SDSU Political Science Political Violence Associated with Extremist Nationalism Essay


Current events:  provide an update/report on recent events involving political violence associated with extremist nationalism in the United States or India;  include appropriate references to the relevant readings to provide the reader with a thorough understanding of the topic (length:  800-1,000 words, not including bibliobraphy and endnotes, if any).
Be specific in identifying and explaining each factor. (Do not assume that I know what you are talking about.)

Get to the point: no “fluff” (unnecessary statements to fill up the word count).
Provide proper citation (see syllabus for guide).

This and all assignments should be written in your own words (do not quote from the texts at all).

All assignments must be written in your own words (do not quote).
Plagiarism = anything resembling anyone else’s work = F in the course.

Proper citation of ideas and information is required for all submitted assignments: For how to format political science papers, see
I have provided all provided instructions.I have provided the material the professor has given us on the topic which you can use for the essay or you can use own research. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Walls and Cows: Social Media, Vigilante Vantage, and Political Discourse – Megan Ward, 2020 (

Demographic Fever Dreams: Fragile Masculinity and Population Politics in the Rise of the Global Right | Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society: Vol 44, No 3 (

India: Vigilante ‘Cow Protection’ Groups Attack Minorities | Human Rights Watch (
India’s Supreme Court tackles ‘cow-protecting’ mob lynching (

The Rise of a Hindu Vigilante in the Age of WhatsApp and Modi | WIRED
Is India Headed for an Anti-Muslim Genocide? | Time

The role of misinformation in Trump’s insurrection (
#StopTheSteal: Timeline of Social Media and Extremist Activities Leading to 1/6 Insurrection (

The Biggest Warning from the Facebook Whistleblower – Political Violence at a Glance

Thousands of Facebook Groups buzzed with calls for violence ahead of U.S. election | Reuters

