Cow vigilante violence in India since 2014

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In India, where cows are venerated by a large segment of the population, cow vigilante violence involving mob attacks in the name of "cow protection" targeting mostly Muslims, has swelled since 2014.[1][2][3] Cattle slaughter is banned in most states of India.[4] Recently emerged cow vigilante groups, claiming to be protecting cattle, have been violent leading to a number of deaths. Cow-protection groups see themselves as preventing theft, protecting the cow or upholding the law in an Indian state which bans cow slaughter. According to a Reuters report, a total of 63 cow vigilante attacks had occurred in India between 2010 and mid 2017, mostly since the Modi government came to power in 2014. In these attacks between 2010 and June 2017, "28 Indians – 24 of them Muslims – were killed and 124 injured", states the Reuter's report.[5]

There has been a rise in the number of incidents of cow vigilantism since the election of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the Indian central government in 2014. The frequency and severity of cow vigilante violence has been described as "unprecedented".[6] Human Rights Watch has reported that there has been a surge in cow vigilante violence since 2015.[7] The surge is attributed to the recent rise in Hindu nationalism in India.[6][8] Many vigilante groups say they feel "empowered" by the victory of the Hindu nationalist BJP in the 2014 election.[9][10] The Supreme Court of India in September 2017 ruled that each state should appoint a police officer in each district as a nodal officer to take strict action against cow vigilantism. The court also expressed its concerns that animals were being illegally slaughtered such as the case of 200 slaughtered cattle found floating in a Bihar river.[11]

Background and history[edit]

The BJP has run the Indian federal government since its election in 2014. Following Narendra Modi's rise to power, extremist Hindu groups have led attacks across the country that have targeted Muslim and Dalit communities. These attacks have been carried out with the stated intention of protecting cows.[12][13][14][7] Dalit groups are particularly vulnerable to such attacks, as they are frequently responsible for disposing cattle carcasses and skins.[7][15] The perpetrators of these attacks, described as "vigilantism" by Human Rights Watch, have stated that they are protecting the rights of Hindus, and that the police do not adequately deal with cow slaughter.[7][12] Scholar Radha Sarkar has argued that "cow vigilantism itself is not new in India, and violence over the protection of cows has occurred in the past. However, the frequency, impunity, and flagrance of the current instances of cow-related violence are unprecedented."[6] In 2015 Business Insider reported that vigilante attacks on trucks carrying cattle had increased in Maharastra.[16] In 2017, Bloomberg reported that according to the meat industry representatives, cow vigilantes have been stopping vehicles, extorting money and stealing valuable livestock.[10] Cow vigilante activity also increased during the run up to Bihar Legislative Assembly election, 2015.[17] BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said the election was "a fight between those who eat beef and those who are against cow slaughter".[18][19] The Economist argued in 2016 that cow vigilantism can sometimes be a profitable business. It pointed to an Indian Express investigation that found that vigilantes in Punjab charge cattle transporters 200 rupees ($3) per cow in exchange for not harassing their trucks.[20]

Analysing the reasons for the vigilantism, scholar Christophe Jaffrelot stated that since its formation, the RSS has intended to transform society from within, by instilling its own sense of discipline into it, which it thought was required for defending Hindus more effectively. He also said that the Hindu nationalists, who claim to represent society at large, do not want the state to prevail over society, and want the society to regulate itself, as per the emphasis on social order and “harmony” or hierarchy, that is suggested in the Hindutva ideology. According to him, this Hindu nationalist approach gives the act of policing a greater legitimacy and it is clearly synonymous with the populist behaviour, since for the populist leader, the people and their will prevail over the rule of law and public institutions.[21] Jaffrelot further remarks:[21]

"The fact that the vigilantes “do the job” is very convenient for the rulers . The state is not guilty of violence since this violence is allegedly spontaneous and if the followers of Hinduism are taking the law into their hands, it is for a good reason — for defending their religion. The moral and political economies of this arrangement are even more sophisticated: The state cannot harass the minorities openly, but by letting vigilantes do so, it keeps majoritarian feelings satisfied. The private armies, which may be useful for polarising society before elections are also kept happy — not only can they flex their muscles, but they usually extort money (violence mostly occurs when they cannot do so, as is evident from the recent cases of lynching)."

