In India, they are known as "Gau Rashaks" (cow protectors) and their vigilante actions against India's Muslim and Dalit communities is spreading.
Since many Hindus regard cows as sacred and laws banning the slaughter or import of cows for slaughter remain in place, vigilante activity aimed at anyone believed to be threatening cows has been on the rise in recent years. While most of these Gau Rashaks are Hindu nationalists, their activities have also been used to justify increased anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit violence across different parts of the country. In April of this year, dairy farmer Pehlu Khan was beaten to death in Rajasthan, a killing that was recorded on mobile phone video.
While Human Rights Watch used this killing to warn authorities of the growing danger of Gau Rashak violence, attacks on Muslims and Dalits accused of killing cows or buying them for the purpose of slaughter them remain common. Responding to the attacks, India's Prime Minister Narenda Modi said in July that, "Killing people in the name of ‘gau bhakti’ (love of cow) is not acceptable. This is not something Mahatma Gandhi would approve," though critics feel his words did not go far enough.
On November 10 of this year, the body of dairy farmer Umar Mohammad was found on a railway track in Rajasthan. While police initially believed he had been killed by a train, it was later found that he had been shot to death and his body placed on the track to prevent his murderers from being identified. According to village elders, Umar Mohammad and a second man, Tahir Mohammad, had been transporting cattle to another village when a gang of gau rashaks confronted them and began beating them. In the shooting that followed, Umar Mohammad was killed and Tahir Mohammad was seriously injured as well.
For village elders and family members of the dead man, forcing police to acknowledge that a murder had taken place was a long and frustrating process despite the fact that the bullet wound was clearly visible. It took a night-long vigil outside the building where Mohammad's body was being kept before police agreed that a murder had been committed. As for Tahir Mohammad, he remainsin hospital and family members fear for his life. While the surviving man has identified at least one of the gang members, no arrests have been made and some villagers suggest that police had been involved in the shooting.
Though rumours of widespread smuggling of cows to other parts of India have helped drive the violence in Rajasthan, observers suggest that the 2015 election of right-wing candidate Narendra Modi as India's Prime Minister is largely responsible for the surge in Hindu nationalist violence in recent years. Not only are gau rashaks becoming increasingly organized, but they also have a national federation Bhartiya Gau Raksha Dal (Indian Cow Protection Organization).
As for the Muslims, Dalits, and other minority groups in India, fear of escalating violence has made their lives much more uncertain. Though civil rights organizations are working on their behalf, only time will tell whether this will have an effect.