Feds warn of potential violence fueled by false election claims (

DOI: 10.1177/0262728018768961
Vol. 38(2): 156–176
Copyright © 2018
SAGE Publications
Los Angeles,
New Delhi,
Washington DC
and Melbourne
Sambaiah Gundimeda and V.S. Ashwin
Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, India and
Georg-August University, Göttingen, Germany
abstract: Cow protection, a potent tool in the hands of cow
vigilantes for atrocities against Muslims and Dalits, has become a
heavily politicised issue in contemporary India. Its roots, connecting
the themes of caste-Hindu religious sentiment, communalism and
economic reasoning, can be traced to the late nineteenth century,
though basic problems over the intriguingly complex use of cattle are
clearly much older. This article relates contemporary cow protection
debates specifically to Arya Samaj arguments against cow slaughter
in the late nineteenth century and publication of a special issue of
the journal Kalyan, titled Gau Ank, in 1945. The discussion shows
how cow protection debates in the Constituent Assembly of India
and in subsequent post-independence judicial verdicts were heavily
influenced by these two earlier discourses. Analysing two landmark
judicial decisions on cow slaughter, the article argues further that
recent judicial endorsement of cow protection legitimises Hindu
majoritarian sentiments in the law, while depriving millions of
Indians, not just Muslims, of fundamental rights to food and
livelihood. The conclusion attempts to consider some possible
solutions to the current impasse.
keywords: Arya Samaj, beef, BJP, Constitution, cow slaughter, Dalits,
Gau Ank, Hindutva, India, judiciary, Muslims, Supreme Court
On 28 September 2015, in western Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri district, a Hindu right-wing
mob brutally attacked Mohammad Akhlaq, accusing him and his family of slaughtering
a cow and consuming beef.1 More recently, dairy farmer Pehlu Khan, suspected of
involvement in illegal cattle trade, was killed by cow vigilantes in Alwar (Rajasthan) in
broad daylight.2 The earlier stripping and beating by cow protectionists (gau rakshaks)
Gundimeda and Ashwin: Cow Protection in India
of four Dalit boys in Una in Gujarat,3 and then of two Dalit brothers for skinning a
dead cow in Amalapuram (East Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh) demonstrate the
rage of Hindu right-wing groups.4 These attacks on Muslims and Dalits are not just
recent aberrations, nor isolated incidents, however. Such attacks were systematically
carried out during the previous BJP-led NDA administration in 2002, when five
Dalit men were dragged by an angry mob of gau rakshaks out of a police station, had
their eyes gouged out, faces burnt and bodies mutilated and trampled upon in Dulina
(Haryana). That gruesome attack on Dalits was subsequently justified by the Vishwa
Hindu Parishad (VHP), local units of the Arya Samaj and Bajrang Dal, which stated
that a cow’s life was more valuable than that of humans (Puniyani, 2015).
The cow has been a symbol of political mobilisation, serving as an effective rallying
point for Hindu conservatives, at least since colonial times and notably in various elections
in post-independence India. Cow politics has featured prominently in the last four of
BJP’s electoral manifestos (1998, 2004, 2009 and 2014), which pledge to preserve India’s
culture through central laws on cow protection.5 Despite the hype around the slogan of
development (vikas) during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP campaign heavily
promoted cow protection. Two widely distributed text message slogans were: ‘Vote for
Modi, give life to the cow’ (Modi ko matdan, gai ko jeevadan) and ‘BJP’s message, the
cow will be saved, the country will be saved’ (BJP ka sandesh, bachegi gai, bachega desh)
(Soumya, 2014). The BJP’s position reiterates the caste-Hindu sentiment for sanctimony
of the cow, an understanding rooted in very particular readings of Hinduism, Indian
history and Indian culture.
Direct roots of current cow protection debates, connecting the dual themes of
religious sentiment and economic reasoning, go back to the late nineteenth century,
when the Arya Samaj, a Hindu religious reform organisation, sought to mobilise
Hindus around cow protection. The Arya Samaj’s secular language of agriculture
and economic rationality helped to cloak upper-caste Hindu sentiments on cow
protection not just in colonial India, but also in the subsequent Constituent Assembly
Debates on this issue.
This study traces the contemporary debates on cow protection specifically to
two significant episodes, the Arya Samaj’s arguments on cow protection in the
nineteenth century and the publication of a special issue titled Gau Ank by the Gita
Press in 1945. Thereby, the article demonstrates how India’s Constituent Assembly
debates on cow protection and subsequent post-independence judicial verdicts on
cow slaughter were heavily influenced by the earlier discourses. Analysis of two
landmark Supreme Court verdicts on cow slaughter further shows that the Indian
judiciary’s arguments in favour of cow protection have legitimised popular Hindu
majoritarian sentiments. We argue that this shows judicial lack of neutrality in
the face of cow-protectionist Hindutva ideology that denies a legitimate space for
diversity in postcolonial India and thereby infringes several fundamental rights of
citizens. While concluding, this article explores the scope for a possible solution to
the current impasse over cow slaughter.
South Asia Research Vol. 38(2): 156–176
South Asia Research Vol. 38(2): 156–176
Secularising the Sacred Cow:
Arya Samaj and Gau Ank on Cow Protection
The current crisis and discourse on cow protection trace their origins to justifications
against cow slaughter posited by Arya Samaj activism in the late nineteenth
century. Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the Arya Samaj founder, believed in the
infallibility of the Vedas and the existence of a Golden Age of Hinduism during
ancient times, while denying that beef was consumed in ancient India. He argued
that the fragmentation of Hindu society arose because of disparities in belief and
worship among Hindus. He also felt that degenerative social practices, including
child marriage, widow burning (sati), caste discrimination, as well as the invasion
of India by foreign rulers, had contributed to weakening Hindu society. Therefore,
reforming Hinduism and the consolidation of Hindu unity became two major
objectives of the Arya Samaj. Cow protection was considered a fundamental way
to achieve these goals.
Saraswati’s main ideas on religious reform and his discourse on cow protection are
found in a book (Saraswati, 1956 [1875]) and a pamphlet (Saraswati, 1881). In these
texts, Saraswati attacked foreign rule in India for cow slaughter and beef consumption
and ingeniously linked the agenda of cow protection to the animal’s utility. For instance,
Saraswati (1956 [1875]: 337–8) observed:
During the rule of the Aryans, no slaughter was allowed of cows or other serviceable
animals. Then men and other creatures lived happily in the Aryavartha and other countries
of the world. Milk, butter, oxen and other animals were in abundance and supply of
food articles was up to the mark. From the time the flesh-eating foreigners have come
to India and begun slaughtering cows, etc., and the rule has passed to wine-drinking
officials, the miseries of the Aryans are gradually increasing.
Through this articulate critique Saraswati attempted to overlay Hindu religious and
cultural tradition with a highly functional economic rationale for cow protection.
As O’Toole (2003: 88) shows, citing Saraswati (1881), the key argument was a practical,
economic calculation and imperative, based on his claims that the milk of one cow
and her six female descendants over the course of their lives would provide sufficient
food for a meal each for a total of 154,440 persons, at the rate of 25,740 persons per cow.
That magic figure, as we shall see, still mesmerises current discourses.
While the utility of buffaloes is as important, especially since they yield more milk
than cows, Saraswati did not seek protection for buffaloes. O’Toole (2003: 88) shows
how he justified exclusive cow protection claims by reference to the value of cows’ milk:
‘Though a she-buffalo yields more milk than a cow but her milk is not so helpful for
the happiness of mankind as that of a cow, for, cow’s milk is congenial to intellectual life
and healthy constitution of men’. Interestingly, despite criticising foreign rule and rulers
for their meat-eating habits, Saraswati did not directly attack British rule, because ‘an
open attack on the British was not feasible’ (Heimsath, 2015: 128). Instead he sought
Gundimeda and Ashwin: Cow Protection in India
British support for banning cow slaughter, building his appeal around an economic
logic. He insisted that the slaughter of cows, allegedly related to the arrival of foreigners,
had not just resulted in increased prices of cattle, milk and milk products, but had also
contributed to the decline of agriculture which, in turn, brought increased prices for
food grains. Therefore, he argued, banning cow slaughter would increase milk supply,
reduce milk prices and thus encourage the poor to be drawn to milk and milk products,
keeping them away from depending on food grains. Reduced dependency upon food
grains, he further claimed, would decrease the ‘amount of refuse voided by the human
system’ (O’Toole, 2003: 88). Such economic utility arguments reflect deliberate attempts
by the Arya Samaj to secularise the cow protection debate (O’Toole, 2003: 89).
Saraswati toured across North India in the 1880s to garner public support for
