Extortion rackets thrive under garb of cow protection

PTI file photo

Madhya Pradesh has a harsh legal provision against cow slaughter. Under the Madhya Pradesh Prohibition of Slaughter of Cow-Progeny (amendment) Act, 2012, a person found guilty of cow slaughter is liable for 7 years imprisonment, besides a minimum fine of Rs 5,000. Moreover, the act puts the responsibility of proving the prosecution wrong on the accused in a cow slaughter case.

The stringent act coupled with the terror of the cow vigilantes has reduced the incidents of cow slaughter to almost zero in the state over the years.

A few incidents of suspicious beef transport have come to light primarily due to the involvement of cow vigilantes. Last month, a video went viral of two Muslim men and a woman being thrashed by goons over suspicion of carrying beef in an auto-rickshaw in Seoni district. The beef, however, turned out to be goat meat in a laboratory test.

In February, three Muslim youths were arrested on the charge of cow slaughter in Khandwa district. The district police invoked National Security Act against them.  

Cow slaughter under the strict provision of the ban may be negligible in the state but that has not prevented cow vigilantism from striking terror among Muslims who comprise six per cent of the state’s population. Right wing goons under the garb of cow protectors run well-organised extortion rackets across the state. They charge money for cow transport, regardless of whether the animals are being carried for beef or milk.

Village economy

Strict enforcement of the ban on cow slaughter has played havoc with the state’s village economy. Earlier the well-established practice in villages was to hand over old and sick cows to local cobblers for skinning. The ban has ensured that the villagers are forced to abandon their unproductive cows as fear–stricken Dalits don’t take them. As a result, the number of abandoned cows has risen alarmingly. There are about seven lakh stray cows in the state.

The state government in February announced to develop 1,000 cow shelters. The Congress in its manifesto in the run-up to the state assembly elections had promised a cow shelter for all 23,000 village panchayats in the state.

To provide shelter to all stray cows in the state, the state requires 42,000 acres of land. But there is a huge scarcity of land in villages for cow shelters.  The Digvijaya Singh government in 2003 had introduced a policy to reduce grazing land to 2% from 5% to allocate land to landless people, resulting in cattle in villages being deprived of grazing land.

Even India’s first cow sanctuary, opened in September 2017 in Madhya Pradesh, has neither the money nor the manpower to accommodate more cattle. The Kamdhenu Gau Abhayaranya, located in Salaria village in Agar district, stopped taking in cows in February last year.

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