On Sunday April 29th, two Indian Muslim teenagers accused of trying to steal cows were beaten to death by a mob using sticks and rocks. They had no criminal record and were guilty of stealing the cows. On April 1st, a Muslim cattle trader named Pehlu Khan was lynched by a mob while transporting cattle. He was taking them from the fair where he had purchased them back to his home state. He died two days later from his injuries. In July 2016, a vigilante mob stripped four men and tied them to a car. They proceeded to beat them with sticks and belts over suspicions of cow slaughter. Over the last two years, similar attacks against Muslims have occurred. Since May 2015, at least 10 Muslims, including a 12-year-old boy, have been killed in seven separate incidents of mob violence over the protection of cows .
Hindus make up 80% of India’s population of 1.3 billion people. For Hindus, cows are sacred. In their religion, cows symbolizes all other creatures. Cows also represent the Earth and life. Hindus admire cows because they believe they take so little and contribute so much to the earth. They believe that cows have spiritual knowledge. Cows are often decorated and given special meals for Indian festivals. In Hindu spiritual texts, the cow is often mentioned.
Most attacks against Muslims involved with cows are done by Hindus. Local radical groups form and protect local cows. These “cow protection” groups often accuse Muslims of killing cows. These self-appointed, vigilante justice groups take the initiative to protect cows in their area, using violent means.
In a Hindu majority country, cows are sacred and highly valued. Various regulations prohibiting cow sale or slaughter are present in 24 out of the 29 Indian states. Some states have no ban. Others have a caveat, or warning against certain activities regarding cows. There are also distinctions between cows, which are adult females, and bullocks, which are adult males. Males are often bred for meat, whereas females are for breeding or milk. The transport of cows is also restricted. The Gurjat government made cow slaughter punishable by life in prison just this past March.
Even though India is a Hindu majority country, there are around 172 million Muslims living in India, or about 14.2% of the population. There is an overlap between states where there are both Muslims and laws prohibiting cow slaughter.
In more recent years, the Muslim killings over cows have increased. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government took office and the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party formed India’s federal government in 2014, attacks against Muslims have risen over sold, bought or killed cows. The rise of cow-related lynchings and beatings began right after the BJP was voted to power. The BJP try and portray Hindus as victims in the issue. Senior BJP leaders have instigated hate crimes. Modi repeatedly called for the protection of cows. The BJP chief minister in Chhattisgarh reportedly said, “We will hang those who kill cows.” The BJP is taking advantage of India’s strong nationalistic culture and identity in the sacredness of cows.
Despite the efforts by Hindus to protect their scared animals, India produces a lot of beef for human consumption. In 2015, they produced the most beef out of any country in the world. Out of their meat exports, bovine comes in at number one. It is important to note that water buffalo qualifies as beef and bovine in the statistics, not just cows. Bovine refers to buffaloes, bisons and other animals in the “cattle” family.
India is experiencing an upsurge of nationalism. The cow is the symbol of that nationalism. Vigilante justice groups, often associated with the BJP, have taken the matter of protecting cows into their own hands. They take advantage of the nationalistic culture and using the importance of protecting cows to justify their violent acts.