"Cow protection" vigilante groups[edit]

As of 2016, cow protection vigilante groups were estimated to have sprung up in "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of towns and villages in northern India.[17][22] There were an estimated 200 such groups in Delhi-National Capital Region alone.[23] Some of the larger groups claim up to 5,000 members.[24]

One kind of cow protection groups are gangs who patrol highways and roads at night, looking for trucks that might be "smuggling" cows across the state borders.[24] These gangs can be armed; they justify this by claiming that "cow smugglers" themselves are often armed. The Haryana branch of Bhartiya Gau Raksha Dal described to The Guardian that it had exchanged gunfire with alleged smugglers, killed several of them and lost several of its members too. The gangs have been described as "unorganized", and gang leaders admit that their members can be hard to control.[24]

The gangs consist of volunteers, many of whom are poor laborers.[24] The volunteers often tend to be young. According to a gang leader, "it’s easy to motivate a youth". Often the youth are given "emotional" motivation by being shown graphic videos of animals being tortured.[24] One member said that cow vigilantism had given him a "purpose in life".[23]

The vigilantes often have a network of informers consisting of cobblers, rickshaw drivers, vegetable vendors etc., who alert them to supposed incidents of cow slaughter. The group members and their network often use social media to circulate information.[23] Their relationship with the police is disputed: some vigilantes claim to work with the police,[23] while others claim that the police are corrupt and incompetent, and that they are forced to take matters into their own hands.[24]

Laws, state support, and legal issues[edit]

Cow slaughter laws in various states of India. Green - Cows, Bulls and Bullocks are allowed to be slaughtered Yellow - Bulls and Bullocks are allowed Red - None of the above are allowed

The BJP government has placed a number of restrictions on the slaughter of cattle. In May 2017 it banned the slaughter of cattle for purpose of exporting beef. This restriction threatened an Indian beef export industry worth $4 billion annually.[8] Several Indian states have tightened restrictions on the slaughter of cows. For example, in March 2015, Maharashtra passed stricter legislation banning the sale, possession, and consumption of beef.[6] Cow vigilantes have also been emboldened by these laws, and attack Muslims suspected of smuggling cattle for slaughter.[6][25]

Some Indian states have been accused of having laws that enable cow protection groups. In April 2017 the Supreme Court asked the governments of six states: Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh; to respond to a plea asking for a ban against cow-protection related vigilantism, due to the violence perpetrated by these groups.[26] Many vigilantes believe their actions are approved by the government and Hindus of the country. For example, the vigilante group "Gau Rakshak Dal", formed in Haryana in 2012, believe it is acting on government mandate. Scholar Radha Sarkar has stated that the bans on beef "tacitly legitimize vigilante activity." Cow protection groups formed in Haryana in 2012 see themselves to now be "acting upon the mandate of the government." Such groups across the country have "[taken] it upon themselves to punish those they believe to be harming the cow." Such incidents of violence have occurred even in situations in which no illegal actions have occurred, such as in the handling of dead cattle. According to Sarkar, cow protection groups have taken actions that they know to be illegal, because they believe that they have the support of the government.[6]

In November 2016, the BJP-led Haryana government has decided to provide ID cards for cow vigilantes. However they were not issued despite collecting the details of vigilantes.[27][28] According to Russia Today and Human Rights Watch, many cow protection vigilante groups are allied with the BJP.[29][7] According to BBC News, many cow-protection vigilantes attend training camps organized by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is BJP's parent organization.[30] Mukul Kesavan, in The Telegraph, accused BJP officials of justifying vigilantism. He pointed out that after some vigilante attacks, the BJP officials tried to get the police to charge the victims (or their family) for provoking the assault.[31]

In 2018, a three judge bench of the Supreme Court, made observations that such incidents of vigilantism was mob violence and a crime. In addition, it placed the responsibility to prevent such crimes, on the states.[32][33]

Incidents of violence[edit]

A number of incidents of violence have occurred since 2014. According to a June 2017 Reuters report, citing a data journalism website, a total of "28 Indians – 24 of them Muslims – have been killed and 124 injured since 2010 in cow-related violence".[34] The frequency and severity of cow-related violence have been described as "unprecedented".[6] The report stated that "Almost all of the 63 attacks since 2010 involving cow-related violence were recorded after Modi and his Hindu nationalist government came to power in 2014".[34]

