Attacks By Cow Vigilantes Must Stop: SC Tells States

To begin with, the Supreme Court on September 6 made it clear in no uncertain terms that attacks on innocents by cow vigilantes must stop. It took a great step towards preventing crimes and violence committed by cow vigilante groups by directing States to appoint a senior cop as nodal officer in each district to monitor such incidents and ensure that culprits are nabbed promptly and punished swiftly. It is really a very good step which shall go a long way in checking attacks and violence by cow vigilantes which till now largely went unhindered and unabated.

                                             While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me inform them that a group of petitioners led by Congress spokesperson Tehseen Poonawala and Tushar Gandhi who is the great grandson of the legendary Mahatma Gandhi gave instances where persons were lynched, minors tortured and women raped by men claiming to be part of cow-protecting army. According to senior advocate and former Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising, representing Gandhi, the crimes mostly occurred on mere suspicion that the victims were transporting cows for slaughter or had consumed beef. Jaising pointed out that most of the violent incidents had occurred on highways.
                        Protect highways
                                        For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let me also inform them that the Supreme Court directed the Chief Secretaries and Directors General of Police to take steps to protect the highways from vigilante mobs. The Court directed the Centre to respond to a submission by senior advocate Indira Jaising for Tushar Gandhi, that the government cannot wash its hands of its constitutional responsibility under Article 256. The Centre should reply to this argument in the spirit of “cooperative federalism”.
                                              For the uninitiated, let me inform them that a three-Judge Bench of Supreme Court comprising of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices Amitava Roy and AM Khanwilkar was hearing an intervention by Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Tushar Gandhi, about the lack of responsibility and accountability shown by the Centre and State administrations as vigilante groups wreaked havoc and resorted to murder in broad daylight in the name of the cow. This is completely unacceptable! How can a human being be murdered in the name of cow?
                           According to senior advocate Indira Jaising, the crimes mostly occurred on mere suspicion that the victims were transporting cows for slaughter or had consumed beef! Jaising and another senior, eminent advocate and former Law Minister Kapil Sibal also very vigorously raised the cases of Pehlu Khan who was assaulted onApril 1 and who died 3 days later in Alwar in Rajasthan in most dastardly manner by vigilantes over suspicion of cow smuggling and said that far from getting justice, the kin of the victims were being harassed through counter-cases. This is certainly most reprehensible and calls for strictest action against those guilty of perpetrating such heinous crimes! Under no circumstances can this allowed to go unchecked and unpunished! Most importantly, the counter-cases should be removed immediately against the kin of the victims by the police.
                                   Truly speaking, Indira Jaising was at pains to point out that, “Non-violence is the founding faith of this country. The Centre cannot turn its back on the violence. The States have the responsibility to lodge FIRs against these vigilantes.” She is absolutely right. It is both the moral and legal obligation of Centre to ensure that violence does not happen and also of States to ensure that FIR is promptly lodged against these vigilantes and they are arrested and put behind bars as early as possible.
                             Before proceeding ahead, let me give a short brief on the major incidents that happened this year in 2017 alone till now. They are as follows: –
Aug 27: Villagers beat to death two Muslim men transporting cattle in West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district.
June 22: Hafiz Junaid, a 16-year-old boy is stabbed to death and four others are injured on board at Mathura-bound train by attackers who call them “anti-nationals” and “beef eaters”.
May 30: A group of students at IIT Madras allegedly thrash PhD scholar R Sooraj for participating in a beef festival.
April 22: Three men are beaten up by a group of men in south Delhi’s Kalkaji for transporting buffaloes in a ‘cruel’ manner.
April 1: Dairy farmer Pehlu Khan is assaulted by vigilantes over suspicion of cow smuggling in Alwar. He dies three days later.
Apart from this, there are many more cases of violence which largely go unreported as the victim prefer to suffer violence quietly instead of complaining to the police and this holds true especially when the victim are poor and underprivileged! We all know how Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched two years ago on allegations of beef eating and cow slaughter. We all also know how in July 2016 cow vigilantes publicly flogged a Dalit family for skinning a dead cow in Una of Gir Somnath district in Gujarat. All this has to end if we are to really pride in calling ourselves a true democratic country.
                       Centre’s responsibility
                                  It may be recalled that onJuly 21, when the matter was last taken up, the Centre had given a statement that it did not support such violence perpetrated by so-called cow vigilante groups. However, the Government placed the blame squarely on States claiming law and order is a State subject. Jaisingh suggested that it was high time for the Centre to step in and exercise its Constitutional power under Article 256 by passing executive instructions to States for curbing such violence.
                                    To say the least, Article 256 which deals with obligation of States and the Union very clearly stipulates that – 1. The executive power of every State shall be so exercised as to ensure compliance with the laws made by Parliament and any existing laws which apply in that State. 2. The executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of such directions to a State Government of India to be necessary for that purpose.   