cow protection, urging Hindus to unite and create societies for cow protection.
He established the first cattle sanctuary (gaushala) in Rewari (Rajasthan) in 1879 and
the first Gaurakshini Sabha at Agra in 1881 (Mukul, 2015: 289; Robb, 1986: 293).
Many caste-Hindus, cutting across caste, class and religious ideological orientations,
inspired by Saraswati’s speeches, joined his movement and thus transformed the
animal into a ‘rallying symbol’ (Van der Veer, 1984: 86), a ‘bridging symbol’ (O’Toole,
2003: 90) for unifying the Hindu community in colonial North India. Providing an
exhaustive analysis of cow protection movements in Bhojpuri-speaking districts of the
eastern United Provinces and west Bihar during the late nineteenth century, Pandey
(1983) explores various social, political and economic factors that contributed to the
emergence and sustenance of this movement.
As noted by O’Toole (2003), the Arya Samaj’s campaigns against cow slaughter
resulted in the emergence of three specific themes associated with the cow. First, the cow
was used as a metaphor for Hindu society and the Hindu nation. Thereby the idea of
the Hindu community under threat was powerfully portrayed through the cow symbol.
This actually helped Hindu reformists and nationalists to standardise and homogenise
Hindu society. The second theme was confrontation by attacks on non-Hindus.
As Saraswati linked cow slaughter and the decline of Hindu society to the arrival
and subsequent rule of foreigners, the cow became a symbol of resistance not just to
colonial interventions, but importantly also in demonising the Muslims on account
of their beef-eating practices and cattle sacrifice during Baqr-Id. Indeed, by the early
1890s, cow protection societies had succeeded in spreading anti-Muslim sentiments
throughout northern India.
A poster distributed in the Bombay Presidency in the early 1890s illustrates this
theme of anti-Muslim sentiments. It depicts a cow, on which names of various Hindu
deities are inscribed, being milked by a matronly woman in the dress of a Chitpavan
Brahman. While a plump, milk-fed child stands by the woman, a reverential Brahman
worshipping the cow is visible in the background. At the centre, however, one sees
a Muslim butcher with a long knife and villainous expression, eying the cow with
murderous intent. This representation of the brutal Muslim stalking god-fearing
Brahmans and their gentle cows was repeated in numerous pictures throughout the
South Asia Research Vol. 38(2): 156–176
South Asia Research Vol. 38(2): 156–176
Presidency (Gupta, 2001: 4295–6), thereby identifying Muslims as a force to be
‘countered and resisted’ (Tejani, 2008: 48). Through such imagery, the cow protection
movement had now created a common enemy, Muslims. Further, the Hindu public
was exhorted by Arya Samajists to protect the cow and act against Muslims, leading to
Hindu-Muslim riots in northern India almost annually throughout the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries. Hindu–Muslim conflicts over cow slaughter during the
colonial regime were exhaustively recorded in historical writings (see Fischer-Tiné,
2000; Pandey, 1983; Sarkar, 1989; Thursby, 1975) and were also reflected in early
German Orientalist scholarship, when Hillebrandt (1899: 9) mentioned fanatic fatal
assaults against butchers who killed cows, highlighting also communal conflict between
Muslims who sacrifice cows and Hindus who establish cow protection societies in
response (Hillebrandt, 1899: 28–9).
The third theme, as demonstrated by Gupta (2001: 4295–7), associated the sacred
cow with the female body, through the image of the cow as Mother (Gau Mata).
While the female imagery became focused around nationalist ideas of Mother India
(Bharat Mata) and a mother tongue (Matri Bhasha), cow killing came to be equated
with matricide (Gupta, 2001: 4296). Van der Veer (1984: 90) elaborately depicts the
image of the cow as mother, decisively shaped by Hindu understandings of gendered
roles. Arya Samaj’s ideas on cow protection, effectively propagated among the Hindu
public by Cow Protection Societies, were further advanced by conservative Hindus
throughout the early twentieth century. The following paragraphs examine specifically
how the Gita Press in 1945, through a special issue on cow protection, strengthened
this Arya Samaj discourse.
As the struggles for Independence gained momentum during the early 1940s, cow
protection activists enhanced their campaigns by organising public meetings, publishing
pamphlets and articles. In this context, the Gita Press, one of the most successful Hindi
publishing houses known for its staunch conservative Hindu approach, brought out a
663-page special annual number, titled Gau Ank, through its journal Kalyan in 1945.
This featured a wide range of contributors of varied ideological affiliations, from ultraconservatives like the Shankaracharyas to Hindu nationalist politicians and Congress
conservatives like Madan Mohan Malaviya and Rajendra Prasad.
Mukul (2015: 289–343) provides an excellent survey of the key points raised by
various Gau Ank contributors. The three most important arguments, soon finding
resonance in the Constituent Assembly and the Indian Supreme Court, are elaborated
here. As Mukul (2015: 292–6) shows, the first argument relates to the cow as mother,
with contributors attempting to link women and cows because in ancient times,
wars were fought for both of them. Shanti Kumar’s poem ‘Gau aur Nari’ (Cow and
Woman) claimed that non-violence, compassion and tolerance are essential attributes
of an ideal Hindu woman as well as the cow. He argued: ‘The ideal Hindu woman
sees success of her womanhood in being a wife and a mother. To achieve them she
sacrifices her personal happiness. She is happy if others around her are happy. In the
animal world, the cow displays similar characteristics’ (Mukul, 2015: 292). The poet
Gundimeda and Ashwin: Cow Protection in India
Maithilisharan Gupt, a staunch Hindu nationalist, in ‘Gau Geet’ (Song of the Cow)
compared cows with mothers as selfless givers who sustain life and agriculture. He
also presented cows’ dung and urine as a source of salvation. Prabhudatt Brahmachari,
an ultra-Hindu conservative, claiming that anyone who considers the cow as mother
is a Hindu, argued there was no crime more despicable than killing a cow and no
charity greater than feeding cows. He even felt that in ancient times people would do
anything, including sacrificing their own lives, to defend cows.
The second argument in the Gau Ank relates to cows’ economic utility, with two
noteworthy aspects. First, a direct relationship between the general well-being of cattle
and the country’s economic prosperity was claimed. Maulana Kabil Saheb’s essay,
‘Gauraksha kyon avashyak hai?’ (Why is Cow Protection Necessary?), highlighted the
cow’s economic utility as the backbone of agriculture (Mukul, 2015: 296). Linking
prosperity with national pride, he argued that this pride, associated with economic
prosperity, was shaped by the cow economy. Second, an extract from Saraswati (1881),
already discussed in the present article, also found a place in Gau Ank, comparing
the large number of people benefitting from a cow’s lifelong milk production with
consuming its meat, since a slaughtered cow could provide only a single meal for
eighty people (Mukul, 2015: 296). Third, an important aspect in further secularising
the debate on cow protection was to establish that beef-eating did not have Islamic
sanction. Dharam Lal Singh, a votary of Hindu nationalism, in his essay ‘Musalman
Aur Gau Raksha’ (Muslims and Cow Protection) cited Sur-e-Haj, stating: ‘Allah does
not want animal blood and flesh in sacrifice; He wants your piety’. For this reason,
according to Singh, cows were worshipped rather than sacrificed even in Saudi Arabia,
Turkey and other Muslim states.
These three arguments were cleverly crafted to reflect three distinct yet interrelating
themes: Hindu sentiment and religion, economic utility of the cow and cow sacrifice
not enjoying Islamic sanction. The first argument sought to claim high moral values,
but was clearly a political strategy to unify a deeply divided and hierarchically
ordered Hindu community under the banner of cow protection and to demonise
Muslims (Chandhoke, 2016). The second argument stressed the cow’s importance in
a predominantly agricultural society, seeking to push cow slaughter as a moral issue,
arguing that cow killing would disrupt the sustenance of life for Hindus. The third
argument clearly sought to weaken and reject Islamic grounds for beef consumption
and put Muslims on the defensive.
Legalising the Sacred Cow: Debating Cow Slaughter Ban in the
Constituent Assembly
Banning cow slaughter was debated as a matter of great importance in the Constituent
Assembly of India, mainly by upper-caste Hindu members, concerning what was then
Article 38-A.6 Notably, much of this necessarily time-limited discussion initially fussed
over the use of Hindi in the Assembly, indicating North-South conflicts (p. 568).
South Asia Research Vol. 38(2): 156–176
South Asia Research Vol. 38(2): 156–176
Initially it had been demanded by members like Pandit Thakur Das Bhargava, Seth
Govind Das and R.V. Dhulekar that provisions prohibiting cow slaughter should be
included among the Fundamental Rights. Apparently, this had earlier been dismissed
by Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Chairperson of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution,
stating that Fundamental Rights dealt only with human beings and not animals
(p. 568; Smith, 1963: 484–5). Thus, Ambedkar ‘is mostly credited for saving India
the blushes of becoming the only country in the world to extend the fundamental
right to an animal’ (Ashraf, 2015).