Date of Incident Description State Place/Distt No. of victims Nature of Violence
14-08-2014 Muslim meat sellers beaten up in Delhi border[35] Haryana Gurugram 2 Physical assault[36]
07-10-2014 Alleged cow slaughter; Police and Muslims clashed[37] Gujarat Navsari, Ahmedabad 5 Physical assault
08-10-2014 Rumour led to communal tension[38] Bihar Lakhisarai 1 Communal tension/Violence/Riot
11-10-2014 Communal tensions in Kishanganj[39] Bihar Kishanganj 0 Communal tension/Violence/Riot
23-05-2015 Two men killed over cow slaughter[40] Madhya Pradesh Damoh 2 Murder/Lynch
30-05-2015 Meat shop owner lynched[41] Rajasthan Nagaur 0 Murder/Lynch
02-08-2015 Three muslims killed in Gautam Budh Nagar[42] Uttar Pradesh Gautam Buddha Nagar (NOIDA) 3 Murder/Lynch
29-08-2015 truck carrying cattle attacked driver injured[43] Delhi Chilla village Communal tension/Violence/Riot


  • August 14, 2014, Haryana: Muslim meat sellers beaten up in Delhi border[44]
  • October 07, 2014,Gujarat: Alleged cow slaughter; Police and Muslims clashed[45]
  • October 08, 2014, Bihar: Rumors of beef related issue on the occasion of Bakr-Eid that led to communal tension[46]
  • October 11, 2014, Bihar: following rumors of a severed cow head being found at a temple across the town communal tension arises in Kishanganj.[47]
  • 30 May 2015, Rajasthan: a 60-year old man who ran a meat shop was beaten to death by a mob with sticks and iron rods.[7]
  • 2 August 2015, Uttar Pradesh: according to Human Rights Watch, "purported animal rights activists allegedly belonging to People for Animals" beat three men to death, after the victims were found carrying buffaloes.[7]
  • 28 September 2015, Uttar Pradesh: in the Dadri lynching, a mob of villagers attacked the home of a Muslim man Mohammed Ikhlaq, with sticks and bricks, who they suspected of stealing and slaughtering a stolen cow calf, in Bisara village near Dadri, Uttar Pradesh. 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi (Ikhlaq according to some sources) died in that attack and his son, 22-year-old Danish was seriously injured.[48]
  • 9 October 2015, Jammu and Kashmir: a right-wing Hindu mob in Udhampur district threw gasoline bombs at an 18-year-old trucker. The mob had incorrectly suspected the trucker of transporting beef.[7]
  • 14 October 2015, Himachal Pradesh: a mob beat a 22-year old to death, and injured four others, after suspecting them of transporting cows. Police immediately arrested the victims of the attack, accusing them of cow slaughter.[7] Later police said they would investigate if Bajrang Dal was behind the attack
  • 9 December 2015, Bhanukeri Village, Haryana One killed as cow vigilante group opens fire at 40 migrant workers[49]
  • 18 March 2016, Jharkhand: In the Jharkhand lynching, two Muslim cattle traders were attacked, allegedly by cattle-protection vigilantes in Balumath forests in Latehar district in Jharkhand.[50][51][52] The attackers killed Mazlum Ansari, aged 32, and Imteyaz Khan, aged 15, who were found hanging from a tree.[53]
  • 11 July 2016, Gujarat: a group of six men attacked four Dalit men after finding them skinning a dead cow. The four were chained to a car, stripped, and beaten with iron rods.[7][54]
  • 5 April 2017, Rajasthan: In the Alwar mob lynching, Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer from Nuh district of Haryana, was murdered by a group of 200 cow vigilantes affiliated with right-wing Hindutva groups in Alwar, Rajasthan, India. Six others who were with Phelu Khan were also beaten by the cow vigilantes.[12][55] The state government initially charged the victims with "cruelty to animals" under the state law prohibiting cattle slaughter.[7]
  • 24 April 2017, Jammu and Kashmir: a family of five, including a 9-year old girl, were attacked and injured; police arrested 11 so-called cow vigilantes in connection with the attack.[56] A video of the attack showed the assailants demolishing the shelter of the family; policemen were visible in the video, apparently unable to intervene.[7]
  • 20 April 2017, Assam: two men, in their 20s, were allegedly killed by a mob of cow vigilantes, after being accused of trying to steal cows for slaughter.[29]
  • 23 April 2017, Delhi: three men transporting buffaloes were injured after being beaten by a group stating they were members of the animal rights activist group People for Animals.[57][7]
  • 23 June 2017, Delhi-Ballabhgarh train: four Muslims were lynched allegedly over rumors of eating beef.[58][59] According to the police, the victims had arguments over meat with their co-passengers who attacked them with knife.[60]
  • 1 May 2017, Assam: two Muslim men were lynched in Nagaon district of Assam on suspicion of stealing cows. While the police managed to rescue the men, both of them died of their injuries.[61]
  • 12 May 2017- 18 May 2017, Jharkhand: At least nine people were killed, including 4 Muslim cattle traders, in four different incidents.[62]
  • 22 June 2017, West Bengal: Three Muslim men were lynched in Islampur, Uttar Dinajpur for allegedly trying to steal cows. A police complaint was made by the mother of the deceased Nasir Haque. According to the Superintendent of Police Amit Kumar Bharat Rathod, the police arrested 3 people and were conducting further investigation.[63]
  • 27 June 2017, Jharkhand: Usman Ansari, a 55-year-old Muslim dairy owner, was beaten up and his house set on fire by a mob in Giridih district. According to the police, a headless carcass of a cow was found near his house. The police said that they were forced to perform a lathi-charge, and to fire in the air, to rescue the victim, who was later treated in hospital.[64]
  • 29 June 2017, Jharkhand: Alimuddin, alias Asgar Ansari, was beaten to death by a mob in the village of Bajartand, allegedly for carrying beef. According to Additional Director General of police RK Mallik, the murder was premeditated.[65]
  • 10 November 2017, Alwar, Rajasthan: 2 Cattle traders named Ummar Khan and Tahir Khan were allegedly thrashed and fired at by cow vigilantes. Ummar Khan died at the spot due to bullet wound and Tahir Khan was admitted to a hospital.[66][67]
  • 13 June 2018, Jharkhand: Dullu, Sirabuddin Ansari (35) and Murtaza Ansari (30) Lynched in Jharkhand Over Alleged Cattle Theft[68][69]
  • 14 June 2018, Uttar Pradesh: Bareilly, Meat Seller Thrashed by UP Police for 'Cow Slaughter' Dies in AIIMS [70]
  • 20 June 2018, Uttar Pradesh: Meerut, 45-year-old Qasim lynched in UP over cow slaughter rumour [71] This incident was at the center of a sting operation conducted by NDTV.[72] The Chief Justice of India agreed to hear the case based on the sting operation footage.[72]
  • 30 August 2018, Lakshmanpur village, Balrampur, UP: Kailash Nath Shukla a 70 years old person taking his cattles to another village for treatment, in his way some mobs stopped him and assaulted old man badlly and threw him in gutter.[73]


