The Bajrang Dal – under the ruling BJP’s ideological parentage Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – has engage 10 lakh new volunteers to ramp up its cow protection programmes beyond states.
The right-wing organization is already re-training three lakh of what it claims as an existing 15 lakh-strong volunteer base to radically build a notion of Hindu identity around cows and mobilise chief caste groups into the Hindutva fold.
Founded as a small force in UP in 1984, the Bajrang Dal started acting as vigilante cow protectors across the states in 1996.
In 1996-97, it claimed to have saved 1.5 lakh cows and its descendant. Functioning as the youth wing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), it claims to save around one lakh such cattle from Butcher every year.
The next membership drive the last one happened in 2010 is slated for 2016. The organization, which has faced accusations of rioting and violence against religious minorities, plans to touch the 25-lakh mark. This is based on the number of weekly meetings that has gone up from 4,900 in December 2014 to 5,800 in July this year.
The plans come amid ‘anti-cow slaughter but divisive’ remarks by some top BJP leaders following the lynching of a Muslim man over rumours of beef consumption in UP’s Dadri, resulting in a perceptible climate of religious impatience. The vigilante cow protection has peaked ahead of the 2017 Uttar Pradesh state elections because of a Important political symbol.
Cow slaughter is legal only in some Indian states such as Kerala, West Bengal and most parts of the Northeast where butchers are mainly Muslims and Dalits. But cow meat is legal except in BJP-ruled states such as Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand – and is consumed expansively by Muslims and Christians, and also by Hindus mostly in parts of southern India.
The Dadri incident also prompted writers to go on an reward returning spree, forcing the President and the PM to call for integration. Villagers in Himachal Pradesh recently killed a Muslim man for allegedly smuggling cattle.
Manoj Verma, national training head of Bajrang Dal, says, “We saw outrage over what happened in Dadri. But the silence over the subsequent lynching of Prashant Poojary, who campaigned against cow slaughter in Karnataka, is baffling. We’re running programmes down to the grassroots level across states.”
Bajrang Dal has planned to have lakhs of its volunteers in all districts to take a renewed cow protection pledge on December 6. The VHP-Bajrang Dal combine celebrates the day as “shaurya diwas” after the demolition of Babri Masjid in UP’s Ayodhya on the day in 1992, triggering bloody riots in states that killed around 2,000 people.
It’s early morning at VHP headquarters in south Delhi’s RK Puram. Devendra Nayak, who edits VHP’s monthly magazine on cow protection, is instructing a boy on how to feed the animals at an in-house shelter. “You must let a cow lick the food off your palm. The touch of her tongue has the powers to alter one’s fate line for the better,” he explains. Dozens of office-bearers of VHP and its wings live on the campus sparsely guarded by policemen.
Back in his office upstairs, Nayak takes out old, Hindi newspaper clippings to make a point. “It’s not only about Poojary. A 22-year-old man was brutally killed in Gurgaon in August 2013. Did you hear of it? That’s the problem,” he says.
Nayak, who earlier handled media for VHP, looks busy sourcing articles for the year-end special edition of Gosampada. In his editorial for the latest issue, he has called beef-eaters ‘pigs.’ “What else do I call such people? I’m challenging the so-called liberals to drag me to court for what I have written,” he says, peeling off apples for breakfast. “You must remove toxins.”
India does not authoritatively export cow meat but is the biggest exporter of buffalo meat – the trade of which involves mostly Muslims. But rightwing vigilante protectors fear cow meat is sneaking into India’s buffalo meat export. India has some 4,000 legal slaughterhouses. But it is only one tenth of the number of those running illegally.
Bajrang Dal says it rescues cows headed for abattoirs. Vishva Hindu Parishad then takes over and does the conservation at its 5,000-odd cow shelters across states. “By the time courts decide on cases, cows are either kept with the local administration or cow shelters and farmers. Then cows go as per court orders,” Verma says.
Since the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, which saw a BJP-led government come to power at the Centre, there has been a spurt in crackdown on cow slaughter and beef sale.
Nayak says Bajrang Dal only helps states in the execution of cow protection laws, but becomes a victim. “In July, Vivek Premi, Bajrang Dal leader in UP’s Shamli, was arrested when he tried to stop a truck full of cattle. Booked under the National Security Act,” he says.