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How cow vigilantism is undermining the rule of law in India

India’s so-called “cow protection gangs” display antithetical qualities to the ones they attribute to their sacred animal – they are unholy, ungentle, frenzied and violent. According to data analytics site India Spend, 45 people were killed in 120 cases of cow-related violence reported across India between 2012 and 2018. The highest number of violent incidents were…

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How cow vigilantism is undermining the rule of law in India

India’s so-called “cow protection gangs” display antithetical qualities to the ones they attribute to their sacred animal – they are unholy, ungentle, frenzied and violent.

According to data analytics site India Spend, 45 people were killed in 120 cases of cow-related violence reported across India between 2012 and 2018. The highest number of violent incidents were recorded in the state of Utter Pradesh, with 19 verified incidents of cow-related violence resulting in 11 deaths.

On December 3, the killing of police officer Subodh Kumar Singh was added to this worrying statistic. Inspector Singh was killed alongside a 20-year-old man when a violent mob clashed with police in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr district. The attackers, many of them members of far-right Hindu groups, were protesting the alleged inability of the police in the village of Chingrawathi to stop cow slaughtering, claiming that animal carcasses – including those of cows – were found in the area. 

When rumours about the slaughter of the sacred symbol of Hindu nationalism arise, it appears, even an officer of the law is not safe.

Incidentally, Singh was part of the team that investigated the 2015 lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq, a 52-year-old resident of Bisara village, over allegations of cow slaughter and beef consumption in a district neighbouring Bulandshahr. Saroj Singh Chauhan, sister of the slain officer, believes her brother fell victim to “a conspiracy by the state police” because he “was investigating the Akhlaq case”. She questioned why her brother was left alone in his vehicle in the middle of a violent mob and said the police, who she accuses of collaborating with cow protection gangs, are complicit in the incident.

Her allegation daringly suggests that law enforcement in Utter Pradesh is taking on a political role when it comes to cow protection and helping the expansion of majoritarian politics.

Abhishek Singh, the younger son of the deceased police officer, told reporters, “My father wanted me to be a good citizen who doesn’t incite violence in society in the name of religion.” The good citizen in India currently seems to be under severe stress, facing fatal consequences for obstructing the tide of right-wing vandalism.  

The reversal of justice

A day after the incident in Bulandshahr, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath called a meeting in the state capital, Lucknow. An investigation into allegations of cow slaughter and “illegal slaughterhouses” was ordered by Adityanath, but local reports said he did not address Singh’s killing in the Lucknow meeting.

A day later, Utter Pradesh Director General of Police Om Prakash Singh described the Bulandshahr incident as “part of a larger conspiracy”. His concerns, just like the chief minister’s, centred solely around cow slaughter and he told reporters that the police would be conducting “a reverse investigation” – an investigation that would focus on how and why animal carcasses ended up in the area rather than the two murders.

This reverse order of concern by the police and political leadership raised a legitimate fear that the so-called “reverse investigation” is going to lead to a reversal of justice.

Just days after the December 3 attack, four Muslim men were arrested in connection with the Bulandshahr case in villages dozens of kilometres away from the place where the animal carcasses were found. They were released after being found innocent. There is however, encouraging news. Bajrang Dal leader Yogesh Raj, who was the main accused in the mob violence and was absconding since, has been arrested on January 3. Raj has reportedly confessed to his role in the violence. It was based on Raj’s complaint that the police had earlier arrested the four Muslims. The question lingers, why is guilt attributed more readily to people of the minority community.

‘The complete collapse of constitutional values’

The fear that the murderers of officer Singh may never be brought to justice led 82 former bureaucrats, including a former national security adviser, to write a fiercely worded open letter demanding Adityanath’s resignation.

The signatories call the Bulandshahr incident “a frightening indicator of the complete collapse of constitutional values”. They claim this collapse is epitomised by Adiyanath, who wears his “bigotry as his badge of identity” and protects perpetrators as “defenders of faith and culture”. The signatories claim that the chief minister’s actions promote “the rule of lawlessness”.

