Why do mobs keep attacking suspected beef traders in India?

A woman, accused of tansporting beef, tries to protect herself from a mob. Screen grab from the video below.
A woman, accused of tansporting beef, tries to protect herself from a mob. Screen grab from the video below.

It’s not the first case of its kind, and it probably won’t be the last. On Tuesday, two women in the northern Indian town of Mandsaur, were attacked by an angry mob that accused them of selling beef. Slaughtering cows – which are considered sacred in Hinduism - is illegal in the region of Madhya Pradesh, like in many other regions of India.

The incident was caught on video by a person in the crowd.

WARNING: The following videos contain violence.

The two women – as well as four of the men who attacked them – were arrested by the police. At first, the women were booked under the state’s anti-cow slaughtering law, but their meat turned out to be buffalo meat, not cow meat. They were then charged with transporting buffalo meat without a permit. Buffalo slaughtering is allowed in Madhya Pradesh under strict circumstances: the animals have to be more than 15 years old and be certified by a veterinarian in order to obtain a permit.

The arrested women are Muslim; beef and buffalo meat are popular with India’s Muslim and Christian populations, but not with the Hindu majority.

This incident follows another case earlier this month, when four low-caste Dalit men were attacked by vigilantes while trying to skin a dead cow in Gujarat. Police later concluded that the cow had been killed not by the men, but by a lion.

And last year, a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh was beaten to death over allegations that he was storing and consuming beef at home. In this case, a police investigation found that meat recovered in his home was goat meat, not beef.

For our Observers, these cases of violence are linked to the importance of the meat economy in India. Alhough the animal is considered sacred by Hindus and its killing forbidden in many states, India is nonetheless the world’s largest exporter of beef.

“People have lost their patience and are taking matters into their own hands”

Ritika Goel is an activist with People for Cattle in India, an animal welfare NGO. She is based in Bangalore.

Some states allow the slaughtering of cows, but in many regions, this is not at all accepted - there are many communities in India that still today pray to cows, treat them with great respect, and have religious festivals revolving around cattle.

The mobs involved in these attacks are doing extreme actions, but their actions come as no surprise. People have lost their patience. There is a big underground business for cow meat in states where it is banned, the authorities do not do enough to enforce the laws, and so people are now taking the matters into their own hands.

It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this, but for years, the powerful meat mafia has used violence to instill fear – our own activists have received threats from them when peacefully trying to lobby to strengthen laws banning the sale of meat. These extremists are now fighting back with the same weapons. Many people may not agree with their tactics, but tomorrow, if someone wants to bring 30 cows into Mhadya Pradesh, that person will no doubt think twice…

“The cattle issue has become highly politicized”

Preethi Sreevalsan is an animal rights activist based in Thrissur. She is the founder of People for Animal Welfare Services.

Attacking beef sellers - or alleged beef sellers - doesn’t help the situation in any way. Those getting attacked are low-level traders, who don’t have a lot of might or power. The major underground beef sellers will continue doing their business as usual.

To me, these attacks are not just about protecting cows. The cattle issue has become highly politicised in India, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party [a Hindu nationalist party] trying to appeal to Hindu voters by stirring up this issue. [Editor’s Note: Last year, a senior BJP leader created controversy when he said that all Muslims in India should give up consuming beef. Since the BJP has come into power, in many states, they have toughened cow slaughter bans to include other types of cattle, like bulls and bullocks, to the ire of many farmers.] But this is just politics – the beef industry isn’t going to disappear anytime soon!