Bhargava, yielding to Ambedkar’s position, agreed to propose his amendment on
cow protection merely as a Directive Principle, but not before terming it ‘a sort of
sacrifice’ by the Hindu community and an approach to solve the problem ‘without
using any sort of coercion’ (p. 568). Noorani (2016) calls Bhargava’s strategy ‘double
speak’ and ‘deployment of the forked tongue’. The amendment sought by Bhargava
to what was then Article 38-A read (p. 568):
The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and
scientific lines and shall in particular take steps for preserving and improving the breeds
of cattle and prohibit the slaughter of cow and other useful cattle, specially milch and
draught cattle and their young stock.
Building his justifications for this amendment upon the idea of the cow’s economic
utility, rather than religion, Bhargava’s lengthy submission (pp. 568–70) made two
claims related to agriculture. First, to sustain human health and to grow enough food
to alleviate the food problems of India, one had to increase agricultural production,
which depended heavily on the improvement of cows and their breed. Bhargava’s second
justification was specifically around utility of the cow’s manure. Terming her ‘a moving
manure factory’ (p. 570), he argued that a cow can therefore never be a useless animal.
Reiterating earlier arguments in Gau Ank regarding the cow’s religious position in
Hindu society, some upper-caste members of the Constituent Assembly portrayed the
cow as a holy animal and a motherly figure. This is particularly striking when Seth
Govind Das, rejecting all pretence of secularising the debate, expressed surprise as to
why religious sentiment could not be the basis of cow protection law and remarked:
‘The protection of cow is a question of long standing in this country. Great importance
has been attached to this question from the time of Lord Krishna’ (p. 571). Dr Raghu
Vira elaborately emphasised the notion of the cow as mother, arguing that ‘not a single
cow shall be slaughtered in this land’, basically because ‘the killing of a learned man …
and the killing of a cow are on a par’ (p. 575). As noted, another important claim of
cow protectionists was that cow slaughter was not an integral part of Islam, on which
Seth Govind Das argued (p. 572):
The Muslims should come forward to make it clear that their religion does not
compulsorily enjoin on them the slaughter of the cow… I have read the life of Prophet
Mohammad Sahib. The Prophet never took beef in his life. This is an historic fact.
Gundimeda and Ashwin: Cow Protection in India
Such arguments are highly significant for two reasons. First, Dharam Lal Singh in
Gau Ank had argued that Islam neither sanctions beef consumption nor cow slaughter,
a claim later contested in the Constituent Assembly. Further, many academics have
shown that beef eating practices did not arise due to Islamic or Christian traditions,
but existed in early India itself. Like various pertinent Supreme Court decisions,
including the two discussed later, Jha (2009: 21–2) draws attention to Vedic and
early Dharmashastric works that mention cow slaughter, bull sacrifice and beef eating
in early India. Following guidance from Jainism and Buddhism, coinciding with
changed agricultural practices, animal sacrifices were decried and cows came to be
revered, particularly by certain upper castes. In this context, the arguments of Seth
Govind Das reflect persistent attempts by Hindu nationalists to hide past Hindu
evidence and to fashion Islam in an unpalatable form to suit their argumentation,
rather than to accept Islam and Hinduism as internally diverse also when it comes to
dietary practices. Second, portraying the beef consumption practices of Islam, as Seth
Govind Das attempted to do, would later provide the basis for the ‘essential practices
doctrine’, practices fundamental to any religion, a doctrine that has become entrenched
in important cases of the Indian Supreme Court (Baxi, 2007; Sen, 2007, 2010), also
related to the so-called Hindutva cases (Cossman & Kapur, 1999).
Despite the economic logic provided by members of the Constituent Assembly, cow
protection was pushed for because of religious sentiments. With such motives clearly
evident, emphasis on agriculture and economics were ‘predicated on a fundamental
constitutive elision of the religious aspects of cow slaughter’ (Chigateri, 2011: 138).
This served to mask a prioritising of dominant caste-Hindu identity in the regulation of
cow slaughter, while importantly ‘glossing over religious differences over the sacredness
of the cow’ (Chigateri, 2011: 138). Since the protagonists of cow protection managed
to render Muslims as outsiders, this forced upon Muslims a litmus test of acquiescence
in cow protection as a measure of national loyalty, reducing the idea of India to only
non-beef eating Hindus (Garg, 2016). This irony was not lost on Muslim members
such as Mr Lari (United Provinces), who pointed out the inherently paradoxical nature
of the proposed law, which claimed to modernise agriculture while retaining useless
and unproductive cattle (p. 577). Furthermore, while conceding the majoritarian
position of cow protectionists, he expressed concern about lack of clarity in the law,
arguing for a definite wording, even if it meant legitimising majoritarian sentiments.
Syed Muhammad Saiadulla (Assam) argued that not all Muslims consume beef, and
useful cattle were a capital asset for Muslim agriculturalists just like for Hindus.
He critiqued the emphasis on economic verbiage as dubious and logically flawed, going
on to observe that the Hindu religious sentiment for the cow was being ‘satisfied by
the backdoor’ (p. 578).
Despite rational arguments by Muslim members against the claims of cow
protection protagonists, Article 38-A was adopted by the Constituent Assembly
with minor changes of wording, to become Article 48 of the Constitution of India,
South Asia Research Vol. 38(2): 156–176
South Asia Research Vol. 38(2): 156–176
The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern
and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving
the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and
draught cattle.
Austin (1966: 82) commented that the prohibition of cow slaughter in the name of
modernisation of agriculture was an unmistakable imposition of the religious preference
and powers of the dominant upper caste over the powerless and marginalised sections
of India. Article 48, however, clearly enforced only a partial rather than a complete
ban on cow slaughter, still making a distinction between useful milch and draught
cattle and useless animals, which could be slaughtered. Overall, despite the prevalent
caste-Hindu sentiments they reflected, the Constituent Assembly cow slaughter debates
did not become acrimonious, though they were the culmination of cow protection
arguments, largely based on earlier Arya Samaj positions. Yet the decision to legalise
the popular majoritarian sentiment, albeit cloaked in secular language, was to have
profound consequences soon after Independence.
Legitimating Popular Majoritarian Sentiments
This section now discusses two important verdicts on cow slaughter in Independent
India, Mohammed Hanif Quareshi and others v. State of Bihar in 1958 (henceforth Hanif
Quareshi),7 and Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat and others v. State of Gujarat of
2005 (henceforth Mirzapur Moti Kureshi).8 Analysing both verdicts, we argue that the
Indian Supreme Court has legitimised majoritarian sentiments in the law by conceding
valuable ground to cow protectors.
Before discussing Hanif Quareshi, it is useful to remember that the arguments
for a total ban on cow slaughter in the Supreme Court bear striking resemblances to
the proposals for cow protection in the Constituent Assembly, which in turn drew
from earlier Arya Samaj arguments and the 1945 Gau Ank. Hanif Quareshi arose in
opposition to the imposition of a total ban on cow slaughter by three large Indian
states, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Twelve petitions (eleven in 1956,
one in 1957) were filed in the Supreme Court, which decided to deliver one common
verdict. The petitioners, Muslim butchers, challenged the total ban on cow slaughter
under three Fundamental Rights, respectively Article 14 (right to equality), 19(1)(g)
(right to practise any profession and carry on any occupation) and 25 (right to freedom
of religion). They argued that the total ban imposed by the three states placed Article
48 as a Directive Principle of State Policy above the Fundamental Rights. Numerous
cow protection organisations and others wished to intervene in the proceedings.
Though the Court, following formal rules and norms, did not allow any of them
to intervene, it appointed a leading proponent of cow slaughter prohibition, Pandit
Bhargava, as amicus curiae, ‘in view of the importance of the questions involved in
these proceedings’ (p. 739).
Gundimeda and Ashwin: Cow Protection in India
The Court first took up the petitioners’ contention that the impugned Acts
violated their right to religious freedom under Article 25(1). It then expressed its
vexation over the ‘extremely meagre’ (p. 739) material submitted on claims that the
sacrifice of a cow is sanctioned by Islam. Taking it upon itself to seek clarity on Islam’s
position on cow sacrifice, instead of consulting a Maulana or an expert of Islam, the
Court relied on Hamilton’s old translation of Hedaya, Book XLIII (p. 740), taking
the view that sacrifice of a cow was not an ‘obligatory duty’ in Islam, as there was an
option of sacrificing a ‘goat for one person or a cow or a camel for seven persons’ (p. 740).
The thrust of the Court’s efforts here aimed at identifying the ‘essential practices’ of
