India's far-right cow vigilantes are gaining political power ahead of 2024 elections

India’s far-right cow vigilantes are gaining political power ahead of 2024 elections

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Many are now campaigning and preparing for the elections to be held in 2024, in which the BJP and allied right-wing parties are favored to do well.

Of the vigilantes who spoke to Reuters, 41 have been elected to positions such as village head, city council member or local legislator in the past six years, roles that can involve ruling over thousands of people.

Another 12 said they were lobbying their family members to get local office.

“Everything you see: my success, my survival is only because cows have blessed me,” said Dabad, who started a cow protection force in 2014 and was elected village head in 2016.

He is now a full-time political campaigner for the party aligned with the BJP in the northern state of Haryana, and is aspiring to seek higher office.

Ancient Hindu religious texts praise cows, which are considered goddesses, for their nutritional abilities. But India’s minority Muslims and Christians, as well as some Hindus, consume beef as part of their diet, causing some communal tensions.

There are no publicly available official estimates on the number of cow activists nationwide, but activist leaders said they believe more than 300,000 Hindu men are directly associated with their groups in the country of 1.4 billion. Are.

India’s interior ministry, which oversees national law enforcement, did not respond to a request for comment on that figure or the role of cow activists.

Some of them restrained cow traders – many of them Muslim men – with deadly force, according to prosecutors, witnesses and families of victims, Reuters previously reported.

Some states have enacted laws enabling cow vigilantes to patrol along with the police.

While government data does not separate general violence from cow-related lynching, Human Rights Watch found that at least 44 people were killed in cow-related violence between May 2015 and December 2018 – 36 of whom were Muslims.

The Independent, New Delhi-based Documentation of the Oppressed database included 850 victims, predominantly Muslims, in 206 acts of cow-related violence between July 2014 and August 2022.

The proximity of cow activists to power has raised concerns among many Muslims, who allege that some BJP members and their allies are engaged in anti-Islamic hate speech and violence.

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