Gau Rakshaks Mushrooming in Gaps Left by Depleted Police Forces

Shortage of police at various ranks across states could be the reason behind rise in incidents of cow vigilantism.

5 min read
Shortage of police at various ranks across states could be the reason behind rise in incidents of cow vigilantism. (Photo: Rhythum Seth/ <b>The Quint</b>)

The chronic shortage of policemen across states has created a void in the law and order machinery, giving cow vigilantism and its associated violence a fillip, an investigation by The Quint indicates.

This trend is especially strong in some northern Indian states. Here, violence in the name of cow protection has exposed the lack of will on the part of the police to crack down on individuals and organisations who perpetrate such crimes.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests’ recent controversial notification on cattle trade and the implied ban on cattle slaughter has now raised fears that the proposed legislation could give further rise to such incidents.

Just as the Nirbhaya case exposed flaws in policing and the criminal justice system, a spurt in mob lynchings by gau rakshaks has brought to the fore the correlation between some states’ abysmal record of filling up vacancies in the police rank and file, and the rise in attacks against members of the minority community by cow vigilantes.

Also Read: SC Intervenes As Vacancies in the State Police Cross 5 Lakh

(Infographic: Harsh Sahani/<b>The Quint</b>)
(Infographic: Harsh Sahani/The Quint)

Shortage of Police

One cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that there are more than 5 lakh vacancies in police forces across several states, with Uttar Pradesh accounting for one-third of vacant posts, followed by Karnataka and West Bengal.

Clearly, the balance of politics in West Bengal is the reason why there have been no instance of cow vigilantism in the Mamata Banerjee-ruled state.

On 24 April 2017, the Supreme Court directed UP and five other states to fill these posts in a time-bound manner. Recruitment of 30,000 constables and 3,000 sub-inspectors every year, beginning from August 2017, will help UP fill 181,958 vacancies by 2020.

Is there a connect between vast number of vacancies at various levels and cow vigilantism? “Definitely, there’s a connect because every time a problem outstrips resources, their [police’s] usual alibi is lack of manpower”, says a senior retired police officer on condition of anonymity.

Vacancies and Vigilantism

It’s easy to connect the dots, if one takes a look at the incidents of vigilantism reported so far and vacancies in the following states.

On 8 April 2017, a petitioner, represented by senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, moved the Supreme Court court against five BJP-ruled states – Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Rajasthan – and one Congress-ruled state, Karnataka, asking for a ban on gau rakshak dals. The Supreme Court has asked these states why ‘such elements’ should not be banned for creating disharmony – no response has been forthcoming, except by Karnataka.

When the mushrooming of cow protectors across many northern states is said to be linked to inadequate policing, the leader of one such gau raksha organisation admitted that his “men” often act as informants for the law enforcers.

(Infographic: Harsh Sahani/<b>The Quint</b>)
(Infographic: Harsh Sahani/The Quint)

The Vigilantes

Bhartiya Gau Rakshak Dal (BGRD) founder and chairman Pawan Pandit claimed that his organisation has 10,000 volunteers (through online registration as on 31 December 2016) in all states, including Jammu and Kashmir, Assam. BGRD’s website claims to have state units across India. The organisation is a registered entity under Section 25 (and Section 8) of the 1956 Indian Companies Act 1956. Pandit revealed that BGRD cadres have been aiding police personnel in nabbing cow smugglers, especially near states such as Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.

Our volunteers usually inform the nearest police station, though we fear that cows will meet an uncertain fate even after the police are alerted. If the police takes time to respond, we have to take some action [to save the cow]. But you must acknowledge the fact that our volunteers have faced gunshots in the past even when they chase cow smugglers.
Pawan Pandit, Chairman, Bhartiya Gau Rakshak Dal

Ancillary Force

The vacuum in policing due to vacancies is just one side of the coin, for, in states like Maharashtra, the state government has gone for an ancillary vigilante force to implement the beef ban that came into force in 2015. Maharashtra’s animal husbandry department has come up with positions like Honorary Animal Welfare Officer who’ve been entrusted with the task of aiding the authorities in nabbing cow smugglers and those in possession of beef.

Political Interference in Recruitment?

(Infographic: Harsh Sahani/<b>The Quint</b>)
(Infographic: Harsh Sahani/The Quint)

The hiring spree has not been able to catch up with the number of vacancies in each state. Despite a 123 percent increase in recruitment of constables between 2014-2015, with Uttar Pradesh hiring the maximum number (11,798 constables), there’s a deficit of 121,604 vacant posts in India’s largest state.

Some attribute the slow pace of recruitment by state governments to political interference.

Recruitments are often used as a political ploy for electoral advantage. Politicians and police leadership can’t wash their hands off completely; perverted crime happens because of inherent weakness and propensity to look the other way.
Vikram Singh, Ex-DGP, UP

Undue political interference has continued to hamper work of the police, a fact acknowledged by the top court as well. In 2006, politicisation of the police was stated to be a scourge ailing the force as the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh vs Union of India case said: “many of the deficiencies in the functioning of the police had arisen largely due to an overdose of unhealthy and petty political interference at various levels”.

Law and Order Problem

In a 2016 research paper on vigilantism in South Africa, Mary Nel, senior lecturer in Public Law, Stellenbosch University writes:

While it is argued that state delegitimation is by no means the only factor contributing to the emergence and prevalence of vigilantism, a common thread running through many vigilante narratives is that the failure of criminal justice agents to do their job properly opens a law-and-order gap that vigilantes are only too willing to fill with their own brand of ‘justice’.

South Africa has witnessed a spike in incidents of mob violence in last few years, with an entire group taking law into their hands and targeting individuals on suspicion of theft, robbery, and murder.

At 180 personnel per 1,00,000 persons, India’s police to population ratio is below the UN recommended ratio of 222 personnel per 1,00,000 individuals. It’s this gap that the gau rakshak dals are perhaps trying to fill, landing on the wrong side of the criminal justice system as they do.

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