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Falsified narratives

The killing of a cow can lead to a communal flashpoint in our country — even if the incident is a result of personal rivalry

A cow is killed. What could be the possible course of action in any other country? Lodge a case against the perpetrator for animal cruelty. But we have it different here. There is a fear of communal riots — of intensified Hindu-Muslim strife — where people are ready to kill each other, relying on no solid evidence or proof. Heavy police deployment and the fear of communal riots take over the scene. And no, this has nothing to do with the reverence that is held for cows in India. This has more to do with the narrative that is built around it. The cow is somehow actually sidelined and the main highlight is Hindu-Muslim tension around cow slaughter.

Many try to paint a different picture to turn the events to their advantage — they highlight the fright and panic in the air and end up exacerbating it. From rumour mongering to the sudden awakening of the ‘gau rakshaks’ (cow vigilantes) who claim to be the protectors of the cow, everything takes a dramatic turn. Perhaps, it will not be wrong to say that in India, the killing of a cow becomes a topic of significance not because an animal was brutally murdered — which should, in fact, be the most abhorrent part — but more because of the communal politics around it.

Putting allegations on the people of a particular community and swearing to kill them on the basis of little evidence makes the situation more sensitive. Instead of waiting for a conclusive investigation report, people begin jumping to conclusions. Hardly do they realise that something that looks like a piece of gossip to the rumour mongers, can actually escalate into something as disastrous as a riot.

Recently, there was one such incident that could have escalated quickly had the police not swung into action or had the residents not evaded the efforts that were being made to disrupt the peace in their locality. They acted with sanity to keep the tranquility intact, even in an area that is known to be communally sensitive.

Rai Singh, owner of a dairy in Trilokpuri, found the carcasses of two of his cows near the Sanjay Lake area. Their body parts were severed and strewn across the road. As this news spread in the locality, there arose a fear that it might stoke communal tensions. To prevent a riot-like situation, there was heavy police deployment in the area for a few hours. Members of the Sanatan Hindu Yuva Vahini, a Hindutva group, went to the police station, vowing to bring the perpetrators to justice. And people tried to play on the communal card.

This easily shifted the focus from the cow killings and from the misery of the dairy owner who had lost his cows that were also a financial asset for him. And the episode started revolving around everything communal. No one talked about how cruelly the cows had been dismembered. Hardly anyone spoke about Singh’s loss — he had bought the cows for around Rs 20,000 each and had resumed his dairy business only a few days ago. For him, it was not about a communal angle, it was not about religious communities.

Singh does not even think that the motive behind the killings had anything to do with religious animosity. In fact, he alleges that a neighbour did this because of a personal tussle. What saved the situation from becoming catastrophic was the fact that many local residents refused to believe this communal narrative that some were trying to propagate. This is why peace prevailed.

Rumours and false narratives easily spread in such situations. And even though there is still no headway in investigation, many people said that ‘fringe elements’ were responsible for the killings. It is appalling to see that many people just blindly believe stories that are fed to them, instead of waiting for the situation to be analysed by the police. Even as the family refused to stoke communal fires and tried to placate people, a group of men and women protested outside Pandav Nagar police station, raising slogans against the minority community.

After all the brouhaha that had been going on since morning, when I reached the spot, everything appeared to be pretty normal. People were going about their usual business and there was no riot-like situation —although things could have gotten out of control and there were some elements who were trying their best to do it.

Rai Singh had tears in his eyes while talking about his cows. He earns his livelihood from them. He also stated that one was pregnant. Singh’s wife said that the neighbour had been targeting them since months because they tether their cows on DDA-owned land. The neighbour, allegedly, had also got the DDA land sealed to force their cattle out and even got the water supply cut. The entire issue seems like a personal tiff as of now.

I guess in our country, too much anger is evoked by religion — from politics to cow killings.  But we can take a cue from this incident on how to let wisdom and peace prevail in the midst of fear mongering and hatred.