There seems to be a political attempt under way to reorder social spaces in India according to majoritarian diktats. The secular framework of law is being compromised to favour Hindu religious outfits who are using lawless means of violence to intimidate and punish minorities.   

India tightens beef-slaughtering laws amid controversy (2:02)

The signatories of the letter see in the murder of the police officer a calculated attempt by the state administration to “teach a lesson” to those who are nonpartisan in cases that involve minorities.

This is a serious indication of the growing order of lawlessness: a member of the state police paid the price for defending the law against the “moral police” hell-bent on spreading social disorder and indulging in violence. The image of Singh’s burned-out jeep is a stark exemplar of the lawlessness overtaking the law. 

The ex-bureaucrats view the Bulandshahr mayhem as a deliberate ploy to further subordinate Muslims and make them “live in fear”. This need is so overwhelming that even if Muslims in the country stop dealing in cows, the right-wing vigilante will invent other methods, like the allegations of so-called “love jihad”, to harm them. There is a concerted move to turn Muslims into political and social outcasts in India by coercion and segregation.

So far, more than half the victims of lynchings over alleged cow slaughter have been Muslims. Hindutva groups use the cow as a tool to demarcate territories of fear and intimidation. The politics of communalism never hesitates to put symbols it holds sacred to utilitarian use. In any supremacist project, majoritarian pride is incomplete without its obverse (and perverse) side: prejudice and paranoia against minorities. The diktat is clear – minorities have to lose their identity or perish.

Hindu nationalism seeks to make the minority feel minor. Hindutva’s cunning rhetoric pits a rigid idea of national unity against disunity, rather than accept legitimate (and competing) political and cultural difference.

India’s founders stood up to majoritarian pressure

In his recently published book, A People’s Constitution: The Everyday Life of Law in the Indian Republic, Rohit De offers a fascinating account of the vexed history of cow protection laws in post-colonial India.

Public debates, sporadic violence and mass mobilisations on the cow slaughter issue have been ongoing in India since the late 19th century. During partition, De mentions, Gandhi made the secular argument that “Hindu law cannot be imposed on non-Hindus”. The Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution, in the spirit of defining India as a secular republic, kept the question of cow protection out of its original draft.

BR Ambedkar, the chairman of the Drafting Committee, pushed the amendment on cow protection to Directive Principles, skirting the cow protection lobby’s demand to include it as a Fundamental Right. India’s first prime minister after independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, who shared Ambedkar’s modernist indifference to the issue, tried to defuse the problem of cow slaughter by referring it to state legislatures, which brought it under the purview of “statutory law”.

Hindu cow protectionists’ arguments, explains De, were based on “cultural homogeneity and majoritarianism”. The Qureshis, a marginalised butcher community, on the contrary, challenged the Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act in the states of Utter Pradesh and Bihar in early 1956, on grounds of economics and livelihood.

In 1961, the Allahabad High Court, while drawing up the principles for punitive action in cow slaughter cases, did not deem the religious sentiments of the majority community relevant “unless there was a deliberate attempt to inflame communal passions”.

These instances reveal that the founding thinkers of the Indian democracy, despite facing an emotive issue like cow slaughter, did not allow their sensibilities to buckle under majoritarian pressure. The secular law of the state was deemed higher than communal sentiments.

A threat to constitutional morality

Currently, 24 states in India have various regulations prohibiting either the slaughter or sale of cows. The idea of an existing prohibition is being used in Utter Pradesh by Hindu cow vigilante groups to spread lawlessness and inflame communal passions within their own community.

If the Utter Pradesh state administration does not act against this vandalism, constitutional morality will suffer. “Constitutional morality”, Ambedkar said in his 1949 Constituent Assembly Speech, “is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated.”

Communalism is not a natural sentiment either. It is aroused by political design, to undermine the spirit of secular law. India needs a strong culture of resistance against communal passions that prevent people from cultivating their constitutional morality.

