Ban on cow vigilantes? Supreme Court to decide

These vigilantes groups are operating beyond the realm of law and are known to take law in their hands.

Supreme Court of India (Photo: PTI)

 Supreme Court of India (Photo: PTI)

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine a writ petition filed by Congress leader, columnist and model Tahseen Poonawala to take immediate action against the vigilantes, working in the garb of “Gau Rakshak Dals” (cow protection groups) by spreading violence and committing atrocities against Dalits and minorities in the name of the protection of cows and other bovine species.

A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and A.M. Kanwilkar, after hearing senior counsel Sanjay Hegde and counsel Shezad Poonawala, issued notices to the Centre and six states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Karnataka. Mr Hegde brought to the notice of a recent incident in Alwar, Rajasthan, where a middle-aged man was beaten to death, and urged the court to seek reply from the Rajasthan government. The bench did not give a specific direction but asked the states to file their response to the PIL and posted it for further hearing on May 3.

In his petition, Mr Poonawala has sought a ban on such groups on the ground that they were operating illegally in several parts of the country, allegedly killing people in the name of protecting the cow.

He likened the gau rakshaks to the now disbanded ‘salwa judum’, a similar vigilant groups formed by the Chhattisgarh government by arming civilians to kill Maoists.

The petitioner alleged that some states like Gujarat, Haryana, MP and Maharashtra have given licences to these vigilante groups to check passing of trucks illegally smuggling cows. The gau rakshaks dals are in news for the past few months following a series of incidents in which beef-eaters and those purportedly indulging in cowmeat business have been targeted. Starting from Mohammad Akhlaque’s lynching in Uttar Pradesh for allegedly eating beef to the bashing up of a Dalit family in Gujarat for skinning a dead cow, the country has witnessed a spurt in such incidents.

The petitioner submitted the menace caused by the so called ‘cow protection groups’ is spreading fast to every nook and corner of the country, and is creating disharmony among various communities and castes.

The violence committed by them have reached to such proportions that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared them as “people who are destroying the society”.

These vigilantes groups are operating beyond the realm of law and are known to take law in their hands. The atrocities committed by these vigilantes groups are punishable under various provisions of IPC as well as under Schedule Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of atrocities) Act, 1989.

The petitioner submitted that State laws and the protection granted therewith act as a catalyst to violence perpetrated by these vigilantes group. He said that the actions of these cow vigilantes groups are in complete violation of Article 21 of the Constitution as it takes away the victims “Right to life and personal liberty”.

He said that the videos of such atrocities are readily available on Social Media and are inter alia spreading tension and enmity between the societies. Further sting operations conducted by various News Channels clearly show that these vigilante groups are mere extortionists in the garb of Cow Protection and are feeding on fear psychosis of victim as well as the community or caste that person belongs to. Multiple self- declared Cow Protection groups are active on Social Networking websites wherein they spread rumors as well as hatred between different communities and castes. He said these groups need to be regulated and banned in the interest of social harmony, public morality and law and order in the Country.