A court in India yesterday sentenced 11 people to life in prison for beating to death Alimuddin Ansari, a Muslim, who his killers believed was trading in beef. Among those convicted was a local leader of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Many Hindus consider cows to be sacred, and in the past four years a violent vigilante campaign against beef trade and consumption has led to the killing of at least 29 people, mostly Muslims, across the country. Dalits, so-called untouchables, have also been targeted because they handle animal carcasses and leather.
The court, located in India’s eastern Jharkhand state, has handed down the first conviction since attacks by self-appointed “cow protectors” spiked after the BJP took office in May 2014.
Groups implicated in similar attacks also have links to the BJP. In several BJP-ruled states such as Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh, government policies or statements by elected leaders have led to mob violence by cow protection groups. Several senior BJP leaders have repeatedly instigated hate crimes against religious minorities, such as whipping up fear of Muslim men, who they baselessly claim kidnap, rape, or lure Hindu women into relationships as part of a plot to make India into a Muslim-majority country.
In September 2017, the Supreme Court directed state governments to take measures to prevent such vigilante attacks.
In cases involving killings in the name of cow protection, police have often failed to take prompt action against the accused, instead filing complaints against victims and their associates under laws banning cow slaughter.
The sentences imposed in Ansari’s case should not remain the exception. Indian authorities should immediately conduct credible investigations in all such pending cases, appropriately prosecute those responsible for hate crimes, and launch a public campaign decrying communal violence in all its forms. The authorities still have a long way to go before they can convince religious minorities and socially marginalized communities that justice can be assured.