The Human Rights Watch on Thursday urged the Indian government to “prosecute self-appointed ‘cow protectors’” or “face allegations of complicity” for the brutal attacks against Muslims and Dalits over rumours that they traded or killed cows. In a report, the NGO has pointed out that instead of taking action against these vigilantes – “many linked to extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party” – the police have often filed complaints against the victims under laws banning cow slaughter.

Self-appointed ‘cow protectors’ driven by irresponsible populism are killing people and terrorising minority communities,” said HRW South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly. “The mild admonitions from BJP leaders when Muslims and Dalits are lynched over cows sends a message that the BJP supports this violence,” Ganguly said.

The “India: ‘Cow Protection’ Spurs Vigilante Violence” report accuses senior BJP leaders of instigating “hate crimes”. “Since the BJP came to power in May 2014, extremist Hindu groups supporting [Narendra] Modi and his party have led vigilante mob attacks across the country to enforce “nationalism,” it said. It added that authorities have “largely ignored the young men roaming streets and beating up Muslims and Dalits in the name of protecting cows”.

The study condemned the incidents of violence reported since May 2015, when a “violent vigilante campaign against beef consumption” began. It noted the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh (September 2015), the bodies of two cattle traders found hanging from a tree in Jhabbar, Jharkhand (March 2016) and the thrashing of four Dalit men in Una, Gujarat (July 2016).

The HRW report also noted the more recent raid on a Muslim hotel in Jaipur, Rajasthan (March 2017), lynching of Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan’s Alwar (April 2017), the cow-vigilante attack on a nomadic family transporting livestock in Jammu and Kashmir (April 2017) and the assault of buffalo transporters in Delhi’s Kalkaji (April 2017). It also noted the crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses in Uttar Pradesh since the BJP appointed Adityanath chief minister.