As Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje had reminded thousands of people who assembled at a rally in Alwar to listen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, the district is known as Rajasthan’s “Singh Gate”, meaning “lion’s entrance”. But in the last two years, Alwar has also become synonymous with cow vigilantism and acts of lynching.
It was here that Pehlu Khan was lynched in broad daylight, and where Rakbar Khan was thrashed by cow vigilantes and later declared dead under mysterious circumstances. In the district’s Ramgarh administrative block, where gau rakshaks run amok, it is often alleged that police authorities work hand-in-glove with them. Until Rakbar’s death, they had the full backing of the police—at least that’s what the vigilantes claim.
Although such issues do help the saffron brigade to bolster their electoral chances, what exactly is the psyche behind such a dedicated and fierce thought process? More importantly, who are these gau rakshaks and what do they do? Is being a gau rakshak their higher calling, or is it simply something that stems from devotion and religion? In an effort to understand these factors, Newslaundry met with a few young cow vigilantes in Rajasthan who are ready to “lay down their lives for gau mata”.
They’re an assorted bunch that include cooks, gym trainers, and even an 18-year-old who aspires to be a WWE superstar someday.
The modus operandi of gau raksha units
The vigilantes associated with groups affiliated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s cow protection wing follow a few basic but specific steps. First, they identify potential vehicles. They keep a lookout for trucks or tempos with two radiators, an extra diesel tank, extended angles on the front and back, and vehicles with an unclear or missing number plate. The head of the VHP’s cow protection wing in Alwar, Naval Kishore Mishra, says, “Those [vehicles] carrying cows have mud and cow dung marks on their bodies. Our boys keep an eye on the movement of such vehicles. Once spotted, the respective teams/units are informed.”
After intercepting the suspected vehicle, all possible routes that the vehicle could take are identified and vigilante teams are alerted. Ramgarh alone has about 13-14 such units—each of which has anywhere between 10 to 20 members.
After identifying the vehicle, the next step is to coordinate with the police, says 42-year-old Mishra. Notably, Mishra is also the man who had been the coordinator between the police and local vigilantes of Lalawandi village during the Rakbar Khan incident in July this year.
Although the police is informed of the movement of these “cow smugglers” by the vigilante groups, the information of their exact location is shared with authorities only 30 minutes prior to the raid. “This ensures that the information is not leaked by any moles,” explains Mishra. Apart from these measures, the vigilante groups also employ tactics like blocking the vehicle’s route with stones, nails, fatte (wood) and even bikes. Once caught, these “cow smugglers” are handed over to the police.
‘The fight is for Hinduism and the nation’
Ram Khiladi Varma: a cook, vigilante and akhada trainer
When asked about the members of his family, this 35-year-old says: “Do gau mata, Maa, meri wife aur do bacche (two cows, my mother, my wife and two children).” Varma lives near Chhoti Bawri locality in Alwar’s Ramgarh. He works as a halwai (cook) and also trains youngsters in the akhadas managed by the Bajrang Dal. In fact, Varma is also the district president of the Bajrang Dal’s akhada wing, and manages five to six akhadas by himself.
Varma trains young recruits in yoga and mastery of the sword. When asked why he teaches the latter, he says: “To save Sanathan dharm, we should have scriptures in one hand and weapons in the other.” Having joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh back in 1998 and then moving to the Bajrang Dal in 2012, this professional gau rakshak boasts of having rescued a total of 16,000-17,000 gau vansh (cows) till date during rescue raids.
Varma is unhappy, to say the least, with police authorities who, according to him, framed innocent gau rakshaks in the Rakbar Khan murder case. He questions whether the Ramgarh police have ever managed to catch even a single cow smuggler without their help. In his rage and anger, he shares his pain at the media painting cow vigilantes in a negative light. “My 65-year-old mother doesn’t sleep on those nights when I step out for raids—she knows I might not return alive,” he says. “Our lives are on the line … sometimes the smugglers even fire guns at us.”
In his 18 years of experience, Varma has had a fight almost single every time he has intercepted a vehicle and succeeded in a “rescue” raid. This man—who is putting his “life on the line”—earns ₹10,000-12,000 during the peak season but there are also months when he gets no work. “I dedicate my time majorly to the organisation during such months.”
Varma says his family manages their expenses by growing ”crops and vegetables on our farm, whereas for milk, there are two gau matas. We don’t need money for anything else.” When asked how he takes care of his medical expenses, an irate Varma says: “Listen, mister, in the last 35 years, I have never fallen sick. This is because of gau mata in which resides 33 gods.” Varma claims he only drinks cow’s milk, uses gobra every fortnight, and consumes gau mutra (cow’s urine) once every 10 days—these are things that keep him healthy.
Even though he looks disappointed with the Vasundhara Raje dispensation, Varma says, “These are internal differences and are taken care of by the organisation.”
Jaspal Singh Rajput: a gym trainer
At the entrance of Lalawandi village, a gym remains open all day, devoid of any doors or locks. Here is where you’ll find 21-year-old gym trainer Jaspal Singh Rajput. A BA graduate, Jaspal joined the RSS in 2013 and has been involved in cow vigilantism ever since. “Even our elders have been involved in cow protection activities,” Jaspal says. When asked why he takes the law into his own hands, he says, “No son can stay silent when someone touches his mother, slaughters her and skins her.” According to him, the reason for beating up “cow smugglers” is “to teach them an apt lesson so that they never even think of smuggling cows ever in this life again”.
