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Dispatches: India’s Cow Hotline Underlines Misplaced Political Priorities

Authorities Should Redouble Efforts to End Abuses Against Women, Girls

A 24/7 helpline for cows? No, this isn’t a joke.

The Haryana state government in India has created a new helpline to report cow slaughter and smuggling. Last month, a group calling itself Gau Rakshaks (literally, “cow protectors”) beat up two men and forced them to eat cow dung for apparently illegally transporting beef. A video documenting their torment went viral.

Activists from All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) shout slogans as they carry placards outside the Haryana Bhawan during a protest in New Delhi, India, February 29, 2016 demanding a probe into what they said were rapes and sexual assaults in Murthal town of Haryana state. © 2016 Reuters

The authorities are expected to respond swiftly in cases of vigilante violence. In Haryana, the police did act swiftly – to arrest the men suspected of transporting beef, not the men who attacked them. Next, the state police established a round-the-clock helpline for cow protection, creating teams to respond to complaints.

The lengths Haryana state goes to protect cows – which are considered sacred by many Hindus, and thus covered under special laws – appears far beyond efforts made to protect women and girls. Nearly 75 percent of women and girls experienced gender-based violence in 2014, including rape and other forms of sexual assault, according to the most recent National Crime Records Bureau report data on Haryana. There are few investigations, let alone convictions.

In May, many girls from two villages in Rewari district reportedly stopped attending secondary school after one student was gang-raped in the village where the school is. Similarly, there were news reports of mass rapes during farmer protests in Murthal village in February. But police and state authorities rejected the allegations; eventually the High Court stepped in and ordered investigations.

Haryana is also notorious for khap panchayats, clan-based informal councils that have ordered the killings of couples or women who violate stringent social norms, usually related to caste and kinship-based marriage. The Haryana government has done next to nothing to systematically clamp down on khap panchayats and their illegal edicts or prosecute those for carrying them out.

The Haryana state has just proved that prompt response by the police is not hard at all – at least when it comes to cows. So why not for women and girls? 

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