The mob violence over cow slaughter in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr district, claiming two lives including that of a police inspector who had probed the Akhlaq lynching case, comes as a grim reminder of what political patronage to vigilantism can do to society. This is a dangerous trend that must be curbed with an iron hand. Reports that a group of 400 to 500 villagers had attacked the police party, blocked roads and went on a rampage over the alleged illegal cow slaughter highlight the deteriorating law and order situation in a State where the words and actions of the ruling dispensation have only stoked communal tensions and emboldened the self-professed guardians of culture to indulge in mindless vigilantism. Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh died of gunshot injuries as the mob torched a police post, lending credence to the theory that it could be a planned murder. The mob lynching of Akhlaq in 2015 over rumours of cow slaughter and possession of beef in his home had triggered a massive outrage across the country. The trouble started after villagers found some body parts of the cow and its progeny in a jungle in Mahaw village of Bulandshahr district. More disturbing was the fact that the mob violence coincided with a three-day Islamic congregation — Tablighi Ijtema — in the region that attracts thousands of Muslims from all over the State. There has been a spurt in cases of cow vigilantism and mob violence ever since Yogi Adityanath took over the reins of power in Uttar Pradesh.
The situation has become particularly alarming after the Chief Minister himself made light of the incidents of vigilantism in the past and accused the opposition parties of trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. His public speeches on the Ayodhya issue betray a singular lack of respect for the rule of law and the role of judiciary. The hooligans will only get emboldened when people holding high public offices make such irresponsible statements. The latest incident must serve as a wake-up call for the government. Such heinous crimes undermine the core values of tolerance, diversity and peaceful co-existence for which India is respected the world over. It would be a grave threat to the country’s secular fabric if a group of individuals or organisations is allowed to take law into their own hands in the name of protecting religious interests. Vigilantism in any form is anathema to democracy and free society. Cow vigilantism, if unchecked, will severely damage the secular fabric and create communal discord. There is a need for firm policy that cracks down on vigilante groups and doesn’t distinguish between good and bad vigilantes.