The Vishwa Hindu Parishad on Tuesday defended cow vigilante groups as “victims, not tyrants”, saying protecting the animal is “an indispensable part of gau seva,” PTI reported.“Gau paalan, gau sanrakshan, gau sanvardhan and gau raksha complete the circle of gau seva [Raising cows, as well as conserving, promoting and protecting them, complete the circle of serving cows],” said VHP Joint General Secretary Surendra Jain.

His statement was an apparent reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s disapproval of “killing people in the name of gau bhakti [devotion to cows]”. “This is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve of,” Modi had said in Gujarat’s Sabarmati Ashram on June 29.

Jain, however, argued that Mahatma Gandhi “had said swaraj [self-rule] is incomplete without gau raksha”. “He understood the strong resolve of Hindus for gau raksha, and therefore, made it the centre-point of our freedom struggle.”

He believes that “vested interests are creating a poisonous atmosphere in the country” that “can be checked only through a strong anti-cow slaughter central law” “Once the law is implemented, there will be no need for a struggle,” Jain claimed, according to The Telegraph. “In the past 10 years, more than 50 policemen and gau rakshaks have been killed by cow killers. It proves that gau rakshaks are victims, not tyrants.”

His comments come at a time when thousands are protesting against frequent lynchings in the name of cow protection across the country. Modi’s comments came a day after citizens across India took to the streets to protest against the lynching of Muslims and other incidents of communal and caste-based violence.

The latest in this string of attacks is the killing of a Muslim boy aboard a local train from Delhi to Ballabhgarh, Haryana, on June 22.On Junaid Khan’s murder, Jain said “whoever is killed, it is not right”, but accused the media of selectively reporting on such incidents and ignoring “deadly attacks” on cow protectors.