FIRs play an important role in the game of extortion. These FIRs are lodged either on suspicion of cows being taken for slaughter, smuggling, or with specific concerns under the Animal Protection Act, 1960.
In this case, even if there is no evidence of cows being smuggled or transported ‘illegally’, trucks full of buffaloes could also be easily taken in police custody.
The recent notification provided more opportunities for these vigilante groups to extort money from traders involved in the transportation of buffaloes as well, which were ‘legally’ allowed to be slaughtered. The extensive paperwork needed from farmers and the transporters has made the situation conducive for such vigilantism.
You Can Have Your Cow Back, If You Pay Through the Nose
Animals are taken into police custody and sent to cow shelters or other concerned authorities involved in the cause of animal welfare. It may also include PFA (People for Animals) hospitals depending on the kind of case that has been registered against the transporters. But what happens next is a story that has been missed so far.
The owners of animals are made to run from police stations to the court to prove their legal right over the purchase. Whether it is cows or other animals like buffaloes and goats, there are little chances of the recovery of animal even if they are bought or transported ‘legally’ for any kind of ‘legally’ allowed trade like dairy production.
It takes a number of days of legal procedures for transporters to claim their right over animals in the courtroom and thanas with proper documentation including NOCs, animal health checks, municipal certificates and so on.
When these transporters return to the gaushalas to rescue their seized animals, they are asked to pay a big amount per animal per day for their upkeep while they were kept there.
Holding Cows to Ransom
A recent incident exemplifies this form of extortion: Six farmers staged a protest outside the Deputy Commissioner’s office in Tumakuru, Karnataka after a long legal battle. The protest was against a high amount being charged by the Gyan Foundation Gorakshak Trust in MH Patna village for looking after 39 animals. The Gyan Trust had asked for Rs 1.7 lakh, when the court after clearing all documents as valid, had ordered that the farmers need to pay only Rs 50 per animal per day!
There is no standard amount which is supposed to be charged in such cases. It completely depends on the discretion of the gau rakshaks, who could decide to charge than Rs 2,000 per animal per day. The amount charged is sometimes much higher than the expected profit the owner can expect from the animal.
In that case, the owners are either forced to abandon their claims over their animals or pay the high price for their rescue. Shankar (name changed), a former truck driver, revealed:
Only ten percent of the cattle wealth seized from transporters stay in the gaushalas. The rest are either sold back in the animal markets or to the private slaughterhouses.
The private slaughterhouses owned and run by the non-Muslims are not even inspected for cow slaughter. It’s a politician-police-criminal nexus of extortion, he concluded.
Cow ‘Protection’ in Name Only
Not only cattle but trucks transporting animal skins are also targeted for extortion. The concerned authorities are assured of political as well as monetary benefits by aiding the acts of these so-called cow protection missions.
Raheemuddin (name changed), owner of a private slaughterhouse, informed that this nexus has been in place for at least twenty years now. Taking the name of Maneka Gandhi-led group PFA specifically, he said that earlier, it was done in the name of animal welfare when cattle traders were asked to pay an unreasonable amount to get their animals back.
But things have now worsened as vigilantism has increased. They harass animal owners in the name of cow protection. Even if there is no cow, it is alleged that they have hidden or have already sold cows via transportation in order to make their raid valid.
The Economics of ‘Gau Raksha’
Shankar (name changed), who used to drive trucks, further explains that there is an easier way for transporters to save themselves from this kind of harassment. The brokers involved in this nexus may negotiate, in advance, between the transporters and the cow vigilante groups working in the areas on the route of transportation.
In this case, a deal is struck between the activists and transporters beforehand and clearance is granted.
Every cattle transporter falls victim to such extortion groups but things are intentionally communalised when the transporter happens to be a Muslim – it is much easier to project such incidents of violence as actions with principled intentions and emerge as a hero rather than a simple goon!
The political economy of cow vigilantism thus exemplifies an informal and parallel system of corruption and extortion. This circuit of politics and crime is completely ignored by mainstream media and the focus remains entirely on the nationalism of cow rakshaks, which is a dangerous phenomenon.
(This is part two of the article on cow vigilante groups, based on the author’s PhD research project. You can read part one here.)
(Nazima Parveen is a PhD scholar at the School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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