On the road with gau rakshaks

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The newly appointed Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has cracked down on illegal slaughterhouses across the state. Commentators have argued the ban is on illegal operations and not otherwise, but the BJP has long pushed for a ban against beef (and buffalo meat) across India since it came to rule the Centre in 2014. In this excerpt from The Book of Beef: A Look Inside the World of Gau Rakshaks, journalist Ishan Marvel travels to Haryana to meet up with the Gau Raksha Dal, one of the many ‘volunteer’ organizations that ‘protect the cow’, mostly as vigilantes, and sometimes with tragic results:

The Gau Raksha Dal currently has branches in nine Indian states and two union territories—Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa and Delhi. The GRD Haryana is among the biggest, with branches in each of the state’s 21 districts, and more than 5,000 volunteers, mostly between the ages of 18 and 40. Almost every night since 2011, armed GRD volunteers have been patrolling the state highways, with two or three teams per district…

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As several GRD leaders told me, the organisation devotes a good deal of attention to spreading its propaganda. One of Yogendra’s assistants handed me a 12-page brochure for the GRD, meant to be distributed across Haryana. The information inside is also freely available on the GRD Haryana website, which opens with a paean to the cow mother that copies a Bollywood song from the 1968 movie Raja Aur Runk, with the word “gau” strategically inserted into the lyrics. The cover showcased the same bejewelled cow, along with pictures of Hindu gods, and of course, AK-47s and daggers.

The brochure had graphic photographs of cows supposedly being trafficked or slaughtered, a district-wise list of around 500 GRD members along with their phone numbers, and photographs of 18 senior members. A call for donations on the final page exhorted, “What sort of a Hindu are you? You spend thousands on petrol, cigarettes, tobacco, alcohol. Can’t you save 20 rupees each day for the cow? If you can, donate 500-600 rupees each month at a cow shelter so that the COW DOES NOT GET BEHEADED.”

The back cover reiterated the point with details of a Punjab National Bank account, along with photographs of five young men listed as “gau shaheed,” or cow martyrs. Yogendra told me that they had died on the job during patrols and raids. He then described some of his own encounters with the cow-smuggling bogeymen, involving 100-kilometre-per-hour chases, vehicles ramming into each other, and flying bullets and stones—“just like in the movies.”

Yogendra told me he had no plans to enter electoral politics. “Politicians do these things for votes, we do it for faith. We only support those who stand for the cow mother,” he said. “If tomorrow, Khattar does not defend the cow, we will protest against him as well. We belong to the Arya Samaj. We don’t play caste or religion games. We don’t believe in anything but humanity and the Vedas.” Hearing this, I brought up the Dadri incident, where a man was lynched for allegedly consuming beef. “It’s unfortunate,” he replied, nodding gravely. “But then it’s for the cow mother. Some sacrifices will have to be made…

A couple of days later, Surinder added me to a WhatsApp group called “Gau Bhagat.” On 2 June, I skimmed through 500-odd messages on it. They mostly contained details about rallies, orders, patrols and achievements, apart from sundry jokes and nationalistic propaganda, with dubious arguments and statistics. There were also images, videos and songs hailing the cow mother. Most of the messages ended with “Jai Gau Mata Ki.” A few weeks thence, Surinder changed the name of the group to “Gau ma da ladlaa,” or beloved son of the cow mother. Recently, on 9 August 2016, reacting to the prime minister’s comments against gau rakshaks, one of the members posted a poem in Hindi:

Ek arab ki umeedon ne Tumko vahaan bithaaya tha
Saare desh ke gaubhakton ne Milkar jor lagaya tha
Abhi samay hai, maafi maang lo Varna desh ki gaddi se
Ab tumhein utaara jaayega
Patna toh tum haar chuke, ab UP haara jaayega

(The hopes of one billion people
Got you the PM’s seat
The country’s cow-devotees
Had all put in the effort
There is still time, apologise
Or else, from the country’s throne
Now you shall be uprooted
You’ve already lost Patna
Now you’ll lose UP).

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To continue reading this excerpt from The Book of Beef: A Look Inside the World of Gau Rakshaks, click here: https://goo.gl/BYrKys

 

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