By Prarthana Mitra
In the latest instance of cow vigilantism, a police officer and a right-wing activist died in western Uttar Pradesh on Monday, as protests over an alleged incident of cow slaughter descended into violence. A police station at Bulandshahr was vandalised as the mob pelted stones at the policemen, and torched the chowki and a police van. The mob was demanding ‘immediate action’ and justice in the alleged slaughtering of a cow last week.
Sixty unnamed perpetrators have been named in the FIR over the incident, which also mentions reports of gunshots; four people have been arrested in connection to the violent protests. Another FIR has been filed over the alleged cattle slaughter, naming 27 people in it. The latter investigation is understood to be more urgent.
A Special Investigation Team (SIT) has also been constituted by the administration to investigate why the violence occurred, and why the police personnel left the deceased officer alone.
Last week, regional newspapers reported that a cow carcass had been discovered across farms in Mahav, Bulandshahr. This fuelled Hindutva fringe groups to march to the nearest police chowki in Chingravathi. To control the situation, which was escalating quickly, policemen from the nearby Siyana station were also dispatched. The violence that ensued resulted in the deaths of police officer Subodh Kumar Singh and a local man, and several injuries. Tensions have prevailed, with social media was rife with rousing calls to mobilise against “police atrocity”.
Apart from the alleged cows, who died?
Caught in the clash between the police and cow vigilantes, inspector Singh, posted at the Siyana Police Station, was reportedly shot by the gun-wielding mob and died before he could be taken to the hospital. He is believed to have tried to pacify the crowd when they attacked him repeatedly. Singh suffered several injuries from sharp and blunt objects besides the bullet wound, according to the postmortem report.
According to a video clip doing the rounds, the inspector’s body can be seen in a Tata Sumo vehicle while protesters recorded the scene. Shots could be heard in the background.
Another casualty of Monday’s violent protests included a 21-year-old BJP activist, Sumit.
Singh’s connection to the Dadri lynching
Singh had also probed the 2015 lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, UP, over claims of storing and consuming beef. This incident gained national traction and brought the violence related to gau raksha into the limelight.
The officer-in-charge of Noida’s Jarcha police station at the time, Singh is believed to have been instrumental in the prompt arrest of the accused, his colleagues said. “He was the IO from September 28, 2015 to November 9, 2015. He was subsequently transferred to Varanasi,” UP Principal Secretary Arvind Kumar told the Indian Express.
Trial on the Dadri lynching case is yet to begin, as the city court is still hearing arguments on charges against the 18 accused. All of them are currently out on bail.
Subodh’s son Abhishek Singh spoke to ANI, asking, “My father wanted me to be a good citizen who doesn’t incite violence in society in the name of religion. Today my father lost his life in this Hindu-Muslim dispute, tomorrow whose father will lose his life?”
UP Chief Minister Adityanath on Monday announced a compensation of Rs. 40 lakh for Singh’s wife, Rs. 10 lakh for his parents, and a government job for one member of his family.
Singh’s sister, meanwhile, has alleged that his killing was a conspiracy on the police’s part. “My brother was investigating the Akhlaq case and that is why he was killed. It’s a conspiracy by the police. He should be declared a martyr and a memorial should be built. We do not want money,” she told The Wire.
His colleagues called him a brave man who always faced the challenge without refusing to back down from facing untoward situations. Even after the Dadri lynching, he reportedly kept going back to the village to pacify and quell similar rumours. Subodh also held multiple meetings with representatives of both communities to make sure the situation did not escalate.
Why does this matter?
Polarising people along religious lines, and playing the cow politics card, has exacerbated under the ruling BJP government. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Gau Raksha Cell is specifically tasked with informing local police about potential “cow smugglers”. Adityanath has made protecting cows an integral part of his political discourse and electoral agenda.
Such open disdain for beef consumption and cow slaughter has emboldened a lot of right-wing groups to take the matter in their own hands, leading to an alarming increase in lynching of predominantly Muslim men, around major cow belts in North India. Only earlier this year, on the night of July 20, Rakbar Khan was allegedly killed on suspicion of being a cow smuggler by a mob in Alwar, Rajasthan.
The potential causes and effects of vigilante justice formed the crux of a BBC report published last month. The study had examined in detail the recent spate of mob-lynchings and deaths provoked by fake news over WhatsApp, and put it down to blind nationalism. Cow politics does run deeper, but as an auxilliary movement to bolster the image of Hindutva and demonise those who have eked out their living on the beef trade for centuries.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius