Uttar Pradesh Police chief Sulkhan Singh has asked officers to take “effective” action against vigilantes taking the law into their hands in cases related to cow protection, religious conversions and moral policing, PTI reported on Saturday. The directive was sent on Friday.

A department spokesperson said Singh had asked the officials to use their intelligence networks to identify the vigilantes and prepare dossiers on them. The police officers have also been encouraged to file cases against such people.

Singh is believed to have said that he had reports about ‘gau rakshaks’ indulging in arson after getting information about cow slaughter. He also mentioned incidents where vigilantes had assaulted people and destroyed vehicles that were allegedly illegally transporting cows. The spokesperson said the police chief had also ordered action against those found harassing couples in the name of moral policing.

“Vigilantes taking up issues related to cow or love affairs should not be allowed to take law in their hands,” Singh had said after taking charge of the force on April 21. “Strict action should be initiated if any such case comes to fore.”

Vigilantism has been on the rise in the recent months with state governments ordering strict actions to protect cows. The UP government, under the leadership of Chief Minister Adityanath, has ordered crackdown on illegal slaughterhouses and formed anti-Romeo squads.

On April 28, the Human Rights Watch had 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 had 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.