The Big Story: Bovine theocracy

Two days after he was attacked and brutally beaten by a gang of cow protection vigilantes in Rajasthan, Pehlu Khan, 55, succumbed to his injuries on Tuesday. The vigilantes attacked Khan and four of his associates as they were transporting cows for slaughter. While Khan and his associates claim they were simply transporting their own cattle and had the necessary papers, the gau rakshaks accused them of smuggling cows.

In Rajasthan, cow protection groups often work in tandem with the police. Not only was this murder effected in broad daylight, the assailants were even bold enough to share mobile videos of the lynching. Khan’s associates claim that they were denied proper treatment at the Alwar hospital, reported the Indian Express.

This incident captures the state of the cow in India today: violence in her name is wanton, brutal and carried out openly without fear of the law.

This is, of course, not the first instance of bovine-related violence. India’s first large-scale communal riot in 1893 in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, was driven by the issue of cow protection. However, with the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a lumpen side-show has now taken centre stage. Cow protection laws across India’s states are harsh. States like Madhya Pradesh have junked the legal principal of “innocent until proven guilty” in cases of cow slaughter. In Gujarat, the act carries a life sentence. In India, it seems, the legal system is harsher on people killing cows for food than it is on murderers.

Given the laws in place, the political signalling for cow vigilante violence comes right from the top. Prime Minister Modi himself campaigned in 2014 on the theme of a “pink revolution”, accused the Congress of making money of cow meat. After the 2015 lynching of a Muslim man in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, based on rumours that he had eaten a beef dinner, top BJP leaders weighed in on the side of the alleged killers. The current Uttar Pradesh chief minister’s own private vigilante squad even offered guns to Hindus in Dadri following the incident.

This hysteria is now not even limited to the cow. Given the upper caste distaste against all meat, Uttar Pradesh has now launched a crackdown on even chicken, goat and buffalo meat in the state. Cow vigilante squads have a free run of the state, attacking Muslims transporting cows.

As people in South Asia well know, the failure to maintain the separation between religion and governance has tragic consequences. In Pakistan, post the 1970s, for instance, Muslim attitudes towards blasphemy allowed theological ideas to increasingly be enshrined in law. What resulted was chaos as a host of groups, using religion as their authority, challenged the state itself. Like India’s current cow hysteria, rumours around blasphemy and Quran desecration often result in violence that the state is either unable or unwilling to control.

India’s secularism, while far from perfect, has thus far kept naked theology away from the state. Now with cow protection laws, cow vigilante murders and explicit political backing for cow violence, this separation has all but ended with Hindu theological concepts directing politics and policy. Will bovine anarchy now be India’s future?

The Big Scroll

  1. Meet the people who torture and lynch in the name of protecting the cow, writes Kai Friese.
  2. In Rajasthan, a sadhvi and her cow vigilante group are slowly gaining popularity, reports Abhishek Dey.
  3. Ajaz Ashraf has a short account of India’s long history of hypocrisy on cow slaughter laws.
  4. Beef bans show how politicians manipulate Hindu sentiments around cow slaughter, argues Shoaib Daniyal.

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Political Picks

  1. The Madras High Court directed the Tamil Nadu government to extend loan waivers to all the farmers irrespective of their extent of landholding.
  2. Uttar Pradesh wrote off agrarian loans worth Rs 36,359 crore of nearly 87 lakh small and marginal farmers.
  3. Earlier charged in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, Geetha Johri has now been appointed the director general of police in Gujarat.
  4. With many state governments seeking its intervention in making the Supreme Court reconsider its order banning sale of liquor within 500 metres of highways, the Union government is mulling the idea of making a Presidential Reference to the Supreme Court on the issue.


  1. Discussion on Universal Basic Income shows an ignorance of inconvenient facts in our experience with direct benefit transfer and Aadhaar, argues Reetika Khera in the Indian Express.
  2. Stop Hindi Chauvinism: Uniformity is not a prerequisite for unity, says Vidya Subramanian in the Hindustan Times.
  3. Can a museum achieve in Ayodhya what a temple could not, asks Rama Lakshmi in the Print.


Don’t Miss

How efficient is Aadhaar? There’s no way to know since the government won’t tell, reports Anumeha Yadav.

“Government data and interviews with scheme beneficiaries show that individuals in some states, such as Rajasthan, have faced glitches and fingerprint authentication errors on a massive scale since Aadhaar was made mandatory to access food rations in 2015-’16. Thousands of households could not access their legal food entitlements and pensions because of this.

The beneficiaries are being denied for various reasons: if they do not have an Aadhaar number, if there are data entry errors in the details linked to or seeded in the public distribution database, if the fingerprint authentication does not work for many who do manual work or for the elderly. Also, electricity and internet connectivity problems, especially in remote villages, often mean that beneficiaries have to make multiple trips to the fair price shops, which in turn means losing a day’s wage for many of them.”