The Making of Lynchistan: Inside India’s Deadly Gau Raksha Network
Documentary | Why mob lynchings by cow vigilantes in India are an organised crime.
(This story has been republished from The Quint’s archives in the light of the Alwar district court acquitting all six accused in the 2017 Pehlu Khan lynching case on 14 August 2019.)
Reporting and Camera: Asmita Nandy and Meghnad Bose
Editing and Graphics: Prashant Chauhan
Executive Producers: Ritu Kapur and Rohit Khanna
“If someone is taking a cow to be slaughtered, kill him then and there. We can worry about the law later.”Lakhan Yadav, Gau Rakshak, VHP
Since the lynching of Mohd Akhlaq in September 2015, there have more than 35 cases of lynching related to cattle vigilantism in 11 states across India.
But why is it that mob lynchings have become the new normal in the country? And how exactly does ‘Lynchistan’ operate?
Inside the Gau Raksha Infrastructure
In Rajasthan’s Alwar alone, Rakbar Khan was killed in July 2018, Ummar Khan was shot dead in November the year before, and Pehlu Khan was lynched in public view in April 2017. All in the name of ‘gau raksha’.
“The gau rakshaks get violent and snatch our cows away. If there are a few of them (gau rakshaks), we survive the fight. If there are too many, they kill us.”Muslim Cattle Trader
THE LYNCHISTAN INSTRUCTION MANUAL
Step 1: Build a Network
At the core of the gau raksha network is the WhatsApp group. Or rather, the hundreds of WhatsApp groups.
“I am active in around 200 to 250 WhatsApp groups. Of them, around 150 to 175 WhatsApp groups are related to gau raksha and the Sangh.”Rameshwar, Bajrang Dal District Convenor
Propaganda videos of gau raksha are circulated non-stop. With faster internet and more smartphones, these messages take just seconds to go viral, even if they’re fake.
“We find out on WhatsApp that a certain car is coming and that it will pass along a particular road. The instruction is given on the WhatsApp group, ‘Catch them!’ Once you spread the message that Muslims carrying cows are coming your way, the Hindus will converge on them on their own.”Gau Rakshak
But do they have any constitutional right to do so?
“They have no constitutional authority, but they (the cow vigilantes) have made a network of individuals supporting their cause.”Murarilal, Local from Kaman
Once the network of vigilantes is ready, all they need is legitimacy.
Step 2: Provide The Legitimacy
These cow vigilantes have no legal authority to stop, search and harass anyone. But support from police ensures that they function with impunity.
“When the gau rakshaks stop you, they first enquire about your name. If you happen to have a Muslim name, then it doesn’t matter whether or not you have a receipt for the cows. They’ll tear or burn your receipt and then gang up to thrash you. You’re a Muslim, so they will beat you.”Mohammed Akbar, Rakbar Khan’s brother
Step 3. Breed the Impunity
“A mob does not have a face.”Gau Rakshak
The gau rakshaks say, since the crowd gathers in hundreds, there is no way to identify a single culprit. They it is easy for a person to shout ‘kill’ and get away with it in a large group of people.
Step 4: Execute the Attack
After the impunity is bred, the attack is next. And make no mistake - mob lynchings rarely happen “in the heat of the moment”. It’s an organised crime.
“First, we check where the cattle is being taken. If they are being taken to be slaughtered, kill the person transporting the cattle right there.”Lakhan Yadav, Kishangarh Gau Rakshak
“When our mother is being slaughtered, it upsets us. Hence, I feel we should kill those transporting the cattle, if we are real Hindus. We can worry about the law later,” Lakhan added.
Step 5: Congratulate the Criminals
A leader should lead by example. When a crime is committed, he should condemn the act, not justify the crime or garland the criminals, or deny it ever happened, or blame the victims. But that’s not how it goes down with the gau rakshaks.
