The violence that engulfed Bulandshahr in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Uttar Pradesh on Monday afternoon has sent shockwaves across the country for the brazenness with which cow vigilantes have undermined the rule of law yet again.

After rumours of cow slaughter were spread in the area, a group of people, Bajrang Dal activists among them, transported animal carcasses to the local police station on tractors, demanding action. The matter escalated quickly. In the mob violence that ensued, police officer Subodh Kumar Singh was shot dead and a civilian was killed. The police post was set on fire, as were several vehicles. (Coincidently, the inspector who was shot dead had been the investigating officer in the Dadri lynching case of 2015, in which a mob killed a Muslim man named Mohammed Akhlaq, claiming that he had killed a calf.)

The manner in which the violence unfolded was truly inhuman. The mob blocked the wounded policeman’s vehicle to prevent him from being taken to hospital. The police suspect that his pistol and mobile phones were stolen by the mob. The mob murdered the police officer despite the fact that the authorities had already registered a first information report against seven people for the alleged act of cow slaughter that had sparked their agitation. This case, filed under pressure, includes two children as suspects.

The Bulandshahr violence is yet another instance of how Hindutva groups have been radicalised by the vitriolic communal rhetoric that has permeated large parts of North India over the last four years, with the cow being used to whip up religious emotions for political gain. It has sunk so deep that even in the depths of her grief, the slain police officer’s sister remembered to pay lip service to the need to protect the cow. Even as she bravely questioned the absence of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath from the state at a time when violence had been unleashed, she made sure to register her view that it was important to protect the cow, which is considered a mother. Adityanath was away campaigning for the BJP in Rajasthan.

The Indian Police Service Association has strongly criticised the violence, saying that the “lethal attack” was the result of “disruptive mob mobilisations”. The statement demonstrates that the senior officers are clearly aware of the communal conspiracies that fuel such incidents but on which they are prevent from acting upon due to political pressure. It is vital for the perpetrators of the Bulandshahr to be punished swiftly and swiftly. At stake is the credibility of the state machinery, particularly the independence of the police force and their ability to protect themselves and the common people.