Islam, arguing that it did not mandate cow slaughter or sacrifice. Therefore the total
ban by the three states did not violate the Fundamental Rights of religious freedom and
expression of the Muslim petitioners. Notably, this is precisely the earlier argument
of Pandit Bhargava to support his cow protection bill in the Constituent Assembly.
Now amicus curiae in Hanif Quareshi, he again argued that Islam did not mandate cow
slaughter. Dismissing the petitioners’ claims of religious freedom, the Court simply
followed the advice of the Pandit.
The Court next turned to the petitioners’ contention regarding Article 14, the
right to equality. They argued that an odious discrimination was created by the Acts
between those who butchered bovine cattle and those who butchered goats and sheep.
Singling out the former for prohibition violated Article 14. In response, the Court
dismissed the petitioners’ arguments, justifying the classification on the grounds of
usefulness of the cow (p. 741):
Cows, bulls, bullocks and calves of cows are no doubt the most important cattle for the
agricultural economy of this country. Female buffaloes yield a large quantity of milk and
are, therefore, well looked after and do not need as much protection as cows yielding
a small quantity of milk require. As draught cattle male buffaloes are not half as useful
as bullocks. Sheep and goat give very little milk compared to the cows and the female
buffaloes and have practically no utility as draught animals.
Even if one were to sympathise with the Court’s claim that cows and their progeny are
important to the agricultural economy, the argument that cows yield less milk than
female buffaloes and hence require protection is beyond logical comprehension. If one
were to take less milk-yielding capacity as the main criterion for protection, sheep and
goats, which give very little milk, would require maximum protection. The Court’s
favouring of cows, probably based on the Chief Justice’s sentiments, did not rely on
rational legal reasoning, though this is claimed by the assertion that ‘the classification
of different kinds of animals is made on a sound and intelligible basis’ (p. 741).
The final argument revolved around the petitioners’ right to practise any profession
or carry on any occupation under Article 19(1)(g). Assessing this claim, the Court
subjected each of the impugned Acts to a test of reasonableness through the prism of
‘the interests of the general public’ (p. 744). The Court agreed that Muslim butchers
(kasais) and those involved in ancillary occupations were seriously affected, if not
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South Asia Research Vol. 38(2): 156–176
completely thrown out of occupation, by the impugned Acts. It also concurred with
the proposition that a large number of useless and inefficient cattle would deprive
useful cattle of much-required fodder. The Court was even critical of cow protection
schemes, particularly Gosadans (p. 751) which treat animals with cruelty, and also
deplored the economic costs of such schemes to the nation (p. 750). Additionally, the
Court acknowledged that for a large section of India’s poor, not just Muslims, but also
Christians and members of Scheduled Castes and Tribes, beef or buffalo meat was
mostly the only affordable source of protein and nourishment, so a total ban would
certainly deprive these populations of necessary nutrition.
Yet, the Court chose to ignore these facts in the final verdict, making three
conclusions: (a) that a total ban on the slaughter of cows of all ages, calves of cows and
calves of she-buffaloes, male and female, is quite reasonable and valid and is consonant
with the Directive Principles of Article 48; (b) that a total ban on the slaughter of shebuffaloes, or breeding bulls or working bullocks (cattle as well as buffaloes) as long as
they are milch or draught cattle is also reasonable and valid; and (c) that a total ban
on the slaughter of she-buffaloes, bulls and bullocks (cattle or buffalo) after they cease
to be capable of yielding milk or of breeding or working as draught animals cannot be
supported as reasonable in the interest of the general public (p. 755).
Discussing Hanif Quareshi, Baxi (1967: 349) noted that the Court went to great
lengths to dismiss the petitioners’ claims on religious freedom, while simultaneously
not being as rigorous in its search for substantiation of claims that the cow had the
alleged reverential position in the Indian religion (read Indian as Hindu), thereby
conceding to popular majoritarian sentiment regarding the cow’s sanctity. His scrutiny
of the judgment highlights the Court’s explicit recognition of what could be termed
as ‘popular sentiment’. The judgment itself reads (p. 745):
While we agree that the constitutional question before us cannot be decided on grounds
of mere sentiment, however passionate it may be, we, nevertheless, think that it has to be
taken into consideration, though only as one of many elements, in arriving at a judicial
verdict as to the reasonableness of the restrictions.
This statement, while recognising the role of the legislature as the repository of people’s
sentiments, through adult suffrage, to frame laws in the best interests of society, was
remarkable in that the Court abstained from possible communal sentiments while
discussing the law. Following the precedent set in the Constituent Assembly debates,
which manifestly allowed a majoritarian bias in India’s secular Constitution, the Court
likewise legitimised Hindu sentiments in Hanif Quareshi, taking ‘popular sentiment’,
really caste-Hindu sentiment, into account. The Court would retain this specific
Hindu bias in subsequent cases involving cow slaughter, veiling religious sentiments
in the scientific language of protecting the interests of the nation’s agriculture, while
maintaining that cow sacrifice was not obligatory for Muslims. Jaffrelot (1996: 204–10)
perceptively discusses the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s verdict and the anti-cow
slaughter agitation. As subsequent verdicts demonstrate, there have been no effective
Gundimeda and Ashwin: Cow Protection in India
challenges to the total official ban on cow slaughter on the grounds of religious freedom
by Muslims. Several reasons may explain this avoidance of conflict, but pursuing those
here goes beyond the ambit of this article.
The 2005 Judgment: ‘The Value of Dung is
Much More than the Kohinoor’
The Supreme Court position in Hanif Quareshi (1958) endured for more than four
decades but saw a marked shift in the 2005 case of Mirzapur Moti Kureshi.9 The State
Legislature of Gujarat had introduced the Bombay Animal Preservation (Gujarat
Amendment) Act of 1994, enlarging the prohibition of slaughtering bulls and bullocks
below the age of 16 years to a total ban on slaughter of cows and their progeny. As the
Gujarat Act infringed the long-held Supreme Court position, its constitutional validity
was challenged before the Gujarat High Court, which promptly struck down the
impugned legislation, arguing that the 1994 Act imposed an unreasonable restriction
on Fundamental Rights and was ultra vires the Constitution. This was probably a
strategic refusal, allowing the state of Gujarat to appeal to the Supreme Court by a
Special Leave Petition.
A Supreme Court Bench of seven judges, led by Chief Justice Lahoti, reexamined
the issue and in the final verdict, six judges upheld the validity of the impugned
amendment. The Court eschewed not just established principles of constitutional
interpretation but overruled the earlier settled jurisprudence on the slaughter of bulls
and bullocks in Hanif Quareshi. Unmistakably, this judgment was pro-Hindu, and
against Dalits, Adivasis, Muslim and Christian minorities. Examining how the Court
arrived at this biased verdict, Jaising, Chakravorty and Dev (2016) see two aspects at
its heart, namely misinterpretation of the role of the Directive Principles in India’s
constitutional framework and support of Hindutva forces through reliance on a 2002
report by the National Commission of Cattle.
The Chief Justice’s verdict elevated the status of Article 48, a Directive Principle
of State Policy, to that of a Fundamental Right when he argued that the Court as
guardian of the fundamental rights of the citizens has a responsibility to strike a
just balance between the fundamental rights and the larger and broader interests
of society. This, according to the Chief Justice, translated to the position that the
interest of a citizen or section of a community, howsoever important, is secondary to
the interest of the country or community as a whole. Public interest, this indicates,
prevails over private interest. Thus, in the name of protecting ‘the public interest’,
without explaining what exactly this was supposed to involve, the Chief Justice
attempted not just to make ‘the country’ enter into a hostile relationship with
some of its own people. He also rendered the Fundamental Rights subservient to
the Directive Principles, an interpretation, as Jaising et al. (2016) argue, that was
‘both disingenuous and dangerous and precisely what the constitution-makers
wanted to guard against’.
South Asia Research Vol. 38(2): 156–176
South Asia Research Vol. 38(2): 156–176
In order to justify the impugned amendment, the court relied heavily on Articles
48, 48(A), which pertains to protection of the environment, and 51-A(g), a part of the
Fundamental Duties that directs India’s citizens to have compassion for living creatures.
While referring to ‘milch and draught cattle’ in Article 48, the Chief Justice notes that
this expression was employed by the Constitution to distinguish useful cattle from
other cattle, which are neither milch nor draught animals. Subjecting these terms to