“People who commit these hate crimes are treated as heroes, as the protector. They’re wrapped in the national flag, they are garlanded. People come out in their support.”Harsh Mander, Activist
The Neta-Police-Gau Rakshak Nexus
“We work along with the BJP. Within the BJP, there are a few leaders who listen to us. Those netas then call the authorities and demand, “The karyakartas are being bothered. They are under attack. Why are you not going to the spot?” That is when police arrive promptly, and try to settle the matter without harassing us.”Rameshwar, Bajrang Dal District Convenor
THE COPS ARE COMPLICIT
In the Hapur lynching case, the family members of the accused justified the assault on the Muslims as efforts to protect the ‘gaumata’.
Despite their admission and all the evidence around, police turned a blind eye and claimed that the lynching was a case of “road rage”.
In Alwar, police took three hours to take Rakbar Khan to a hospital that was only six kilometres away, even stopping for a chai break in between. The cops first priority was not to take an injured man to hospital. It was to take cows that were perfectly fine, to a gaushala.
When they finally reached the hospital, Rakbar Khan was declared dead on arrival.
So what makes police act this way? Is it their personal communal bias - after all, they’re part of the same society as the rest of us?
“The Mewat region is full of Meo Muslims. Consider them to be a small country of their own. The profession of the Meos is to steal, slaughter cows, etc. Only Muslims do this. Not just any Muslims, it is Meo Muslims who do this.”A policeman in Alwar
NETA KA ASHIRWAD
Is it just bias, or do police act based on orders from netas who are seeking political mileage from incidents of mob lynching?
- Gyan Dev Ahuja, BJP MLA in Rajasthan: I am saying this openly, “If you slaughter cows, you will be lynched just like this.”
- Arjun Meghwal, Union Minister: The more popular Modiji becomes, the more frequent such incidents will be.
- Jaswant Yadav, Rajasthan Labour Minister: These everyday reactions by the crowd should make the Muslims stop this business of cattle slaughter and understand the sentiments of the Hindus.
These “everyday reactions by the crowd” refer to cases of mob lynching of Muslims, and saying that such incidents will be more frequent is nothing short of a public threat, made by elected members of the state Assembly and the national Parliament.
FACTS DON’T MATTER
Pehlu Khan was lynched on the pretext that he was smuggling cows for slaughter.
But the fact is, that claim is blatantly untrue. Pehlu was transporting milch cattle that he had bought, which was worth way more than the price he would have fetched by selling the cows for slaughter.
The Impact of Lynchistan
So, where does all of these leave us? While some celebrate the sending of a message by murder, others live the consequences.
“It’s good that the lynchings happen. Very good. Because a fear is born in the minds of those who are about to enter this profession. They begin to fear, ‘What if they catch us and lynch us tomorrow? This can happen to us too.’”Gau Rakshak
“Because of how my father was lynched, I do not have the courage to take our cattle out. I am scared to even leave my house.”Irshad Khan, Pehlu Khan’s son
“They are suppressing Muslims by hurting us financially.”Muslim cattle trader
“The cow is our mother. We can go to any lengths to protect her.”Murailal, Local from Kaman
“Sure, protect the cow as your mother. But don’t kill a human being in doing so. Don’t kill someone who rears cows. Does your mother ask you to kill him?”Saaqi, Sarpanch from Maavli
“With their father dead, who will feed the kids? Can I toil hard enough to raise our seven kids alone? I do not think I can. May I get justice? All I want is justice.”Rakbar Khan’s wife
The worst impact of it all is how easy it has become to replicate the model of the cow vigilantism culture - from Pehlu’s Alwar to Alimuddin's Ramgarh, to the heart of New Delhi.
On a night in April 2017, alleged vigilantes belonging to the group People For Animals attacked Muslim cattle traders in the capital, less than 15 km away from Parliament.
Assam, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh - the model of the mob, in the name of the cow, has been replicated pan-India.
Because when the cops are complicit,
Their patriotism questioned
Where murders are celebrated
And justified by ministers
Then, my friend, it is time to say - Welcome to Lynchistan.
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