“Stop attacking Dalits…shoot me if you want, not them,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said to cow vigilante groups on Sunday, a day after he had first panned “fake gau rakshaks”, saying they make him angry. The prime minister had so far been silent on the issue, even as the outcry continued over four Dalit tanners being assaulted by such a group in his home state in July.

According to The Indian Express, Modi was addressing party workers in Hyderabad on Sunday when he said, “This game should stop.There are a few incidents that are very shameful. It is our duty to protect and respect the poor and Dalit people of our country .” The former Gujarat chief minister added that such incidents cause “unbearable pain”. “There are a few bad elements, shortcomings in our society. What right do we have to illtreat our Dalit brothers and sisters? We are the people who talk about Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam [the world is a family].”

Both the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological backbone the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh also put out statements against cow vigilanteism. BJP leader Sidharth Nath Singh said, “There cannot be more direct censure by the Prime Minister,” while RSS general secretary Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi criticised the so-called cow protection activists for being opportunists, and said it can “make the sacred task of gau raksha look supect”.

On Saturday, Modi had said at his town hall event, ”Gau rakshaks [cow protectors] indulge in anti-social activities; cow vigilantism is just a ruse to hide their misdeeds." He added that such self-proclaimed gau rakshaks make him angry, saying they "run shops" in the name of cow protection. More than five people have died in 16 such incidents across the country in the past few months.