Engineers, realtors and private professionals are among the 10,000 self-styled cow protectors spread across Gujarat’s 33 districts, who are just a WhatsApp message or phonecall away from hunting down vehicles suspected of ferrying cattle for slaughter.
The cow-protection brigade has thrived in the past four years, forming 50 groups under the larger umbrella of the Gau Rakshak Dal (GRD).
But they have been forced on to the back foot after the brutal assault on Dalits in Una earlier this month amid demands of strict action against those taking to violence for rescuing cattle.
In the past four years, members of this brigade — including GRD, Akhil Bhartiya Navyug Sanstha and Akhil Bhartiya Sarvadaliya Gauraksha Maha Abhiyan Samiti — have registered some 400 FIRs and “saved” cow and progeny.
Police report some clashes between them and transporters, mostly from the minority communities.
Members of the groups often upload videos thanking local police who generally act on information and arrest alleged violators and suspected cattle traders. They also get awarded from the government. Trading and slaughtering of cow progeny is a crime in Gujarat under the Gujarat Animal Preservation(Amended) Act 2011.
“What happened in Una was show-off. We also register FIRs against Hindus for cattle trade. We believe in Hindutva but not affiliated with any political party’’, said Neha Patel, a 38-year-old MBA-degree holder in Vadodara.
“50% of our informers are Muslims. But with Una-like incident, we really have to careful with informers’’.
She is the only female gau rakshak in Gujarat but maintains that it is safe for a woman in the state to stand on a highway at 2 am, waiting to capture a truck.
“I am always ready. The moment I get a message related to suspected movement of vehicles I rush toward the area… we also inform volunteers who are closer to the location and save the bovine,” said Pratik Ahir, who works with a private firm in Ahmedabad. “The volunteers sometimes carry wooden sticks for protection. I would not mind leaving my job for this cause.”
Mayur Thakkar, president of the Gau Rakshak Dal Gujarat (GRDG) and winnder of the ‘Best Gau Rakshak’ award by the Gujarat Gauseva and Gauchar Vikas Board in 2012, said, “We tip off police and vice versa. Our aim remains the same – save the bovine.”
“Clashes may occur… our volunteers have been injured and killed also…but what happened in Una was different…it put us on the backfoot,” he said. Thakkar is a realtor with business interests largely in the Kutch.
The GRDG has around 300 active members patrolling the belt connecting Rajasthan and North Gujarat border and South Gujarat and Maharashtra borders. As most trucks transporting cattle from Rajasthan and Gujarat to Mumbai pass through this belt, the area remains their main focus.
“There is high possibility of beef being transported from Gujarat to Maharashtra on Fridays and Saturdays, especially in the morning,” Thakkar said. From the districts of Panchmahals, Bharuch and Vadodara, which are closer to border, maximum clashes are reported.