Haryana's Brutal Cattle Vigilantes, Notorious for YouTube Videos, Appear to be Above the Law

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Haryana's Brutal Cattle Vigilantes, Notorious for YouTube Videos, Appear to be Above the Law

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Gau Raksha Dal has gained notoriety for posting videos online of its vigilante-style attacks on trucks, mainly in Punjab and Haryana, for allegedly carrying cattle for slaughter

Patiala:  In a cattle shelter in Punjab's Patiala district, we meet the heavily armed men of the Gau Raksha Dal or cow protection group.

In real life, they are not different from what is shown on their Facebook page - posing with bulletproof vests and guns, like a self-styled militia.

The Dal has gained notoriety for posting videos online of its vigilante-style attacks on trucks, mainly in Punjab and Haryana, for allegedly carrying cattle for slaughter.

In a typical video, those driving the trucks are dragged out and brutally beaten, sometimes within an inch of their life. As the Dal conducts the 'raids', the police often stand by helplessly. The trucks are then burnt in full public view.

On the day we visited, the President of the Gau Raksha Dal, Satish Kumar proudly showed off a burnt truck from an earlier 'raid', now lying in the compound of the cattle shelter.

He brushed aside questions on how his group could take the law into their hands, saying if anyone insulted the cow, considered sacred to Hindu religion, "people are bound to get angry".

Based on their videos, almost all the trucks stopped by the Dal carried bulls and not cows. The slaughter of bulls certified unfit for agriculture is permitted in several states. Though slaughter is banned in Haryana and Punjab, the laws of both states, until a week ago, allowed the conditional transportation of the animals to other states.

Haryana only last week amended its laws to criminalise transportation of cattle for slaughter.

Technically, until the laws changed, the only legal basis to check the trucks are under animal cruelty laws which require that cattle be transported in humane conditions.

Satish Kumar is not concerned about technicalities. He admitted that most of their attacks were carried out without concrete evidence of illegality, which is why most cases were thrown out of court.

But the net impact of the Gau Raksha Dal's violent tactics is to create a climate of fear and communal tension.

In this, their modus operandi is no different from dozens of other such 'cow saviour' groups in Haryana and across the country. But few are as brazen about flouting the law.

Dairy farmers who complain of constant harassment by Satish Kumar and his men worry that the situation may now get worse with a BJP government in Haryana, which has toughened laws against cattle slaughter but hasn't said a word about such kind of vigilantism. If anything, it is widely believed that the new law, which has increased punishment for illegal slaughter of cattle from five years to 10 years, is to placate the vigilante groups. The law also provides for 10 years' imprisonment for illegal transportation of cattle.

Puneet Thind, state president of Rashtriya Kisan Sangh, a farmers' body, said that the methods and ideology of the Gau Raksha Dal are very similar to outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or Bajrang Dal, who also stop trucks either directly or through splinter groups.

Satish Kumar claims he has no political links but he enjoys police protection. "I am under threat. Several butchers have tried to kill me," he said.

When asked how these groups were being allowed to brazenly operate outside the law, Haryana's Health Minister Anil Vij said, "The older law was weak. And this is why the cow protection organaisations were formed here and are very active. But now I think all of this is under the domain of police. Even so, if someone wants to help the government within the legal limits, they may do so."

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