The Difference Between Cow Protection Vigilantes and Animal Rights Activists


Stories of acts of violence by Gau Rakshaks – in the name of non-violence towards animals (specifically cows) – have gripped the Indian public’s attention. In the midst of the tragic death of a Muslim man killed by cow protection vigilantes, knee-jerk laws and poorly planned schemes to punish ill-treatment of cows, comes the latest report of three Muslim men beat up for transporting buffaloes. Significant debate has ensued on whether the attackers were animal rights activists or Gau Rakshaks. After all, many of us likely know animal rights activists within our community who have stopped trucks and rescued cattle or other animals being transported illegally.

The waters are muddy – at least from the public’s point of view. Yet there is a sharp distinction. Animal rights are for all animals, based on their intrinsic value and right to life, and animal rights activists reject the view of animals as commodities to be used by human beings for food, clothes, or entertainment. Gau Raksha, on the other hand, is an extremely narrow movement characterized by speciesism (valuing only bovines, specifically domestic cows) and sexism (valuing female cows but not male bulls), and motivated solely by religious beliefs.

Not only is there a huge difference in ideology, but as a movement based in non-violence, we as animal rights activists also completely disagree with the violent tactics adopted by Gau Rakshaks. But the waters have been muddied in the public eye, and now genuine initiatives against cruel treatment meted out to cows taken up by animal rights activists are likely to be referred to as acts of vigilantism too. Even initiatives to promote vegetarian and vegan lifestyles are likely to be viewed as part of the same spectrum of vigilantism. Gau Raksha thus sets back the hard work of the many hundreds of grassroots activists across India who run peaceful campaigns to reduce and end the consumption of animal products.

Rogue Gau Rakshaks are self-appointed, self-styled vigilantes, perpetrating violence and terror in the guise of animal rights activism. Not only is the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations completely opposed to such elements, we are shocked by their extremely narrow vision, invariably failing to serve even the cow protection cause in its entirety. What happens to the cows these vigilantes rescue? They often land in shelters scarcely better than slaughterhouses for the animals they house, which do not provide sufficient fodder or access to veterinary doctors, and fail to provide even the most basic minimum quality of life. Eventually, most of the cows in such shelters die a miserable death.

Furthermore, why is the treatment of cows in dairies across India absent from Gau Raksha criticism? Why aren’t Gau Rakshaks vegan? Such lack of respect for the intrinsic value of animals marks the clear distinction between Gau Raksha vigilantism and Animal Rights activism.

We at FIAPO sincerely hope for strict government action against the unlawful acts of self-proclaimed ‘cow protectors’. And to the genuine animal rights activists who have been caught in this storm, we stand by you. We will not allow animal rights activism, which stands strong in its fundamental tenet of respect for all lives, to become corrupted as a conduit to further religious and political vested interests – locally, regionally or nationally!

Cows at Visakha SPCA (Visakhapatnam Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Quote: “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals” (Immanuel Kant). Photo courtesy Kim Bartlett – Animal People, Inc.

Featured image courtesy Kim Bartlett – Animal People, Inc.

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FIAPO is India's apex animal rights organization. As the collective voice of the animal rights movement in India, FIAPO is the catalyst that protects the interests and rights of animals on local and national levels - through education, research, lobbying, mobilization, networking, training and direct action. Created for the movement, by the movement, FIAPO is India’s only national federation. It has over 80 members and over 200 supporter organizations across the country. Click to see author's profile.

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