Jaspal isn’t unaware of the riskier side of being a cow vigilante. “One might not be able to get a job if cases are lodged against them due to cow protection, but even that’s not a worthy enough reason to not protect our mother.” He says the situation after Rakbar Khan’s murder has been grim and vigilantes have been laying low. He himself has found a job in North Delhi for a short while.
When asked about his expectation from the state election, he says: “I don’t get into politics. All I want from the BJP is that those who have been arrested from the village (in the Rakbar case) should be released. The BJP should bring in a new law to hang cow smugglers.”
Till date, Rajput has been part of 50-odd vigilantism raids and says only those smugglers who make the chase difficult are beaten up.
Ravi Kumar: Class 12 dropout who aspires to join WWE
A resident of Chidwai village in Ramgarh, Ravi Kumar is a Class 12 dropout. The 18-year-old has been involved in cow vigilantism for the last two years. “I am unemployed right now and planning to start something of my own,” he says. This is how describes his daily routine: “Shaam ko gym aa jata hoon aur baad mean ghar walon ko ki madad kar dete hain (I come to the gym in the evening and also help in home affairs).”
Kumar’s only hobby—and a dedicated one too—is his daily gym workout. His trainer says Kumar aspires to join the WWE and that he will do so soon. But until recently, his adventures were limited to a handful of late night raids.
Even Kumar’s initiation process into cow vigilantism has been a little different. “The first time I took part in a raid was when one of my friends called me,” says Kumar. He adds that he keeps his face covered during raids and also tries to keep his activities a secret from his family. “I have been part of only a few raids. I am not a part of the RSS or Bajrang Dal yet.”
Saurabh Mishra: a fourth generation cow vigilante
Twenty-year-old Mishra graduated from college in 2014 and is currently pursuing a degree in chartered accountancy (CA). He is a fourth generation cow vigilante who started attending RSS shakhas back in his eighth grade. “I haven’t had a single Muslim friend yet. Either they don’t like me or I don’t like them. You simply cannot trust them,” he says while waiting for his bus to arrive.
Between 11 am and 6 pm, Mishra can be found in his office. He says he has personally stopped vehicles belonging to cow smugglers three to four times. “I take someone from nearby along with me and then stop the vehicles. We do a basic check of the papers and if it all looks okay, we let them go,” says Mishra. But what happens if there still exists some suspicion about their activities? “Seniors are called and the information is given to the police.”
His father, Heth Ram Mishra, an Arya Samaji, is a native of Lalawandi village where Rakbar Khan was attacked. Heth Ram opened his stone statue shop in 1991. “Ramgarh used to witness two shutdowns on a regular basis—one by Sikhs and one by Muslims. Hindus were forced to live in terror. Today, in a fight, if we hit a Muslim, he can’t even raise his hand to protect himself—our organisations have changed things here,” says a proud Heth Ram. His three sons, including Saurabh, are all cow vigilantes.
When asked if he regrets the fact that Alwar is known in the country only because of its voracious mob lynching activities, Mishra responds, “Gau Taskari mein Alwar number ek hai. Uska afsos hai mujhe (I regret that it is also known in the country only because of cow smuggling).”
It is difficult to fathom from Saurabh Mishra’s calm demeanour that such deep hatred courses inside him. This correspondent asked him about his hobbies and his primary source of news consumption. It turns out that not only does he like to play badminton and hockey, but he also spends his time watching Zee News, running multiple pro-Hindutva pages on Facebook, and a few career-oriented ones.
On the constant references to the Pehlu and Rakbar murders, Saurabh and his brothers say, “People have a tendency to always talk about the latest fashion and what is in trend. I will change these jeans that I am wearing when there is a new fashion in the new market. Similarly, people will not stop talking about Pehlu and Rakbar unless a new death takes place.”
Phool Singh Chaudhary: farmer and ‘full-time gau rakshak’
Phool Singh Chaudhary is 32 years old and identifies himself as a farmer and a full-time gau rakshak. “Hum gau raksha karte hain aur marte dum tak karte rahenge (I do cow protection and shall continue to do so until my last breath),” he says. He dropped out of school early on, in Class 8, and later got married. Chaudhary has one son and two daughters and meets the expenses for his family with income from farming activities. He joined the RSS in 2003 and began working for the Bajrang Dal. “I joined [Bajrang Dal] in the presence of Praveen Togadia. Our generations have been involved in cow protectionism.” He says he will let his children decide for themselves whether they want to join the cow vigilantes units during their youth or not.
Chaudhary argues that the main reason behind people resorting to vigilantism is the ineffectiveness of the police. “The Raje government had introduced this concept of cow protection at police checkpoints, but did it resolve the issue? Do such police personnel have enough weapons to take on smugglers who are equipped with guns?”
According to him, Muslims (or rather, Meos) are involved in smuggling activities for the sake of their business—and to provoke Hindus. “They want to test our patience. They want to see how much power we actually have.”
Interestingly, Chaudhary tells this correspondent that cow vigilantism is not only a service to Hinduism but also to the country. “The Ramayana says that the day cows are recklessly slaughtered, Prithvi khatam ho jaegi (doomsday will arrive).” When asked to cite the lines from the Ramayana, he suggests that this correspondent see it on his phone. Chaudhary had fought the last panchayat polls and lost the election by 800 votes. He claims that when he was given charge of the VHP’s Dharam Jagran Manch’s Ramgarh division in 2015, the team had ensured “garh wapsi of 1,200 Christian Rajputs”.
Chaudhary says no money or support is provided by the organisation(s) for vigilantism activities. He also accepts that under the BJP regime, they [gau rakshaks] feel more confident and work in coordination with the police. Despite having many differences with the present state government, Chaudhary says: “I am an ardent voter of the BJP … What can we do? We can’t go against them.”