In India, there has been a rise in violence against Muslims who have been accused of eating and selling beef. Some Hindus are saying that it is their duty to defend their religious values which state that cows are sacred. Hindus comprise 79.8% of the total population of 1.25 billion Indians while Muslims make up 14.2%, making Hindus the dominant group and more able to assert their beliefs. Anyone who seems to defy said beliefs, even if they do not believe it themselves, can become a target to extremists.
In late September, a Muslim man in New Delhi, India’s capital, was wrongly accused of eating beef, was murdered by a mob of 200 people, who hit him and his son repeatedly with bricks. After forensic testing was done on the meat, it was determined to be goat. There has also been reignited religious tension and protests in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir after the state’s court ordered a beef ban in the Muslim majority state. A truck driver mistakenly accused of killing three cows was burned to death. A Muslim politician in Kashmir also held a “beef party” in protest against the ban and was then beaten by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians.
Some see this as more than just isolated acts and tied to the rise of Hindu nationalism since the BJP’s rise to power in the 2014 national elections. The BJP has long-standing ties to the ultranationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which stated in one of its publications that the Hindu religious text, the Vedas, said that the price for cow slaughter was death, in justification of the mob killing in Delhi. For his part, Prime Minister Modi is not new to accusations of involvement in nationalist violence, as he was Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat in 2002 when religious riots resulted in the deaths of at least 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus. He has also expressed support for a national ban on cow slaughter in the past. Many feel that he has not properly condemned the many cases of violence, although he did speak out against the incendiary comments made by politicians on both sides of the issue after the violence.
Though the secular Indian constitution asserts that the government must protect cows, there has been a tightening of these restrictions since the BJP came to power. At the beginning of this year, the state of Maharashtra, where the large city of Mumbai is located, banned the slaughter, sale, and consumption of beef. It was signed into law by India’s President Pranab Mukherjee and promoted by the BJP in the state government. It became the harshest law in the whole country. Much of the “beef” in India is actually from water buffaloes because they are less expensive, which makes many of the bans more symbolic than anything else. However, in Maharashtra, only 25% of the meat was from water buffaloes, which may have to led to the far-reaching ban.
This violence is not limited to just protests against cow slaughter. In August, two unknown men shot dead a college professor who had spoken out against idol worship many times in the past. This incident has led many to decry a lack of freedom of speech as well. Many in the Indian intelligentsia have denounced the violence, the most prominent being scientist P.M. Bhargava. He returned his Padma Bhushan award, which is the third highest award that can be given to a civilian in India, for “the attack on rationalism” in the country. He joined thirteen filmmakers who returned their national awards and 40 Indian writers who gave back their literary awards in criticism of the violence.
Though there has been significant backlash, including protests on college campuses and calls from India’s leading papers and minds to curb the violence, the perpetrators themselves feel that this violence is tacitly, and even outrightly in some cases, allowed in the political climate set out by the BJP. State institutions are more likely to listen to their complaints and politicians themselves make statements in support of their actions. Prime Minister Modi must first conquer these internal divisions and stop these human rights abuses from occurring in his country before he can pursue his own goals of projecting India’s greatness.