Murderous attacks on Muslims by Hindutva mobs in the name of ‘cow protection’ – or other pretexts – have become grimly ‘normal’ in the past three years of Modi rule. A spate of statements by leaders of the BJP Government as well as a series of measures by BJP-led Governments to crackdown on beef and meat production and consumption have served as tacit green signals for these attacks.

In the 2014 Parliamentary election campaign, Narendra Modi himself sought votes by stoking sentiments against animal slaughter and the meat industry, which he termed ‘pink revolution.’ In 2015, BJP Governments in Maharashtra and Haryana banned beef. Soon after, the lynch mob murders gained momentum. Following the formation of the Adityanath Government in Uttar Pradesh and its crackdown on slaughterhouses, the attacks in the name of ‘cow protection’ have once again gained momentum.

In 2015, 60 year-old Abdul Ghaffar Qureshi was killed in Birloka village in Rajasthan’s Nagaur district after social media was used to spread rumours accusing him of slaughtering 200 cows for a feast. In 2015, Akhlaque was lynched to death at Dadri on the allegation that he had killed a cow and stored beef in his fridge; his son was grievously injured. Soon after, Noman Khan was lynched to death by a mob at Shimla that accused him of ‘cow smuggling.’ In 2016, cattle trader Mohammad Majloom and 12-year-old Inayatullah Khan were lynched to death and hung from trees in Latehar – again by a mob claiming to ‘protect cows.’ Similar mob attacks and killings have taken place at several places. In 2016, Meo Muslim families in villages in Alwar, Rajasthan were victims of mob attacks following rumours that they were slaughtering cows. On that occasion, police did not arrest the assailants, but instead arrested several of the Muslim men.

And now at the same Alwar in 2017, a dairy farmer Pehlu Khan, returning to Haryana after buying cows at the Jaipur cattle market, was lynched to death by a mob accusing him of smuggling cows for slaughter. Another dairy farmer and cattle trader Azmat suffered a spinal injury at the hands of the same mob.

There have also been several incidents of attacks on Dalits by cow-goons. In 2016, a Bajrang Dal mob attacked a Dalit family in Karnataka accusing them of storing beef in their house. The same year, several Dalit men, employed to skin a dead cow, were stripped and thrashed by a mob at Una in Gujarat.

There have been lynch mob killings on other pretexts as well: recently a Muslim man was lynched to death in Jharkhand because he was in a relationship with a Hindu girl; in 2014, a techie Mohsin Shaikh was lynched to death by a Hindu Rashtra Sena mob; in 2015 an unidentified Muslim man was lynched to death in Kanpur after it was rumoured that he was a Pakistani spy.

After the Alwar lynching, as after Dadri, several senior BJP leaders rushed to justify the killing. Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria claimed that the victims were as responsible for the Alwar attack as the assailants. In other words he accused Pehlu Khan of smuggling cows illegally in spite of the fact that Khan had all the necessary legal documents to buy and transport cows. Central Government Cabinet Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi declared in Parliament that the Alwar lynching incident had simply not taken place.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Modi and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje maintained complete silence on the Alwar lynching. Modi and Raje both managed to tweet condolences for the victims of the terror attack in far-away Stockholm, but said not a word on the murderous terror unleashed by cow-goons on their own watch. Modi has not always been silent on victims of cow-goon attacks. Following the attack on Dalits at Una, he made an emotional appeal – ‘Shoot me, kill me but don’t attack Dalits.’ Why does he make no such appeal after the Alwar lynching? The answer is clear: Modi and the BJP are cynically conscious of their wish to woo Dalit votes. They not only feel no need for Muslim votes, they are eager to isolate Muslims and try and disrupt any Dalit-Muslim solidarity.

Those accused in the Alwar lynching include young ABVP leaders from local colleges. A Jaipur-based henchwoman of a cow-goon mob, ‘Sadhvi’ Kamal Didi, who recently organized an attack on a Jaipur hotel-owner after fuelling beef-sale rumours, has declared that the Alwar lynch mob members are heroes like Bhagat Singh and other freedom fighters. Those taking human lives in the name of protecting the sacred cows in Modi’s India are shamelessly trying to cloak their crimes in Bhagat Singh’s legacy, deliberately erasing the fact that Bhagat Singh himself had written, “human life should matter more than the lives of animals but in India, men break each other’s heads in name of ‘sacred animals’.”

The sheer hypocrisy of the RSS demand for a nationwide ban on cow slaughter and beef consumption, and BJP’s rhetoric over cow slaughter is exposed by the fact that BJP leaders in Kerala seek votes promising “good quality beef,” while its governments in Manipur and Goa acknowledge that beef consumption is part of the food culture in those states and cannot be banned. How can the cow be a ‘mother’ in some states whose alleged killing is license for murder, while the same cow is ‘part of the food culture’ in some other states? In any case, it is clear that not a single one of the victims of the cow-goons actually slaughtered cows or ate beef – they were killed for being Muslim in Modi’s India.

After Alwar, a nomadic family has been attacked and their cattle robbed by the cow vigilante goons, and in Delhi, Muslim men transporting cattle were badly thrashed by members of Cabinet Minister Maneka Gandhi’s NGO People For Animals.

Cow-protection vigilante mobs must be banned forthwith, and police officials found collaborating with these mobs must be sacked. The right to diversity and democracy in every aspect of culture including food culture must be respected in India. Above all, there can be no excuse for the slaughter of human beings on any pretext – least of all on the pretext of killing or consuming an animal.