RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat

Days after a 55-year-old, Pehlu Khan, died after being assaulted by gau rakshaks in Alwar, RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat on Sunday called for a nationwide ban on cow slaughter, but urged gau rakshaks to avoid violence. “Gau hatya bandi sarkar ke adhin hai. Hamari ichha hai ki sampurna Bharat men gauvansh ki hatya bandh ho. Is kanoon ko prabhavi banana sarkaar ki zimmedari hai. (The decision to impose a ban on cow slaughter rests with the government. We want cow slaughter to be banned in the entire country. It is the duty of the government to make this law effective),” said Bhagwat.

He was speaking at an event to observe the birth anniversary of Lord Mahavir.

The RSS chief, however, admitted that India’s diversity makes it difficult to implement a uniform law across the country. “Due to political complexities, it would take time to implement the law in the entire country,” he said.

Stating that “the states that have dedicated swayamsevaks (in power) have made laws in this regard”, he expressed confidence that they would “resolve local complexities” and work towards protecting cows.

While he did not mention the Alwar incident, Bhagwat said: “Gau hatya ke naam par kisi bhi prakar ki hinsa se is abhiyan par bura asar padta hai (Any violence in the name of cow slaughter has an adverse impact on the movement).”

Stating that “there is no law that asks you to commit violence,” he added that “gaayon ki raksha ka prayas karne walon ko apna prayas jari rakhna chahiye (those who are involved in cow protection must continue with their efforts).”

“There should not be any violence during gau raksha. Gau rakshaks must ensure that they do not hurt the feelings of people while protecting the cow. Or else, the methods of gau raksha will be questioned,” said the RSS chief, adding that “the work of cow conservation should be carried out while obeying the laws and the Constitution.”

Bhagwat also said no law can end cow slaughter unless there is a change in the mindset of the people. His remarks are in consonance with the RSS’s twin stand on the issue — support gau rakshaks, but condemn violence. Last August, soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had termed gau rakshaks as “anti-social” and asked state governments to act against them, RSS Sarkaryavah Suresh Bhayyaji Joshi had said that “some anti-social elements of society have been taking law into their hands in the name of gau raksha.” Stating that “it can make the sacred task of gau raksha and gau seva look suspect,” Joshi had urged “the countrymen to expose the condemnable acts of a handful of such opportunistic persons, and not to link them with people who are involved in the sacred duty of gau raksha”.

During his annual Vijayadashmi speech last year, Bhagwat had advocated the cause of gau rakshaks and said gau raksha has been “validated” by the “Constitution, science and tradition.” Noting that several states have laws against cow slaughters, he had said “gau rakshaks sometimes launch movements to ensure that these laws are implemented… while doing so they always try to be within the limits of the law.”

Mohan Bhagwat’s demand for a countrywide law banning cow slaughter has met with criticism, with stakeholders in states where the slaughter is legal terming the suggestion “impractical” and against their “cultural traditions”.

In BJPruled Assam, the party’s Minority Morcha itself is uncomfortable with the suggestion, with its president Mominul Awal saying it is “very unlikely” that it will be implemented. “Such decisions will have to be taken keeping in mind the region, its tradition and food habits. It has to be a unanimous,” Awal said.

The ruling CPM in Tripura opposed Bhagwat’s call with deputy speaker in the assembly Pabitra Kar saying India cannot pursue a law which is against the secular fabric of the country. “No government can interfere in the choice of food of any community,” Kar said.

Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh hailed Bhagwat for the proposal saying India should preserve cow as it was considered ‘mother God’.

“Like in many other states, we want ban on cow slaughter in Bengal,” said Ghosh.

However, Kolkata Municipal Corporation mayor Sovan Chatterjee countered it saying there is no point in pondering over such an “absurd” opinion.

Kerala law minister AK Balan called Bhagwat’s suggestion “an aggression” against the food habits of people. “If the Centre dares to implement a blanket ban on cow slaughter and tries to implement beef ban across the country, we would fight it out in the court. There is no question of LDF government allowing anybody to implement the RSS agenda,” he said.

Former spokesman of Syro Malabar Church, Father Paul Thelekkat, pointed out that while millions of people considered cow sacred, there were many Hindus as well as people from other religious groups who ate beef. “I see no rationale or legality in a section of people imposing their dietary habits on the others in a democratic society.”

General secretary of IUML’s Kerala unit K P A Majeed warned that a nationwide ban on cow slaughter would adversely affect the country’s economy. “It will cripple meat exports worth crores of rupees, apart from adversely impacting the leather and several allied industries,” he said.

BJD spokesperson Samir Ranjan Dash  said while it was a crime to slaughter a healthy cow in Odisha, a blanket ban was inappropriate. “What if a cow suffers from a serious contagious disease, which, if not slaughtered, may compromise public health,” he said.

Cow vigilante groups are active across the country
Cow vigilante groups are active across the country

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court asked the central government and five BJP-ruled states on Friday to say within three weeks why cow protection groups shouldn’t be banned amid growing outrage against vigilantes accused of violence and even murder.

The directive came on a petition filed by Congress leaders Tehseen and Shehzad Poonawalla, who called for cow protection groups to be declared illegal, saying there has been a spike in instances of vigilantism. The court sought responses from Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Rajasthan – all BJP ruled – as well as Congressrun Karnataka, setting May 3 for the next hearing. It also asked the Centre to reply.

The move came as the opposition attacked the government in Parliament for a second straight day for not doing enough to curb a spike in cow vigilantism. In Rajya Sabha, the Congress demanded an apology from Union minister of state for parliamentary affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi for “denying” the lynching of a Muslim man by socalled cow protectors in Rajasthan last week.

In October, the court had orally asked the states and Centre to file a response to Poonawalla’s petition. However it received no response. On Friday, Poonawalla’s counsel, Sanjay Hegde, insisted on a response, citing last week’s lynching of the Muslim man to particularly push Rajasthan to reply. The National Human Rights Commission also took suo motu cognizance of the attack and issued notice to the Rajasthan government demanding a detailed action report.

Cow vigilante groups became active after the BJP-led government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over at the Centre. They claim to protect cows from being taken to slaughterhouses.

Critics, however, accuse these vigilante groups of targeting people, mostly from the Muslim and Dalit community. There has been a string of cow-related violence but various state governments have defended  the action on the grounds of the sentiment attached to the animal, considered holy by many Hindus.

In Rajya Sabha, opposition members created a ruckus over the lynching in Rajasthan’s Alwar and sought an apology from Naqvi for his earlier comments on the incident. Naqvi said he had only denied any such violence in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and had not referred to Rajasthan.

“A criminal, a murderer, a hooligan, or a rowdy should not be looked at as a Hindu or a Muslim. A criminal is a criminal,” Naqvi told the House.

In his petition, Poonawalla said violence committed by these ‘gau raksha’ groups have reached such proportions that even Modi called them out as people who were “destroying the society”.