After an attack on four Dalits in Gujarat in July 2016, thousands of members of the Dalit community took to the streets to protest what they saw was "government inaction".[74] The protests spread across the state. In clashes with the police, one policeman was killed and dozens of protesters were arrested.[74] At least five Dalit youth attempted suicide, one of whom died.[74]

A campaign, Not In My Name was conducted by film-maker Saba Dewan through a Facebook post against the violence.[75] A lot of people took out a morcha at Jantar Mantar in Delhi and more 16 cities across the country, including Mumbai against mob lynching in the name of cow vigilantism.[76][77]

Post 2014, the Documentation of the Oppressed (DOTO Database), an independent, non-profit documentation center, have created an online platform that compiles the instances of violence, with particular emphasis on marginalized groups and issues. The database aims to provide a repository of the instances of hate violence and giving a wholesome narrative of the same; providing reports that add and supplement media provided information, done for the purpose of aiding in intervention i.e., by advocacy or litigation. DOTO aims to tackle the issue with a right and community-based approach to increase all round vigilance on the issues.[78]

International organization, Human Rights Watch in April 2017 reported that Indian authorities should promptly investigate and take action against the self-appointed "cow protectors", many linked to extremist Hindu groups, who have carried out attacks against Muslims and Dalits over rumors of selling, buying or killing of cows for beef.[79]

Members of the BJP have denied supporting cow slaughter vigilantism. In May 2017, Union Minister and BJP leader Smriti Irani has said that the BJP does not support cow protection vigilantes.[80] The New York Times stated that BJP is partly to blame, as they stoked inflammatory rhetoric over cow slaughter.[81] Siddharth Nath Singh has denied allegations that the BJP administration condones vigilantism and said illegal attacks would be punished.[82]

In August 2016, Modi has said that cow vigilantism made him angry, and condemned it.[83] Several observers such as Prem Shankar Jha and Zafarul Islam Khan remarked that Modi has selectively condemned vigilante attacks on Dalits but not on Muslims, since while condemning this vigilantism, Modi did not mention 'Muslims' who have been the major victims of the vigilante violence, despite mentioning 'Dalits'.[17][84]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]