On the 23rd of November, an animal rescue team from Help in Suffering was dragged from an animal ambulance and roughed up by a mob of gau sevaks (cow vigilantes), who also attacked the ambulance and damaged it severely. The team, Sanjay and Shiv Prasad, both very experienced animal technicians, were going to rescue an injured monkey in the Pink City area of Jaipur, India. They had in the animal ambulance several dogs who were to be released back into their territories following successful treatment in the Help in Suffering hospital, and also a sick dog they had already rescued that afternoon.
As they drove to attend to the injured monkey, the Help in Suffering team had to pass an area where a large crowd had gathered around a sick cow, awaiting the arrival of the government’s cow team. On seeing the Help in Suffering animal ambulance the crowd of gau sevaks stopped the vehicle (presumably mistaking it for the government’s) and attacked it with iron rods and stones, breaking windows, damaging the body work and puncturing the tires. Sanjay and Shiv Prasad were dragged from the ambulance and ‘roughed up’, though thankfully neither man was injured.
During the melee, a rescued dog in the ambulance died. Police in riot gear had to attend to restore order. Six of the mob were arrested. The fate of the injured monkey Sanjay and Shiv Prasad were try to attend is unknown. The ambulance is off the road for some days while it is repaired.
“We were trying to save an injured monkey, an incarnation of [the god] Hanuman ji,” said Sanjay. “All the staff at Help in Suffering care for animals. It was very frightening. I don’t think these people know about animal welfare.”
Mrs. Sonia Sharma, CEO of Help in Suffering, said the following day,
“Our staff are shaken up but uninjured and both men returned to work today as enthusiastic as ever to help animals. The ambulance damaged in this attack will be off the road for some time. We have just launched an appeal to replace an elderly vehicle; we have no spare ambulances. The action of this mob has severely restricted our ability to rescue and help the sick and injured animals of Jaipur.”
Cows have been treated with reverence for many centuries in India. The Rig Veda, the most prominent of the four Vedas – texts which define the Hindu way of life, dating back to about 1800 B.C. – prohibits killing or injuring cows. Cows have been associated with the prominent Hindu god Krishna, and are also called “gau mata” or “cow mother,” and revered as mother figures by pious Hindus. Cows are therefore regarded as holy, and consumption of beef is therefore considered the most serious type of sacrilege by Hindus in India. Injuring a cow, or for that matter carrying out euthanasia on a terminally sick cow, is forbidden by law.
To understand the incident of 23rd November 2017, one needs to analyze the sociopolitical milieu prevailing in India today. Terrorism committed in the name of Islam is on the rise worldwide, and actions by Pakistan in the Kashmir region have raked up mistrust between Hindus and Muslims in India. Political leaders from both religions indulge in making fiery speeches against one another for petty political gains. The current government in India tacitly supports the virulent arm of the otherwise peaceful Hindu community.
Within this climate of religious intolerance, the cow has become a common symbol for all fanatical Hindu sects and communities to rally around. The emergence of cow vigilantes, “gau rakshaks” or “gau sevaks,” is due to this trend.
The attack on Help in Suffering’s rescue team was a direct consequence of the above factors. An insignificant religious head of an equally insignificant group seized the opportunity to gain perverse brownie points by “protecting” an injured cow they found on the road. Seeking the limelight was their only motive; actually rescuing the cow was farthest from their agenda.
The goons who supported this toxic agenda were just interested in vandalism. They do not regret the death of the cow, nor the death of the unfortunate rescued dog in Help in Suffering’s ambulance. Thankfully, the police took prompt action and arrested the main people involved. Sadly, Help in Suffering lost an ambulance, seriously affecting our rescue efforts in the city. By using an innocent cow as a divisive political symbol, the vigilantes have therefore harmed innumerable animals in Jaipur.