The Bulandshahr case will have lasting effects on the sense of political security among local communities. Sarfuddin, a 38-year-old shop owner who was arrested kilometres away from Chingrawathi village and wrongly accused of cow slaughter, has just been released along with three other Muslim men. He is worried the people in his village will now see him as a criminal. “How will I live with this charge on my name?” he told local media.

Sarfuddin is also worried about holding on to his reputation as a good citizen. An administration that is incapable of upholding constitutional morality would do well to at least not charge good citizens wrongfully.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance. 

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Three bodies found after days of unrest in Solomon Islands

Australian police are now helping patrol Honiara, the capital, which was relatively calm on Saturday morning.The bodies of three people have been discovered in a burnt-out building in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, police said on Saturday, the first reported deaths after days of rioting in the restive city. The charred bodies were…

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Three bodies found after days of unrest in Solomon Islands

Australian police are now helping patrol Honiara, the capital, which was relatively calm on Saturday morning.The bodies of three people have been discovered in a burnt-out building in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, police said on Saturday, the first reported deaths after days of rioting in the restive city.
The charred bodies were discovered in a store in the Chinatown district, which has been a target for looters and protesters. A security guard told AFP news agency he found the bodies in two rooms late on Friday.
Police said forensic teams had launched an investigation and were still on the scene but that the cause of the deaths was unclear.
The streets of the capital remained relatively quiet on Saturday morning as residents began to assess the damage left by days of rioting.
A curfew had been imposed on the restive capital overnight after a third day of violence that saw the prime minister’s home come under attack and swathes of the city reduced to smouldering ruins.
Australian police officers and local police monitoring a crowd in Honiara on Friday after days of rioting [Jay Liofasi/AFP]Australian police officers, who arrived in the country late on Thursday following a request from the government, also joined their Solomon Islands’ counterparts on the streets to help restore order and protect critical infrastructure.
The explosion of violence is partly a result of frustrations with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s government and chronic unemployment — a situation made worse by the pandemic.
Experts say the crisis has also been fuelled by long-standing animosity between residents of Malaita, the most populous island, and the central government based on the island of Guadalcanal.
The archipelago nation of about 700,000 people has for decades endured ethnic and political tensions.
Malaita residents have long complained that their island is neglected by the central government, and divisions have intensified since Sogavare suddenly switched diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 2019.
Songavare on Friday blamed foreign powers for stoking the unrest, but did not name them.

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‘Incomparable’ Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim dies at 91

Legendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, widely credited with revolutionising musical theatre, died on Friday at the age of 91, The New York Times has reported. Lawyer F Richard Pappas told the newspaper that Sondheim – renowned for musicals including West Side Story and Sweeney Todd – died suddenly at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut,…

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‘Incomparable’ Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim dies at 91

Legendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, widely credited with revolutionising musical theatre, died on Friday at the age of 91, The New York Times has reported.
Lawyer F Richard Pappas told the newspaper that Sondheim – renowned for musicals including West Side Story and Sweeney Todd – died suddenly at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, the day after celebrating Thanksgiving with friends.
“There are no words. He had them all. And the music. He was incomparable,” the UK-based Stephen Sondheim Society, which is dedicated to promoting and studying his work, tweeted along with three heart emojis, one of them broken.
“He was God to many of us. We loved his work. And god he was good.”
Born on March 22, 1930, to an affluent family in New York City, Sondheim was involved in musical theatre from an early age.
He started playing piano at age seven and, after his parents divorced and he moved with his mother to Pennsylvania, learned to write musicals with neighbour Oscar Hammerstein II, who with partner Richard Rodgers wrote hugely popular shows including The Sound of Music.
Sondheim’s got his first big breakthrough on Broadway in 1957 with West Side Story, which transplanted Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to working-class Manhattan.

