy to milk it to his own ends when in a 1944 interview with the American journalist Tom Treanor, he impishly remarked, “Gandhi more than once called the cow his mother. What do I do? I, a Muslim, eat cow. I eat Gandhi’s mother. How can we ever get along?” Gandhi for his part maintained that “Hindus commit no sin, if they cannot prevent cow slaughter at the hands of Muslims, and they do sin grievously when in order to save the cow, they quarrel with the Muslims.”
The fact is that it is actually a lot more complicated than Hindus and Muslims. Dietary restrictions and taboo meats are an emotive issue in many countries: think horseflesh in the UK or USA. But in this country the question is always overdetermined by communal answers, completely obscuring any resolution about even the simple definition of ‘Beef’. It is a nice irony – well, an irony at any rate – that Narendra Modi’s Make in India regime is set to preside over the moment when India becomes the world’s biggest beef exporter. (We were a brisket or two behind Brazil at last count but gaining fast). Most of that is what we like to call "buff" and some call "carabeef" but in the global meat trade and the US Department of Agriculture’s authoritative reckoning it is all counted as beef.
Intriguingly, in one of the Gau Raksha Dal Punjab’s videos, “Gau Raksha Dal True History”, the organisation is at pains to point out that they are only trying to save "pure" cows but feel thwarted by the perfidious cattle traffickers who disguise the sacred animals as buffalos or even foreign breeds (which presumably are not worthy of protection). To wit: “safed gai ke upar kale dhabbe lagajate hain, take nasal badli [hui lage]. Take wo doosri, vilayati gai lage.”
There is of course also a substantial trade in Indian cows for slaughter: the open secret of cattle smuggling on the Bengal-Bangladesh border, involving an estimated 10 million head of cattle, valued at approximately $500 million. It is a business that employs thousands of Indians, a high proportion of whom are unquestionably Hindus. There are no videos of Gau Raksha vigilantes attempting any action direct to staunch this traffic – quite sensibly, since the cow smugglers on this border are well organised and often well armed. But there is a now notorious video, filmed in 2012, allegedly showing Border Security Force jawans beating, stripping and generally torturing an individual, since identified as one Habibur Rahman, at great leisure over what is evidently a tea break on patrol.
The soldiers display little sign of religious indignation at their victim’s alleged crimes against cows, and having interviewed several BSF jawans on this frontier myself I have to say I did not meet a single one who felt strongly about cow protection per se. The prevailing sentiment was rather “why should Bangladeshis’ make all the money?” Many expressed frustration that they were expected to intervene in the trade at all. In fact in 2006 the then Director General of the BSF, AK Mitra, was bold enough to state “I can think of only one solution, why not allow cattle export?”
Yet this harrowing video it seems, is very much of a piece with the Gau Raksha atrocities. What connects them is less the burning issue of saving cows than the cultural aesthetics of beating, of pitai, of ‘kutapa’ (as some Punjabi videos have it) as a leisure activity.
The soundtrack of chai being slurped, interspersed with instructions of “Ghutne pe! Ghutne pe!” punctuated with screams. And on the great entertainment channel of the internet the algorithms of our voyeuristic appetite for violence have been helpfully computed. Kasaiyyo ke truck driver ki Pitai (the soundtrack, with piquant humour, is ‘Kolaveri di’) leads to a recommendation of Bhabi ki pitai as your next video. Majnu da kutapa, perhaps? Ashiq ki pitai, Doctor ki pitai and so on ad nauseam. From the Gulabi Gang to the recent horror in Dimapur we seem to be united by this grotesque national pastime. Everybody loves a good beating.