The Indian Prime Minister had distanced himself from Hindu nationalists who set themselves up as cows defenders beating and killing Dalits. Increasingly frequent violence against those who slaughter or eat beef. For more than 80 million inhabitants, mostly Muslims and Christians, the cows are the main means of livelihood.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the paramilitary group and the Hindu ultranationalist RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh], ideological arm of the ruling BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has praised the work of the "cows protectors ", self-constituted groups of Hindus who stand in defense of the animal sacred to their religion.
Recently, these groups have committed numerous attacks on Dalits, who according to a tradition that has lasted hundreds of years skin the animals and sell leather goods. For this reason, the Prime Minister Modi had described these groups as "anti-social elements." But yesterday the head of the RSS, speaking at a number of events for the Vijaya Dashami festival [which celebrates the victory of good over evil], said the gau rakshaks "can not be compared with common criminals because they carry out an important service, a sacred mission ".
Referring to the "serious provocation" of the prime minister, who in August had said that "70-80% of the 'cow protectors' are involved in anti-social activities and therefore society cannot tolerate them", Bhagwat reiterated that their "mission must continue and is gaining momentum".
The issue of "cow vigilantes" emerged in July in Gujarat, when four Dalits were brutally beaten for allegedly having skinned a cow. Across the state, where the BJP woos Dalits (7% of the population) in view of next year's elections, there have been violent riots that have led to the death of two people, including a policeman.
Now the streets are calm, but from that episode Dalits have been on strike and refuse to bury the animals, a degrading and discriminatory job that the upper castes have always given them because they are considered "unclean".
The activist Ram Puniyani, president of the Center for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, believes that incidents such as that of Gujarat have "shaken the conscience of the most sensitive people." He recalls that it is the widespread hatred against those who eat beef that has led to another serious incident: what happened in Uttar Pradesh, where a Muslim man was beaten to death over the mere suspicion of having consumed beef .
"This intense atmosphere of hatred – he continues - is supported by RSS and BJP, who want to create a Hindu nation. This goes against the Constitution of India and the Indian ethic of pluralism and diversity. For centuries, India has been a place where different cultures and religions have lived in peace and harmony ".
According Puniyani, "attacks against the values of diversity and pluralism have started since the BJP is in central government. The identity issues are a hallmark of the Hindu nationalist policies, which attempt to divide society and polarize communities along religious lines ".
In India the cow is considered enactment of the divine, and almost all states prohibit the slaughter and sale of beef, including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Punjab.
Many of these impose heavy fines for offenders, and sometimes even imprisonment. But beef is part of the traditional diet of Christians and Muslims, religious minorities in the country, and the ban heavily affects the main livelihood of these communities.
According to government statistics, cow meat is consumed by approximately 80 million people - that is, one Indian every 13. The data reveals that even the Hindus consume it in increasing numbers: to date, more than 12 million across the country.