As if on cue, the reports on cow vigilantism and Muslims being targeted in an organised manner by self-proclaimed "gau rakshaks", often with covert nod from the BJP governments in their states and at the Centre, are now being followed up by something as sinister. A Reuters investigation into an organised attempt at stealing livelihoods of Muslims by seizing their cattle and selling them off to Hindu farmers or cow shelters is both alarming, and hitting the Hindutva nail on its head.

The report published November 7 begins thus: "Hindu nationalists are beating up Muslim farmers and seizing their cows on the grounds that the animals are headed for the slaughterhouse. But there's another side to this religiously-tinged violence: The stolen cows are being given to Hindu farmers."

The report asserts that outside the frame of the viral clip in which Pehlu Khan was seen being lynched to die hours later, was the macabre tale of his cows being packed off to a nearby gaushala, and then eventually sold off to Hindus. The excuse was that Khan, a dairy farmer, was taking the cattle for slaughter, even though he had the necessary documentation.Mass theft of Muslim livelihoods

Pehlu Khan's case is only one among many such cases, and the Reuters investigation says that as many as 190,000 cows have been seized, stolen, forcibly acquired from Muslims since 2014 in such cow terrorism incidents. This is supported by an earlier report by IndiaSpend, in which data pointed to 86 per cent of the deaths in cow-related violence were of Muslims, and 97 per cent of the attacks have been from 2014.

The Reuters report states: "Reuters surveyed 110 cow shelters or farms, known as 'gaushalas', across six Indian states that were led by BJP chief ministers from before or just after Modi's 2014 election win. The survey found an increase of 50 percent in their cattle holdings - from about 84,000 head before Modi came to power in 2014 to more than 126,000 today."

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Though record-keeping in many cow shelters is "non-existent", the report quotes the gaushala owners saying that "all but 14 receive[d] cows from the Hindu vigilante groups. About a third [sold] or [gave] cows away, nearly all to Hindu farmers and households".

On the economyinfo-icon of the captured cows by the vigilantes, Reuters puts across some alarming figures: "the price of cows ranges from zero for animals near death to 25,000 rupees (about $385), if not more, at cattle markets for healthy milk cows. But taking the average of those two points, just the 190,000 cows captured by the two vigilante groups in northern India would be worth more than $36 million. That is a significant amount of money in India, where some 270 million people live on less than $1.90 (Rs 120) a day. In rural areas, home to about 70 percent of the nation's population, a family's milk cow is often its most valuable possession."

It must be recalled that Pehlu Khan's sons had stated that they had purchased the dairy cattle for Rs 40,000 from the Jaipur animal fair, which were stolen during the lynching episode, in which they lost their father to a majoritarian mob fury. The Reuters report says: "His four animals were among 32 other cattle seized on April 1 at makeshift roadblocks near the town of Behror. A day after the attack on Khan and his two sons, police began an investigation against them under a state law barring cow slaughter."

This is a crucial aspect to this communal machinery at work, in which imposing financial decrepitude on the minorities goes hand in glove with instilling within them a fear of the majority community and its blatantly unconstitutional legislations. While Rajasthan home minister Gulab Chand Kataria called Pehlu Khan a "cow smuggler", Rajasthan Police gave a clean chit to all the six accused in the murder case.   

Centre's ban on cattle trade for slaughter 

Though now stayed by a conscientious Supreme Courtinfo-icon, the central ban on cattle trade intended for slaughter was once again a communally-dipped legislation intended to hit hard the beef and allied - such as leather - industries, mostly employing Muslims and Dalits. While the ban could have halted beef exports and threatened the Rs 25,000 crore industry and millions of jobs, the potential loss could have been Rs one lakh crore, if the impact on farmers saddled with infirm cattle was taken into account.

On the other hand, big businesses gained from the move, and resultant orders such as the UP slaughterhouse crackdown, which impacted small butchers, farmers, the MSME trader in dairy items, among others. The mechanised slaughterhouses with the necessary licences all belonged to the wealthy, while the informal sector, employing most numbers of Muslims and Dalits, got a massive blow, leading thousands of lost jobs, shot shops and a general climate of fear and religious persecution. 

BJP's doublespeak on cow terrorism 

While PM Narendra Modi has from time to time asked his countrymen and women to distinguish between the good and fake gau rakshaks, saying the real one would respect the law of the land and wouldn't kill in the name of the cow, others like Kataria, and even Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath have egged on the cow vigilantes through overt and covert symbolism.

This is the standard god-cop-bad-cop routine that the ruling party has now perfected. That the Reuters report minces no words and squarely blames Hindu nationalist "private militias" at work, wrecking the livelihoods of the minority communities in an organised manner across the BJP-ruled states, shows that unless we step up the criticism of the Centre and states guilty of spreading cow paranoia, there will almost be no mitigation of the Hindutva-engineered crisis at hand.