Cow-slaughter hits flashpoint
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2002:
MUMBAI, DELHI, India– Animal welfare inspector Abdul
Sattar Sheikh, 45, of People for Animals/Mumbai, was hospitalized
and “struggling for his life,” the Times of India reported, after a
gang of illegal butchers beat him with iron rods on October 16.
Whether Sheikh would ever walk again unassisted was in
PfA-Mumbai, partnered with Beauty Without Cruelty-India, had
just raided an unlicensed slaughterhouse. The investigators
proceeded to the Bandra police station afterward to file criminal
charges against the alleged offenders.
“Mr. Sheikh had just stepped out to get photocopies of some
documents when a group of butchers whose premises had been raided
attacked him,” Beauty Without Cruelty inspector Abraar Quereishi
told the Times of India.
“On hearing Mr. Sheikh’s cries,” tbe Times of India
continued, “the activists and police rushed to rescue him. Mr.
Quresishi said the police nabbed two of the assailants, but the
police records state that no arrests were made.”
Violence against animal welfare inspectors by illegal
butchers is nothing new in India–and neither is police inaction.
In April 2000, for instance, Prakash Amrutlal Shah, 28,
an anti-cattle slaughter activist for eight years, was fatally
bludgeoned by three butchers who ambushed him as he walked from his
home in Rajpur, Gujarat, to the pinjarapole (cow shelter) in nearby
Disa. Found by a passer-by, Shah reportedly identified his
attackers to local police, who arrested two suspects but told the
newspaper Gujarat Samachar that they had lost Shah’s statement.
Two of Shah’s colleagues, Kapoor Shah and Bharat Kothari,
were reportedly injured earlier by butchers, who were defending an
illegal traffic estimated by Gujarat Samachar to be killing 300
animals per day
Shah died eight days after the attack at a hospital in
Ahmedabad, the city where 56 Hindus were burned alive by Muslims who
firebombed a train on March 1, 2002, and several thousand Muslims
were burned alive or beaten to death in retaliatory mob attacks
during the next few days. Most of the victims on either side were
women and children.
Thousands of people attended Shah’s cremation, but on that
occasion cooler heads contained the emotion of the moment.
Employed by the Viniyog Parivar Trust, a Hindu charity which
funds animal welfare work, especially on behalf of cattle, Shah was
viewed as a religious martyr.
Like most active opponents of illegal cattle trafficking in
India, Shah and his injured colleagues fought the butchers with
little more than copies of the Indian Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals Act and hope for reincarnation. Many are sponsored by
wealthy Hindus or Jains as a gesture of faith. Their work runs a
constant risk of igniting ethnic conflict, since most Indian
butchers are either Muslims or members of the lowest Hindu castes.
People for Animals, however, is a strictly secular
organization. Sheikh, ANIMAL PEOPLE was told by acquaintances, is
a Muslim vegetarian with a Hindu wife, who is engaged in animal
welfare work from love of animals–and is doubly vulnerable,
perhaps, because Muslim butchers may view him as a cultural traitor.
National news media extensively publicized the injuries to
Sheikh but did not discuss his background.
Five men lynched
The case was still prominent on October 18 when five young
Dalits, members of one of the lowest castes, were killed by a mob
near the Dulena police post in Jhajjar district, Haryana state. All
five were reportedly stoned and severely beaten. The remains of two
were burned beyond recognition. The victims, identified as Virender
Singh, 27, Dayanand Ram, Kailash Baljit, Raju Gupta Ram, and
Tota Ram, were skinners of dead cattle carcasses and leather dealers
There were two conflicting accounts of what happened.
The official version was that the men had bought a carcass
they were skinning by the roadside when a rumor that they were
skinning a cow alive spread to a nearby Hindu festival. According to
that version, recounted Varsha Bhoale of Rediff Communications in
Mumbai, “Within minutes the district magistrate, two Hindu priests,
and some local leaders of the [fundamentalist organization] Vishwa
Hindu Parishad reached the scene of the alleged crime. The five
young men sought refuge at the police post. Within an hour a crowd
of 2,000 dragged the Dalits out and lynched them, witnessed by the
city magistrate; the deputy superintendent of police of Jhajjar and
Bahadurgarh, Narender Singh; the municipal corporator’s husband;
the block development officer; and no less than 50 policemen.
“According to another report,” Bhoale continued, “the men
who saw the Dalits skinning the cow thrashed the victims and took
them to the police post,” as long as four hours before the lynchings.
Rattan Singh, the father of Virender Singh alleged that “The
police beat them up when they refused to pay extortion money for
being allowed to carry animal skins, and a [bogus] case was
registered against them under the Cow Slaughter Act. Since one of
them was seriously injured, the police spread the story that they
were killing a cow.”
Bhoale and others noted many contradictions of logic and
detail in the police accounts which documented the official story.
Only two days later was the cow carcass that the victims were
allegedly skinning produced for forensic examination.
More than two weeks later, no one had been criminally
charged with the Dulena lynchings, but they had become a flashpoint
for advocacy in almost every cause except the general cause of animal
protection. Amid the partisan political and sectarian furor,
animal advocates could scarcely get a word in.
Local Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders demanded that no one be prosecuted.
“They were killed by the mob only for killing the holy cow,”
priest Swami Umanand reportedly claimed.
“Maybe they should have been let off after just breaking a
few bones,” speculated local cow protection committee member Jaswant
Seeking to distance the ruling Hindu nationalist coalition
from the extreme fundamentalists without jeopardizing political
support, Indian deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani finally
ordered an official inquiry into the lynchings six days later.
Nine days later, caught in a split between middle caste and
lower caste Hindu perspectives, Haryana chief minister Om Prakash
Chautala announced that the families of the victims would receive
compensation of about $2,100 for each death.
The families of the victims and about 100 neighboring
families responded the next day by undergoing mass public conversions
to Buddhism and Islam–a direct rebuke to the fundamentalists, who
oppose religious conversion as ardently as cow slaughter.
Sonia Gandhi, titular head of the opposition Congress Party,
whose secular governments ruled India from 1949 until 1998,
meanwhile visited the homes of the victims.
Leftist parties whose hope of gaining power depends on
mobilizing the lower castes took the opportunity to denounce the
class discrimination built into fundamentalist Hindu-ism–and had no
shortage of other alleged atrocities against Dalits to amplify,
including the alleged gang rape and murder of a six-year-old girl in
Dongra village, Narnaul district, circa October 20, and the
November 4 mob beating of three Dalit leather skinners and dealers at
Chamra village, Panipat district.
The Dulena lynchings were even reported by The New York Times
and Washington Post, which linked them to the furor underway in
India over the U.S. and British publication of a work of historical
scholarship called The Myth of the Holy Cow, by Hindu vegetarian
Dwijendra Narayan Jha. Jha produced extensive documentation that the
earliest Hindus ate beef, and that cow protection may have
originated as a conservation measure, rather than in deference to
the animal today called “The mother of India.”
Scheduled publication of the Jha book in India was cancelled
after a Hindu fundamentalist mob burned excerpts outside the home of
the would-be publisher. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad denounced The Myth
of the Holy Cow as “sheer blasphemy.” Jha was reportedly obliged to
commute to his academic job under police escort.
“The coverage by American papers will alert the fast food and
shoe companies, their suppliers, and their advertising copywriters
not to take liberties with the Indian cow,” responded L.K. Sharma of
the Mysore-based Deccan Herald.