‘We are all blessed to have been alive at the same time as this theatre legend… & to have received from him a gift as precious as his art’
Stephen Sondheim has died at the age of 91. The @SondheimSociety’s @craigglenday offers a few initial thoughts…https://t.co/UVcbLvWCHy pic.twitter.com/P5mzITxPPV
— MusicalTheatreReview (@MusicalTheatreR) November 27, 2021

He left us with so many words, but none enough for this post. Goodbye, old pal. Thank you, Stephen Sondheim, for so much brilliance in the theatre and sharing your music with us all. pic.twitter.com/Qe55GcDQeS
— The Tony Awards (@TheTonyAwards) November 27, 2021
Later successes included Sweeney Todd, about a murderous barber in London whose victims are served as meat pies, which opened in 1979, and Into the Woods, which opened on Broadway in 1987 and used children’s fairy tales to untangle adult obsessions.
“I love the theatre as much as music, and the whole idea of getting across to an audience and making them laugh, making them cry – just making them feel – is paramount to me,” Sondheim said in a 2013 interview with National Public Radio.
‘Singing your songs forever’
Sondheim won numerous awards during his career including eight Grammy awards, and eight Tony awards, including the special honour of Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. He also picked up one Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and was nominated for many more Grammys and Tonys, as well as two Golden Globes.
In 2015, then-US president Barack Obama presented Sondheim with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour, for his life’s work.
Several of Sondheim’s musicals have been turned into films including West Side Story in 1961, which won an Oscar, and Into the Woods, starring Meryl Streep, in 2007. A new version of West Side Story, directed by Steven Spielberg, is due to be released next month.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, who created the smash-hit rap musical Hamilton and was mentored by Sondheim, has called him musical theatre’s greatest lyricist.
Sondheim, who was gay, reportedly lived alone until his 60s, keeping his sexuality under wraps. In 2017, he married his partner Jeffrey Romley, who survives him.
“Thank the Lord that Sondheim lived to be 91 years old so he had the time to write such wonderful music and GREAT lyrics!” tweeted singer Barbra Streisand.
Actress and singer Lea Salonga, who was the first Asian woman to win a Tony for originating the lead role of the musical Miss Saigon, thanked Sondheim for his “vast contributions to musical theatre”.
“We shall be singing your songs forever. Oh, my heart hurts,” she wrote on Twitter.

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From the Mediterranean to Europe — the complicated path of natural gas

PARIS: As natural gas becomes one of the main energy sources across the world, the Middle East and North Africa region is witnessing a peak in the tensions surrounding this resource. The decommissioning of the Algeria-Morocco gas pipeline, the repercussions of Turkey’s actions in the Mediterranean and problems related to the delineation of Lebanon’s maritime…

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From the Mediterranean to Europe — the complicated path of natural gas

PARIS: As natural gas becomes one of the main energy sources across the world, the Middle East and North Africa region is witnessing a peak in the tensions surrounding this resource.

The decommissioning of the Algeria-Morocco gas pipeline, the repercussions of Turkey’s actions in the Mediterranean and problems related to the delineation of Lebanon’s maritime borders are among the many disputes.

The discovery and exploitation of new resources in the MENA region, like the regional crises, intensifies the tug-of-war surrounding gas. We see a complex interaction between energy and geopolitics, which are usually connected.

The Middle East’s gas reserves have been seeing the fastest growth in the world since 2009. These “proven” gas reserves (the quantity of hydrocarbon resources that can be extracted from a field with a reasonable level of certainty, NDLR) have soared to 40.4 percent in 2020, compared to 31.4 percent in 2000.

In conjunction with the development of natural gas in the region, we are witnessing an increase in the battles and showdowns taking place. This energy resource, which is far from appearing as an element that promotes cooperation, has indeed become a factor causing tensions.

The consequences of the decommissioning of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline

Following the breakdown of diplomatic relations between Algiers and Rabat last August, Algeria continued to retaliate against its neighbor, putting an end to 25 years of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline service — the operations contract ended on Oct. 31, 2021.

However, this decision affecting Morocco is also contributing to disrupting an already unstable regional context (from Libya to Mali, passing through Tunisia). It might also affect Spain, which, like a good portion of Europe, is threatened by a gas crisis attributed to Moscow, especially as this pipeline represents the main source of the country’s natural gas supply.