intense scrutiny, the Chief Justice formulated his own set of questions about whether
explicit protection for cattle stops whenever they cease to be ‘milch or draught’, either
temporarily or permanently. Providing answers to his own questions, the Chief Justice
held in effect (at paragraph 66, page 570 SCC) that the protection given to a cow,
whatever its age, a constitutionally settled position since Hanif Quareshi, was now
extended to all its progeny:
A milch cattle goes through a life cycle during which it is sometimes milch and sometimes
it becomes dry. This does not mean that as soon as a milch cattle ceases to produce
milk, for a short period as a part of its life cycle, it goes out of the purview of Article
48, and can be slaughtered. A draught cattle may lose its utility on account of injury or
sickness and may be rendered useless as a draught cattle during that period. This would
not mean that if a draught cattle ceases to be of utility for a short period on account of
sickness or injury, it is excluded from the definition of ‘draught cattle’ and deprived of
the benefit of Article 48.
Further, the Court invoked Article 51-A(g) to strengthen the case for protection of useless
bulls and bullocks, expressly on the grounds of compassion, holding (in paragraph 67,
pp. 570–1 of SCC):
The concept of compassion for living creatures enshrined in Article 51A(g) is based
on the background of the rich cultural heritage of India the land of Mahatma Gandhi,
Vinobha, Mahaveer, Buddha, Nanak and others. No religion or holy book in any part of
the world teaches or encourages cruelty. Indian society is a pluralistic society. It has unity
in diversity. The religions, cultures and people may be diverse, yet all speak in one voice
that cruelty to any living creature must be curbed and ceased. A cattle which has served
human beings is entitled to compassion in its old age when it has ceased to be milch or
draught and becomes so-called ‘useless’. It will be an act of reprehensible ingratitude to
condemn a cattle in its old age as useless and send it to a slaughter house […] We have
to remember: the weak and meek need more of protection and compassion.
The Court’s appeal and high ideas of compassion for cattle, phrased in such universal
terms, may be read as invocation of high values and ethics, even an endorsement of
animal rights. While this goes against the advice of Dr Ambedkar in the Constituent
Assembly, as noted previously, this emphasis on compassion merely demonstrates
another instance of sectarian interests, cloaked now in the universal terminology
of animal rights. As Chigateri (2011: 115) argues, by speaking of compassion the
Court ‘excluded the possibility of any discord and debate on the issue of whether
Gundimeda and Ashwin: Cow Protection in India
compassion towards living creatures always meant prohibitions from slaughter’ (italics
in the original). Despite mentioning diversity and the pluralistic nature of Indian
society, the Court did not even bother to consider cow slaughter from non-Hindu
perspectives. Further, the Court refused to extend the protection and compassion given
to animals as ‘meek’ and ‘weak’ to the whole category of Muslim butchers, whose right
to livelihood was shattered by the impugned Act. Astonishingly, the Court justified
ruining the butchers’ livelihoods in the name of interest of the general public and
observed (paragraph 78, page 574 of SCC) that ‘[t]he ban is not on the total activity
of butchers (kasais); they are left free to slaughter cattle other than those specified in
the Act’. However, the Chief Justice went further (at paragraph 137):
In the light of the material available in abundance before us, there is no escape from the
conclusion that the protection conferred by impugned enactment on cow progeny is
needed in the interest of the nation’s economy. Merely because it may cause ‘inconvenience’
or some ‘dislocation’ to the butchers, restriction imposed by the impugned enactment does
not cease to be in the interest of the general public. The former must yield to the latter.
The reference to ‘the nation’s economy’ here is intriguing but is not explored. The fact
that beef is consumed as an item of food in India, openly recognised in Hanif Quareshi,
also did not merit the Court’s consideration in 2005. The Chief Justice argued that
while in earlier decades, food security was a significant concern, India’s socioeconomic
scenario has now progressed. We are not told here in what ways, while Puniyani (2015)
spots that ‘India is also a major exporter of beef ’. In continuation of this argument,
the Court further states that desirable diet and nutrition are not necessarily associated
with non-vegetarian diet, let alone dietary items originating from slaughtering cows
and their progeny. Beef, it is argued, contributes only about 1.3 per cent of the total
meat consumption of India. Consequently, it is argued, a prohibition on the slaughter
of cattle would not substantially affect the food consumption of the people.
Two aspects become clear from the aforementioned chain of arguments. First, stating
that there is no necessary association between desirable diet and non-vegetarian food,
the Chief Justice was unequivocal in privileging his own preference for vegetarian food.
Second, he was unwilling to respect the food choices of any particular population
group, however marginal, or the whole class of ‘beef-eating Indians’, ignoring
arguments that the right to life under Article 21 may include the right to eat the
food of your choice (Jaising et al., 2016). Instead beseeched Muslims and other
marginalised sections may simply be forced by the state’s law to give up their specific
choice of food, since their choice is not approved by the majority, echoing the Arya
Samaj’s arguments against beef consumption as an unacceptable, degenerative practice.
Jaising et al. (2016) note that various other Directive Principles and Fundamental
Duties were conveniently ignored by the Court. For instance, Article 38 enjoins the
State to secure a social order for the promotion of welfare of all people, adding further
in a 1978 amendment that the State shall strive to provide facilities and opportunities
to individuals and groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different
South Asia Research Vol. 38(2): 156–176
South Asia Research Vol. 38(2): 156–176
vocations. Similarly, Article 46 directs that the State ‘shall promote with special care
the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in
particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them
from social injustice and all forms of exploitation’. These Directive Principles were
blatantly ignored when the Supreme Court in 2005 deprived millions of poor people
from Dalit, Adivasi and minority backgrounds of their right to cheap protein in the
form of beef, as well as denying Muslim butchers and other traders their right to earn
a dignified livelihood.
Regarding Hindutva alliance and the utility of cows, we learn further details from
this judgment. Hanif Quareshi in 1958 held total prohibition on the slaughter of bulls
and bullocks to be unreasonable and not in the public interest. The 2005 Supreme
Court, however, did not concur with this view. Justifying the total ban in the interest
of the general public, it seems that heavy reliance was placed on the report of the
National Commission of Cattle, set up by the BJP-led NDA government in 2002.10
This Commission, set up in response to the NDA’s failure to legislate a total ban on
cow slaughter in Parliament, provides multiple indications of allegiance to Hindu
right-wing forces, particularly the RSS. In the preface, addressed to the former Prime
Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Acting Chairman of this National Commission
acknowledges the contribution of ‘dedicated cow-worshippers’ to the Report, bemoans
the non-availability of a previous report compiled by RSS Chief Golwalkar, among
others, and also retains the Hindutva version of history by mentioning only that cows
were massacred during Muslim invasions. The Chairman urges the then Prime Minister
to secure his legacy by ensuring the protection of the cow (gomata). That Chief Justice
Lahoti in 2005 relied on such an ideologically motivated report speaks volumes of
the Supreme Court’s acquiescence to popular and/or majoritarian sentiments. In this
context, discussing the utility factors of the cow’s progeny, the Chief Justice came up
with an extraordinary argument around cow dung, taken straight from the National
Commission of Cattle Report, stating (in paragraph 83, page 580 of SCC):
[T]he value of dung is much more than even the famous ‘Kohinoor’ diamond. An old
bullock gives 5 tonnes of dung and 343 pounds of urine in a year which can help in the
manufacture of 20 cartloads of composed manure. This would be sufficient for manure
need of 4 acres of land for crop production. The right to life is a fundamental right and
it can be basically protected only with proper food and feeding and cheap and nutritious
food grains required for feeding can be grown with the help of dung. Thus the most
fundamental thing to the fundamental right of living for the human being is bovine dung.
Further bizarre, economy-related arguments around the utility of dung were offered
by the Court to estimate that a bull or bullock at every stage of life supplies 3500 kg
of dung and 2000 litres of urine. The value of these contributions to the owner can
be placed at `20,000 per year, so that even the most aged bovine is still economically
useful. Such data, evidently taken from an earlier article written by Panna Lal Mundhra,
chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India, which was established in 1962
Gundimeda and Ashwin: Cow Protection in India