                                    To put things in perspective, Jaising also pleaded that it was high time the Supreme Court stepped in to frame a national policy against cow vigilantism to prevent violence in the name of cow protection. She said that, “Please direct the Centre to come out with a scheme for prevention of such violence.” The Bench said that there was a practical difficulty in asking for a national policy on what was primarily a law and order issue, falling squarely in the domain of states. The CJI Dipak Misra headed Bench said that, “We do not want to pass such an order. It is constitutionally not permissible to order the Centre to frame a national policy”. The Bench refused to be drawn into specific instances of violence by cow vigilante groups while dealing with the larger issue. It said that, “On the Faridabad incident, you must approach the high court concerned. We do not want to mix this incident with the real issue (petitioner) are espousing.”
                                      Needless to say, Dalits and Muslims have reportedly been the prime targets and at the receiving end of unabashed violence unleashed by lynch mobs, especially in the four northern States. They must be protected just like any other citizen without any discrimination whatsoever! The Apex Court exhorted the Centre to uphold its Constitutional mandate under Article 256 and direct the States to act against the groups. It said the Centre could not remain silent leaving everything to the States.
                                             It must be brought out here that BJP-ruled Haryana, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat accepted the Apex Court’s suggestion to appoint dedicated officers in the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police to prevent “gau rakshaks” as they call themselves, from taking the law into their own hands or becoming a law unto themselves. Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta representing Maharashtra, Haryana and Rajasthan pleaded with the court not to pass any directions and assured that law will take its own course.
                                        It must also be brought out here that another petition being argued by senior advocate Colin Gonsalves pointed out that leaders of political parties were openly exhorting such groups to lynch people in the name of protecting cows and a State’s Chief Minister publicly revoked criminal cases against persons who indulged in crimes related to this cause. This is most reprehensible and can never be justified under any circumstances! Those who commit such heinous crimes deserve to be punished most strictly because if they are let off that would only abet them to indulge in more such dastardly attacks!
                                         Taking a grim view of the facts pointed out to it, the Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices Amitava Roy and AM Khanwilkar said unequivocally that, “This must stop. If there is law in place, there has to be some kind of curbs so that people don’t take laws into their own hands. It is a group action and some kind of planned action is to be taken by States so that such kind of vigilantism does not grow in any sphere”. One can only hope that the concerned States where such reprehensible violence takes place pay heed to what the Apex Court has said. It must be ensured that they are never repeated again in the future.
                                              To put it simply, such incidents are a shameful blot on our democracy  which under no circumstances can ever be justified! The Bench directed States to nominate a senior police officer as a nodal officer to stop such acts and directed Chief Secretaries to coordinate with Director General of Police (DGP) to take steps to prevent incidents of cow vigilantism. The Bench directed that, “The senior police officer shall take prompt action and ensure (that) vigilante groups and such people are prosecuted with quite promptitude”.
                                                           Let me hasten to add here that each State was asked to apprise about steps taken in an affidavit to be field in two weeks. The Bench also asked the Centre to take instructions on whether directions under Article 256 needed to be issued to all State Governments. The Apex Court further directed States to be vigilant to ensure such incidents do not take place on highways. 
                                        Be it noted, the Apex Court posted the case for further hearing on September 22. It must be noted here that Justice AM Khanwilkar wondered why no one had field PIL pleas against the carcasses of slaughtered animals found strewn on roads and public places. CJI Dipak Misra also made it very clear to Centre who was represented by Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who appeared for the four northern States that, “The Centre cannot remain silent, leaving everything to the States. You have to stop it [the violence]”.
                              Briefly stated, the Apex Court asked the counsel for 22 states to file compliance reports by October 13 and fixed October 31 as the date for hearing the PILs. It also made it clear that, “Let the compliance reports be filed…nobody can wash off their hands (from their duty). We will give directions to all the states”. The direction came after the Bench was informed that only five states – Rajasthan, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat – have carried out the order so far and that Bihar and Maharashtra would be filing it during the day. The Apex Court also asked States and Union Territories to comply with its September 6 order to appoint nodal officers byOctober 31 to deal with cow vigilantism.
                                  To put it succinctly, the Apex Court while proposing measures to stem what it called growing violence by so-called cow protection groups, had said that the nodal officers would have to ensure that vigilantes do not become a law unto themselves. It had given states a week time to comply with the order. The court had also asked states to list steps they would take to step up security on highways, where cow vigilantes have stopped vehicles carrying cattle and attacked people.
                                     All said and done, Centre and all States must take all steps to comply with what the Supreme Court has said. It must be ensured that no human being is ever killed or even attacked by vigilantes under the garb of cow protection. Vigilantes are nobody and it is police who is entrusted with the task of ensuring that cows are not killed ruthlessly by anyone. It has been noticed that mostly these vigilantes are anti-social elements who in the garb of gau raksha resort to violence to create disharmony and communal violence also. Their nefarious designs have to be thwarted under any circumstances well in time. It is a matter of grave concern that the senior counsel Indira Jaising had submitted that there had been 66 incidents of mob lynching and assault since July. In response, the Bench had rightly ruled that, “Steps have to be taken to stop this…Some kind of planned action is required so that vigilantism does not grow. Efforts have to be made to stop such vigilantism. How they (states) will do it, is their business but this must stop.”
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.