A young Muslim woman and her 14-year-old cousin were gang raped and their aunt and uncle beaten to death by a gang of right-wing Hindus in a religious hate crime in the northern state of Haryana in India last month. Four suspects have been charged with rape and murder.
“They (the accused men) said that we ate cow meat and that is why we are being disgraced (raped). They threatened to kill me and my family if we ever told anybody what happened to us,” said the elder victim whose identity is being protected.
A group of men in their 30s entered the victims’ home on August 24, raped the 20-year old woman and her minor cousin, tied up her uncle and aunt and beat the victims to death.
This is the latest in a spate of horrific crimes against Muslims in India by vigilante groups owing allegiance to the ruling right wing, Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Both Modi and the BJP have pledged in their election manifesto that they would ban the slaughter of cows all across the country, arguing that as Hindus consider cows sacred, killing them for food hurts their religious sentiments.
Over the last two years since Modi’s party came to power tighter laws in many states in Hindu-majority India have made cow slaughter illegal along with the sale and storage of beef. Simply being found in possession of beef is punishable with a 10-year jail term and/or fine of Rs 100,000 to Rs 500,000 (£900 to £4,500).
More sinisterly the so called ‘beef ban’ is being used to harass, assault, attack and in some cases kill Muslims, on the pretext that they either slaughtered cows, were transporting them for slaughter or had just consumed beef. The accusations are made without any evidence and worse still ‘cow protection’ vigilante groups, emboldened by ‘their’ party in power are proliferating all over the country and taking the law into their own hands and meting out ‘jungle justice’.
The first reported death due to the beef ban emerged in 2015 when a 50-year-old Muslim man, Mohammad Akhlaq, was beaten to death by a mob of around a 100 men over rumours he had eaten beef. (Full story in The Muslim News, 30 October, 2015) “They accused us of keeping cow meat, broke down our doors and started beating my father and brother. My father was dragged outside and beaten with bricks,” said Akhlaq’s daughter Sajida. Immediately after the lynching, police visited Akhlaq’s home in Dadri in the state of Uttar Pradesh, on the outskirts of the country’s capital New Delhi, and took the meat stored in their fridge for forensic tests. The results showed that it was goat meat and not beef.
A year later Akhlaq’s family, instead of getting justice for their father’s murder, have now been charged with consuming beef despite the results of the initial forensic report, and face a long legal battle. A second forensic test was allegedly carried out six month later on the meat found by the mob in Akhlaq’s home on that fateful day and this time it supposedly showed that it was beef. This is the thin excuse on which a case has been filed against Akhlaq’s family. They have been threatened, abused and the impoverished family now fear their own security.
Since Akhlaq’s lynching last year, another eight Muslims have been killed and hundreds attacked by ‘cow-vigilante’ groups in different parts of the country.
Emboldened by the Indian Government’s lack of action against the culprits of these attacks and Prime Minister Modi’s refusal to condemn the incidents let alone taking action, BJP members and supporters have realised that Muslims are a soft target. Just prior to Eid al-Adha earlier this month, a BJP law maker in the south Indian city of Hyderabad threatened to cause “an unpleasant situation” if any animal of the cow family was sacrificed.
Mewat in Haryana, home to the most recent rape and murder victims, is just 62 miles from Delhi and has a large Muslim population. In June a lorry driver was beaten up for allegedly carrying beef. A small restaurant along the Mewat highway was also raided by the police with the owners being accused of passing of ‘beef’ as ‘mutton’ biryani. “We have never had any religious tension here since Independence. It’s possible that this incident was planned to create religious tension in the area,” said Abid Khan, a member of the Mewat Bar Association.
In many states in India, cow, calf and ox are not slaughtered because the law has deemed it illegal. In these states bullocks are slaughtered and sold as beef. For most poor Muslims this is a cheap source of protein as it is half the price of goat meat which is often beyond their pocket. Ironically, Hindus owning old and ailing cows which can no longer give milk sell them to Muslims, knowing full well that they will be transported to other states where it is legal to slaughter them. It is often they who tip off the vigilante groups who then attack the trucks and truck drivers and confiscate the cows and return them to their old owners.
When it comes to the economics of returns on keeping cows, it is very clear that it is Hindus who mostly benefit as it is they who dominate and control the milk trade, beef export business, the leather industry and even the pharmaceutical industry where cow bones are used. However, it is Muslims who are branded as cow-killers. The beef ban has become a very convenient stick to beat Muslims with in India.