Observers


Two men were seriously injured on August 15 after the latest attack on Muslims by Hindu “gau rakshaks,” or cow protectors. “Cow vigilantism” is well-documented across India, where Hindu groups take action against Muslims accused of transporting, harming or slaughtering bovine animals. This attack follows a pattern of similar actions against the Gujjar Muslim community in northern India.

Videos of the event posted online show herdsman Muhammad Asghar and his nephew Javeed Ahmad attacked, dragged outside and hit with sticks by a mob reciting Hindu nationalist slogans, even as a police officer arrives and attempts to stop the violence. The beating occurred in the Garri Gabbar village in the Reasi district in India’s northern Jammu division, where the local Muslim population belongs mainly to the Gujjar ethnic group.

Asghar’s son chased away some cows who were grazing on their land a few days prior to the attack. In doing so, he allegedly wounded one of the cows, leading to an outbreak of anger from the Hindu community.

According to The Wire, the man who owns the cows called the local police to report the injury. When police did not immediately respond, he and other members of the Hindu community took matters into their own hands.

In a video posted on Twitter on August 16, we can see a group pushing and beating a man as a police officer shows up.
 
The mob can be heard saying “Desh ke gaddron ko, goli maaro salon ko” (“Those who have been traitors to the nation, shoot them dead”), a slogan which gained popularity in Hindu nationalist groups after several politicians from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) used it at rallies in reference to Muslim protesters. Several men in the video can also be seen wearing scarves in a saffron colour, which is associated with Hinduism and the BJP Party.

The Reasi District Police initially arrested three of the attackers, but the senior superintendent of police in Reasi, Rashmi Wazir, told The Wire that police “have taken cognizance against all those who are seen hitting the man in the video”. Asghar’s son, 16, was also arrested under the Animal Cruelty Act.

On August 16, police announced the investigation on social media and implored the public to maintain peace, calling the viral video of the event a tool to “instigate communal tension” in the region.

The France 24 Observers team has been following other attacks by “cow protectors” across India since 2016. “Cow vigilantism” is reported often, with many instances of Hindu groups attacking Muslim individuals suspected of harming, slaughtering, selling or eating bovine animals. The cow is considered sacred to Hindus, and its slaughter is illegal in some Indian states, including Jammu and Kashmir.

>> Read on the France 24 Observers: Why do mobs keep attacking suspected beef traders in India? 

‘They enforce everything on the ground’

Journalist Rayan Naqash has been following similar attacks against Gujjar Muslims in Jammu for more than three years:
 
It’s part of a broader victimization of the Muslim community in the Jammu division. It’s all just done to target these people [the Gujjars]. It's sort of a religious aspect because Hindus revere cows, they think they’re sacred. And they feel that these Muslims attacked their deity and that is why they went and attacked them. But the fact that they attack these people with impunity also says a lot. These guys, they enforce everything on the ground.

Naqash says there is a pattern of vigilante violence against the Gujjar people in Jammu. In 2017, a Gujjar family was violently attacked by a mob in the name of cow protection just outside Reasi. However, it is difficult to estimate the number of vigilante attacks carried out in the villages around Jammu, as they often only receive media attention after eyewitness footage goes viral.

>> Read on France 24: Muslim man killed in new suspected India 'cow lynching'

According to Human Rights Watch, 44 people – including 39 Muslims – were killed in attacks related to cows in India between May 2015 and December 2019. Members of the BJP Party have also been documented speaking in support of these cow protection actions.

'When they board a bus, people tell them to de-board'

Living in a mainly pastoral community, Muslim Gujjars in northern India say they are frequently harassed by Hindu communities and faced with government evictions and vigilante violence.

Rayan Naqash explains:
 
They are not a minority, but they are really disempowered because a lot of people are not educated. They rely on farming, on rearing livestock. The locals there told me that these things happen, like when they board a bus, the other ethnic community, mainly Hindus, they actually tell them to de-board because there is a certain stereotype attached to them that they are lesser people.

Religious tensions are ongoing in Hindu-majority India, and lynchings of Muslim individuals have occurred. Some say that Hindu nationalist sentiments and violence against Muslims have increased since the BJP came to power in 2014 under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. BJP supporters have even used fake news to blame the spread of the coronavirus on India’s Muslim population.

>> Read on the France 24 Observers: 'CoronaJihad': Fake news in India accuses Muslims of deliberately spreading Covid-19


Article written by Pariesa Young