In the normal course, the highest court in the land or, for that matter, a lower court need not have concerned itself with criminal acts, but it speaks of the apparent failure of various State Governments that the Supreme Court did feel constrained to take up the matter of periodic cases of lynching. Whether the intervention of the court was justified or not, law-abiding citizens should feel a sense of relief that thanks to it, the central government has promised to act in the matter on an urgent basis.

Six days after the apex court expressed concern at what it called ‘sweeping incidents of lynching’ and called them ‘as an affront to the rule of law’, Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced in the Lok Sabha on Monday the formation of a group of ministers under him to deliberate on the incidents of ‘mob violence’. He also constituted a separate high-level committee of senior officers to recommend separate penal provisions to deal with incidents of mob violence. The report of the committee is to be given within four weeks. The minister informed the House that the Government has always condemned such incidents of mob violence, but the police and public order being State subjects, it has from time to time issued advisories to the States and Union Territories for maintenance of law and order. Though the ministry did not maintain separate data for incidents of lynching, thus far 31 such cases had been reported from various parts of the country.

The issue came to the fore yet again following the killing of Rakbar Khan last week in Alwar, Rajasthan, when a mob assaulted him while he was taking two cows to his village in Haryana along with his friend, who mercifully escaped mob fury. The mob suspected the two of being cow smugglers and waylaid them. There is confusion about the actual details of the incident with the police feeding one version to the media and the local people another. Yet, there is no denying that a 32-year-old man became a victim of mob violence. Walking the cows to their village in the dark through a remote part of Rajasthan might have been a foolhardy thing to do in the present climate of fear over anything connected with the cow trade, yet the manner in which the local police handled the crime was shocking. It is said they seemed more concerned with the well-being of the animals than of the victim of mob violence. The police attitude may well mirror the perceived mood of the present ruling dispensation. Unless the political authorities issue a stern warning against people taking law into their own hands for the sake of cows or anything else dear to them, such madness by small mobs in rural India is unlikely to end soon unless put down with a heavy hand. It is this feeling at the ground level that the rulers would look the other way if they killed or maimed in the name of the holy cow which may have also contributed to the rising number of incidents of lynching, especially in the Hindi belt.

Legitimate trade in cows ought to continue as before. The village economy will be hard to sustain if old animals were to become a burden on their owners. Mechanised cultivation has replaced farming earlier reliant on oxen or other such animals. Therefore, a cow is useful for its owners till it yields milk. The lack of panchayat-run gau shalas complicates the problem of old cows. Without providing workable alternatives, the huge problem of starving cows roaming the streets is bound to grow, especially when even legitimate trade is risky and can attract mob fury. In any case, it is barbarism, pure and simple, for a handful of people to lynch fellow human beings on mere suspicion. Such madness must be put down most sternly. We cannot have mobs lynching people every now and then and yet lay claim to be a law-abiding, peaceful country. Regardless of one’s political inclinations, mob killings are unacceptable. No, not even for the sake of an animal, revered or otherwise. It is a matter of great shame that in this day and age, there are killings in the name of ‘gau mata’. This must end immediately.