At first glance, it was a severe blow for Spain because Algeria is its main natural gas provider, supplying half of its yearly natural gas consumption: Madrid would have experienced a significant increase in the prices of gas as well as electricity. To avoid such a scenario, Algiers proposed to “continue to ensure, in a better way, the delivery of gas through Medgaz, according to a well-defined schedule.” The submarine natural gas pipeline Medgaz, which was inaugurated in 2004, directly connects the two countries.

However, some people doubt that this alternative will be sufficient to cover Spain’s needs. The capacity of the Medgaz pipeline is lower than that of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline: It delivers about 8 billion cubic meters a year, while the capacity of the decommissioned gas pipeline was 10 billion cubic meters a year. Algiers is therefore relying on “the recent project to extend the capacity of the Medgaz pipeline.”

Ultimately, Algeria’s decision will greatly affect the economy of Morocco, as the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline supplied the production of electricity in Morocco before reaching its final destination in Spain. Some statistics show that Morocco used to produce almost 17 percent of its electricity through this channel. Morocco will also lose the transit-related taxes (between €50 and 150 million a year).

In addition, it will not be easy for Morocco to find an alternative to supply itself with gas. The options are currently limited and uncertain.

On the other side of the Arab world, the situation seems less tense.

The gas issue in Syria, Turkey’s greed and the commissioning of the Arab gas pipeline

For several weeks now, the focus has been on restarting the “Arab gas pipeline” from Egypt toward Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. This phase is taking place with the initial approval of the US (to make an exception regarding the Caesar Act, which imposes sanctions on Damascus) in conjunction with the arrival of Iranian diesel to Lebanon based on Hezbollah’s initiative. It is also considered an entry point for a partial normalization of ties with the Syrian regime.

Since the multifaceted Syrian conflict started, natural gas has been perceived as an indirect cause of the Russian intervention. After that, there has always been a certain connection between the continuity of the military presence of the US and eastern Syria, which is rich in energy resources.

Consequently, gas will undoubtedly have an impact on the shape of the future map of Syria as well as the maps of the new Middle East.

In a wider context, the contemporary theories of strategic security highlight the importance of energy not only from an economic perspective, but also as a trigger of conflicts and a power elements indicator of the countries of origin, the countries through which the pipelines pass and the downstream countries. In any new process of delineation or demarcation of borders, it is highly probable that the energy resources of gas, oil and water will be taken into account.

Within the wide geographical range of the map of gas fields, markets and passage routes of pipelines, Syria occupies a significant position because it is located at the heart of the Levant, while its seas and coasts, like the rest of the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean basin, are rich in energy resources.

In addition, gas could become an important pillar of the economies of numerous Arab and Mediterranean countries, which could provide Israel with the opportunity to integrate economically into the regional economy. This evolution would naturally become a source of worry for Iran and Qatar when it comes to their role as pioneers of the gas market. It would also have the ability to unsettle Turkey, which could lose its status as a crossroads to ensure exportation; this country is the point of arrival of pipelines and gas pipelines.

In a broader context, we should point to the emergence of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum in 2020, which comprises seven countries: Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Jordan, Palestine and Italy (with the US, the EU and France as observers). This was the culmination of efforts exerted by the forum, which was established in 2015 under the same name. Egypt became a new leader in gas; this was enough for Ankara to see it as an attempt to intimidate it due to the disputes that are either territorial or based on the region’s wealth. This was the case particularly after the signing of several bilateral agreements aimed at delineating the maritime borders, such as the agreements signed between Egypt and Greece or between Greece and Italy.

During this period, litigation and disputes related to the exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean basin intensified. These developments were preceded by a Turkish advance in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, which defined the maritime borders with Libya, or through the disputed fields over which it is at odds with Cyprus and Greece.

Last year also saw the resumption of negotiations aimed at delineating the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel. Several gas fields are involved, particularly block 9, which is at the center of a dispute between the two countries.

We can conclude that relaunching the idea of the Arab gas pipeline after two decades would be beneficial for the concerned parties, especially for a country such as Lebanon. However, it cannot take place without a tentative agreement or mutual consent between the major regional actors and a certain American-Russian agreement.

• This story originally appeared in French on Arab News en Francais

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