by Rukmini Devi Arundale, were published in the 2002 National Commission of
Cattle Report. Incidentally, the same data had earlier been rejected by the Supreme
Court in the 1996 case of Hasmattullah,11 on the ground that this statement was
not verified and did not refer to accurate sources. It is quite significant that data and
documents rejected by the Supreme Court in an earlier judgment were endorsed in
2005 (Jaising et al., 2016). Recent Supreme Court verdicts on the status of Article 48
thus provide stark reminders that the judiciary does not hold an apolitical status in
Indian democracy (Sen, 2007: 29–34). The Supreme Court’s heavy reliance on the
2002 National Commission of Cattle Report is particularly striking and pertinent in
the wake of the subsequent rise to political power of the BJP.
Conclusion: A Way Forward?
In early March 2015, the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, in
addition to the existing prohibition (since 1995) on the slaughter of cows, prohibited
also the slaughter of bulls and bullocks in that state. In a number of writ petitions,
the amendment was challenged in the High Court of Bombay on the basis of Articles
19(1)(g), 21, 25 and 29. These Articles deal with the right to practise any profession,
protection of life and personal liberty, freedom of religion and the interests of minorities,
respectively. These petitions were disposed together by a two-judge Bench, Justices A.S.
Oka and S.C. Gupta. The court largely agreed with the respondents and upheld the
constitutional validity of the impugned Act. Most recently, the BJP-led government
in Gujarat passed an amendment to the Gujarat Animal Preservation (Amendment)
Bill on 31 March 2017 that prescribed life imprisonment for those found guilty
of slaughtering cows. This law has also a provision for a 10-year imprisonment for
transportation, storage or sale of beef.12
It is thus increasingly clear that the cow protection debate in contemporary India
has been hijacked by Hindu right-wing organisations, taking it now upon themselves
to use violence against other humans, while claiming to protect cows and their progeny.
The often blatantly criminal activities of cow vigilantes have created an atmosphere
of fear and insecurity among minority communities, particularly Muslims engaged
as butchers or meat traders, and lower caste Dalits engaged in leather and tannery
industries. In this context, the judicial verdicts analysed here present a bleak picture,
as they legitimise such majoritarian sentiments and implicitly endorse cow vigilante
violence. Given such dangerous constellations, which also impact on freedom of speech
and expression, it is worth asking if any viable solution to the issue of cow protection
amenable to all sections of the population exists. Is there a middle way which remains
sensitive to religious feelings and economic rationality and which works simultaneously
towards mitigating the current atmosphere of fear among minorities and to restore
faith in constitutional principles for all citizens?
We can think of five ways through which to approach the issue. First, treating the
cow on par with other domestic animals and leaving responsibility for it to the owner.
South Asia Research Vol. 38(2): 156–176
South Asia Research Vol. 38(2): 156–176
Owners of cows, who in India are often women (Ohlan, 2016: 242), would then be
at complete liberty to do whatever they wanted to do with the animal. This basic
economic and contract-based approach would, however, be unacceptable in principle
to conservative Hindus. The second approach is to maintain the constitutional position
prior to the Supreme Court’s reinterpretation of Article 48 in its 2005 cow slaughter
verdict. This would mean that only cattle, including cows and their progeny and
buffaloes past the age of about 17 years, unusable either for reproduction, agriculture,
draught or transport purposes in the present or future, could be slaughtered. As the
cow is included in this list, this will also be unacceptable to conservative Hindus. The
third approach would be to concur with the arguments of conservative Hindus, ban
the slaughter of all cows and their progeny, and also prohibit the consumption of beef.
However, in a country with more than 300 million cows (Ohlan, 2016), it could be
argued that this would be economic suicide. Hence, except for a small percentage
of conservative Hindus, this radical approach would also not be agreeable to most
Indians, mainly because it would hit the pockets of all owners of bovines. Not only
Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised castes and communities
oppose this approach both on account of their occupations, agriculture and leatherrelated work, where both living and dead cattle play an important role, but also those
in relation to dietary practices, whether or not beef has been a major or occasional
food item. Especially, caste-Hindus involved in agricultural work would probably
also oppose this total ban, denying them the freedom to dispose even of surplus or
uneconomical animals.
The fourth possible way could be to leave the enforcement of a ban on cow slaughter
to respective state governments in India. This solution would allow the states to decide
upon a partial or total ban in accordance with cultural traditions and practices of the
people in that state. Although this appears to be a viable suggestion, this could not
result in a permanent solution nationally, as Hindu right-wing forces would continue
to use cow protection for political gains even in states that wanted to implement
more liberal/secular/rational approaches. However, since India is a democracy and
people’s votes do count (see Kumar, 2017; Rai, 2017), there may need to be some
subtle balancing of competing positions. It appears that the BJP is increasingly aware
of this, too, fearing electoral backlash of cow-related violence.
The fifth and final approach would be to ban the slaughter of cows throughout the
country, but allow slaughter of bulls and oxen past a certain age. This approach, going
back to the Hanif Quraishi position, except by compromising on the cows and their
progeny, should actually be agreeable to all contending parties. Not subjecting the
holy cow or its female progeny to any risk of slaughter would respect the sentiments
of conservative Hindus. However, making economically justifiable allowances for
slaughtering other cattle would continue to respect the occupations and food traditions
of minorities, marginalised castes and people who simply wanted to include beef in
their diet, for whatever reason. This solution, we suggest, would also make more
economic sense than a complete ban for ideological reasons. This compromise strategy
Gundimeda and Ashwin: Cow Protection in India
would be suitable for mitigating the sense of fear and insecurity among minorities,
particularly those involved in butchering or tanning occupations. Conversely, it is
only reasonable that Hindu right-wing forces should accept this approach and help
maintain a sense of law and order, despite much current evidence to the contrary.
Having said that, India’s cow protection debate is really no longer about any perceived
hurt to religious sentiment, but has become a tool in stoking fear. The best way
forward might therefore actually be to go back to the position originally agreed in the
Constituent Assembly, to the effect that the State has a deep responsibility to ensure
that a balanced rationality in the management of animal husbandry is cultivated and
applied, but also that the law of the land is followed, which would imply a check
on cow vigilantism as witnessed at present. Such a position would clearly be in the
public interest of all Indian citizens.
The authors gratefully acknowledge ACSD support for a small grant to complete this
study, earlier versions of which were presented at the national seminar on ‘Elusive Equality:
Mapping Social Hegemony in India, University of Hyderabad (28–29 January 2016)
and the International Workshop on ‘Religion and Law: Colonial and Post-Colonial
Encounters’, at the Centre for the Study of Comparative Religions and Civilisations,
Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi (9–11 March 2016). We thank participants at these
seminars, especially Dr Thirunavukkarasu and Dr Manisha Sethi for critical comments.
An earlier version of this paper was also presented at the School of Policy & Governance,
Azim Premji University, Bengaluru on 14 September 2017.
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Sambaiah Gundimeda obtained a PhD in Politics and International Studies from
SOAS, University of London, in 2013. Following a number of Visiting Fellowships
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Premji University in Bengaluru. His research interests are Political Sociology, Caste
and Democracy, and Multiculturalism and he is the founder of the Amaravathi Centre
for the Study of Democracy (ACSD) at Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, India.
Address: Azim Premji University, Pixel Park – A, 8th Floor – W.S.830, Electronic City,
Bengaluru 560100, Karnataka, India. [E-mail:]
V.S. Ashwin was earlier a Junior Research Fellow at the Amaravathi Centre for the
Study of Democracy in Guntur and is currently a postgraduate student at the Centre
for Modern Indian Studies in Göttingen in Germany. His research interests are Political
Economy, Caste and Capitalism, and Political Philosophy.
Address: Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS), Georg-August University,
Waldweg 26, 37073 Göttingen, Germany. [E-mail:]
SMSXXX10.1177/2056305120928513Social Media + SocietyWard
SI: 2K
Walls and Cows: Social Media, Vigilante
Vantage, and Political Discourse
Social Media + Society
April-June 2020: 1­–4
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:

DOI: 10.1177/2056305120928513
Megan Ward
Vigilante groups in the United States and India have used social media to distribute their content and publicize violent
spectacles for political purposes. This essay will tackle the spectacle of vigilante lynchings, abduction, and threats as images of
vigilante violence are spread online in support of specific candidates, state violences, and election discourse. It is important
to understand the impact of not only these vigilante groups, but understand the communicative spectacle of their content.
Using Leo R. Chavez’s understanding of early 2000s vigilante action as spectacle in service of social movements, this essay
extends the analysis to modern vigilante violence online content used as dramatic political rhetoric in support of sitting
administrations. Two case studies on modern vigilante violence provide insight into this phenomenon are as follows: (1)
Vigilante nativist militia groups across the United States in support of border militarization have kidnapped migrants in the
Southwest desert, documenting these incidents to show support for the Trump Administration and building of a border
wall and (2) vigilante mobs in India have circulated videos and media documenting lynchings of so-called “cow killers”; these
attacks target Muslims in the light of growing Hindu Nationalist sentiment and political movement in the country. Localized
disinformation and personal video allow vigilante content to spread across social media to recruit members for militias, as
well as incite quick acts of mob violence. Furthermore, these case studies display how the social media livestreams and video
allow representations of violence to become attention-arresting visual acts of political discourse.
vigilantism, social media, political discourse, vigilante violence, disinformation, elections
In June 2018, armed volunteers assembled in the United
States—Mexico borderlands, sparking controversy with
their social media content that documented their vigilante
policing activities. This group called themselves the United
Constitutional Patriots (UCP) and live streamed radio and
video showing their members threatening migrants traveling
to the United States in the New Mexico desert. Like previous
militia groups in the region, the UCP had a political goal that
went beyond aiding the border patrol with individual arrests
(Shoichet & Murphy, 2019). “We’re just here to support the
Border Patrol and show the public the reality of the border,”
UCP spokesman, Jim Benvie stated in April 2019, and told
the press that they would remain on the border until President
Trump’s border wall was built, or US Congress adopted
more punitive immigration measures (Romero, 2019). Their
presence on YouTube and Facebook was instrumental in
attracting coverage from the press and general US audiences,
and they circulated disinformation across social media to
recruit members for the militia, to organize funding, and justify their actions (Shorenstein Center, 2018).
The UCP and its social media strategy are not isolated phenomenon, and violent content is spread online by vigilante
actors in many countries to publicize political ideology. India
has received substantial press coverage regarding disinformation-fueled violence in the country, but there has been little
analysis on the purposeful political use of social media and
disinformation by vigilante groups there. Vigilante mobs in
India organize attacks on so-called “cow killers” over social
media and circulate images of the violence in support of legislation that furthers Hindu Nationalist goals. Vigilantism is
defined as socially enacted use of force by autonomous citizens in response to a transgression, either of perceived norms
or laws, with varying levels of premeditation, spontaneity,
and organization (Johnston, 1996). Scholars have written on
online extremism and its facilitating role in real-world violence before, but far less on vigilantisms connection to online
spaces. Here, I focus on two case studies in the United States
and India where vigilante groups have willfully created and
University of Washington, USA
Corresponding Author:
Megan Ward, University of Washington, 400 Thomson Hall, Seattle,
WA 98195, USA.
Creative Commons CC BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission
provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
publicized content over social media in support of election
discourse, desired legislation, and specific political figures.
These cases demonstrate how representations of violence can
become attention-arresting visual acts of political discourse.
While vigilante groups recruit, fund, and operate through
social media networks, these platforms also allow them to
enact and communicate violent political discourse from an
intimate and personal vantage point, which is particularly
affecting in populist political climates.
Case Study: Walls
Within the discourse of the 2018 United States primary elections and the approach of an estimated 7,000 Central
American asylum seekers to the country’s Southern border,
US vigilante group UCP assembled and operated in the New
Mexico desert for roughly a year (O’Rourke, 2018). Though
a relatively small group, they boasted helping the Border
Patrol detain over 5,600 migrants in New Mexico over the
span of 2 months (Hay & Chavez, 2019). This made their
political goals clear, stating the group would operate on the
border until the “wall is up” and the United States was safe
from the incoming “invasion” (Agence France-Presse, 2019;
Nathan, 2019).
The UCP posted these armed detainments through
livestreams on Facebook and YouTube between 18 June 2018
and 24 May 2019, with a total of 113 sessions uploaded. Along
with active documentation of armed detainments, hours-long
radio broadcasts detailed requests for money and supplies, as
well as men with combat backgrounds to join and “be the
eyes of the border patrol” in South New Mexico (United
Constitutional Patriots Radio Live Stream, 2019). The last
statement refers to the Border Patrols tacit but established
acceptance of the militia’s help throughout the UCP’s time on
the border (Horton, 2019). The UCP hosts justified their presence in the New Mexico desert with disinformation, characterizing migrants as “invaders,” “locusts,” child-traffickers, ISIS
terrorists, and gang-members, and denying that the migrants
were genuinely seeking asylum (United Constitutional Patriots
Radio, 2018). These videos were supplemented by associated
social media posts containing false information directed at the
public, potential recruits, and US President Donald J. Trump
himself. In one post, an armed group of vigilante members
posed with the caption “Mr President, all you have to do is call
on us. There are legions of patriots who stand ready to defend
you” (Shorenstein Center, 2018).
Despite setbacks throughout 2019, the UCP has so far
kept its political promises to remain on the border until
President Trump’s wall is built. In April and then May of
2019, the group’s leadership was arrested, first for conspiracy to assassinate high-level democrats and then for impersonating law enforcement, which resulted in PayPal and
GoFundMe stripping the UCP of their crowdfunding
accounts (Hay & Chavez, 2019; Nathan, 2019). The UCP has
since rebranded themselves the Guardian Patriots and
Social Media + Society
continued to seek recruits by posting livestreams and videos
of their members detaining migrants at gunpoint (Nathan,
2019). As of September 2019, the group has moved to private land and continues to operate advocating and posting on
social media in support harsher immigration policies and the
continued construction of the border wall through prominent
non-profit conservative advocacy groups (Southern Poverty
Law Center, 2019).
Case Study: Cows
Far from New Mexico where nativist militias push for a border wall, other vigilante groups work to establish a Hindu
national identity in India. Over the past 5 years, attacks
against Muslims, Dalits, and Adivasis, all marginalized populations in India, have exponentially increased in Indian
states controlled by the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP; Banaji & Bhat, 2019). Since 2014 when the BJP
came to national power, a growing Hindu Nationalist ideology has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 44 people as
vigilante groups of gau rakshaks, translated to “cow protectors” target those accused of eating or trading beef, which is
in violation of Hindu religious beliefs. Estimates of exact
number of casualties remain difficult due to tacit approval
and cover-ups of these attacks by local law enforcement and
political leaders (Bajoria, 2019).
Gau rakshak vigilantes operate on social media to find
their targets and publicize attacks, with the express purpose
of showing political leaders that there is extreme support to
“make cow the national animal and hang those who slaughter
her” (Ahuja et al., 2019; Angad & Johri, 2016). In 2016, two
Muslim women were filmed being beaten by a mob over
allegations they possessed beef, and in another video beef
transporters were attacked and forced to eat cow dung
(Krishnan, 2016). In June 2019, Tabrez Ansari, a young
Muslim man, was beaten to death by a vigilante mob of
Hindu Nationalists in an Eastern state of India. Doctored videos of his death were circulated first by the vigilantes and
videos continued to circulate as disinformation campaigns
claiming Ansari had harmed a cow (Krishnan, 2019; Youth
Ki Awaaz, 2019).
Social media, and the close-networks of personal ties it
facilitates, has provided vigilantes a platform to achieve their
goals. In east Delhi, the Rashtriya Goraksha Sena, or the
National Cow-Protection Army, has 2,700 members across
14 Indian states, and they consider themselves political activists (South Asia Journal, 2017). Social media work is vital to
their operation and publicity, and they routinely post videos
that document their own raids on cattle trucks. Ashoo
Mongia, the national president of Rashtriya Goraksha Sena,
explains that raids begin when one of their informants post
videos of cow slaughter or beef trading along with the alleged
perpetrator through social media, and then the offensive
begins, with calls to action across further social media messaging and posts (Angad & Johri, 2016). According to
members of Rashtriya Goraksha Sena, they have support
within the current national government, an east Delhi leader
states, “People in the BJP government are more sensitive to
issues regarding the cow and so we are giving them time to
enact a law” (Angad & Johri, 2016; Frayer, 2019).
Vigilante Violence and Vantage
Addressing the earlier case studies where nativist and nationalist groups publicize and spread violent proof of their vigilantism over social media, I turn to a historical analysis of
similar phenomenon, as well as new understandings of social
media, violent content, and the interaction of the two as
political statement. The concept of visible political violence
as spectacle provides a useful framework for understanding
why vigilante groups publish their violence on social media,
and how this vigilante content functions on these platforms
as arresting political discourse.
Fourteen years before the UCP assembled in the US–
Mexico borderlands, the 2005 Minutemen Project was
another group of self-publicized vigilantes organized around
the US–Mexico border (Chavez, 2007). Its stated aims and
tactics were akin to the UCP’s; in response to a perceived
danger, groups of organized citizens patrolled the border
armed with personal firearms and contacted near US Customs
and Border Patrol Agents when they suspected unsanctioned
border crossings. The Minutemen vigilantes did not obscure
their vigilantism, but instead purposefully drew press coverage and public attention to themselves as a form of effective
political theater, which ultimately had effect on national legislation (Lechuga, 2017).
Scholar Leo R. Chavez explains this phenomenon with
the Foucauldian function of political spectacle: above all,
visible political violence allows power to “deploy its pomp
in public” (Foucault, 1977, pp. 48–49). Although Foucault
addressed sanctioned violence by the state through public
torture, Chavez succinctly notes the substantial political
power that violent spectacle afforded the small vigilante
group in the rural US–Mexico Borderlands, particularly as
they echoed larger state projects of race and othering on local
levels. The relatively small group utilized political spectacle
to its full effect, inviting press to join them as they “worked,”
in this way, chasing down and threatening migrants “became
part of the show” (Chavez, 2007, p. 27). The press provided
an intimate vantage to the public, letting the audience ride
along on the vigilante’s “nation-defining” hunt for those that
do not belong within nativist ideas of race and citizenship
(Chavez, 2007, p. 45).
Chavez’s framework deserves revisiting in the age of
social media. UCP livestreams and gau rakshaks videos are
recorded from the vigilante’s vantage point, and then
uploaded and spread directly through their social media connections without any initial framing by press. In this way,
images of firsthand violence operate as arresting displays of
political power and influence, as vigilantes visibly and
successfully enact violence usually reserved for the State
(Agamben, 2005; Johnston, 1996). This communicative
spectacle of power is validated further by the tacit approval
of State agents, which vigilante groups in both case studies
enjoy (Bajoria, 2019; Horton, 2019). Vigilantes are permitted to not only enact violence in a state of exception, but to
communicate and engage civil discourse through violent
spectacle where others would not be permitted. This tentative privilege is likely due to the groups’ propensity to reinforce the nativist and nationalist discourses already popular
in their respective country’s leadership.
Both vigilante groups had effect on the political discourses of their respective countries, specifically in the light
of the 2018 midterm elections in the United States and the
2019 general election in India. Both groups’ vigilantism
gained headlines in the lead up to national voting; US
President Trump repeated “invasion” claims spread by the
UCP about the “migrant caravan” of asylum seekers, and
BJP Prime Minister Modi campaigned in the months prior to
the election with the phrase “Cow is our mother” (Beniwal &
Parija, 2019; Lartey & Durkin, 2018). Scholars have noted
the space social media provides to perform critical rhetoric
within the frame of nationalist and populist politics, a space
President Trump, Prime Minister Modi, and their respective
vigilante supporters continue to utilize (Gerbaudo, 2018;
Gonawela et al., 2018). While the UCP and gau rakshaks
groups recruit, fund, and operate through social media networks, these platforms also allow them to enact and communicate violent political discourse from an intimate and
personal vantage point, which is particularly affecting in
populist political climates, such as those found recently in
both the United States and India.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Megan Ward

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Author Biography
Megan Ward, M.S. San Diego State University is a researcher and
PhD Candidate of International Studies at the University of
Washington. Her research interests include cybersecurity policy,
informal border security processes, and defense expertise in the
United States.

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