The Difference between 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 country. In the midst of the tragic death of a Muslim man by cow protection vigilantes and knee-jerk and poorly-planned schemes and laws to punish ill-treatment of cows, news also came in of individuals who beat up 3 Muslim men transporting buffaloes. Significant debate followed on whether they were animal rights activists or Gau Rakshaks. After all, each of us probably knows animal rights activists within our community who have stopped trucks and rescued cattle 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, for their intrinsic value and right to life, not to be seen as commodities that are to be used by human beings as food, or clothes, or entertainment. Gau Raksha, on the other hand, is an extremely narrow view which is speciesist (only bovine, specifically cows), sexist (cows not bulls) and motivated by religious beliefs. Not only is there a huge difference in ideology, but as a movement based in non-violence, we also completely disagree with the violent tactics adopted by Gau Rakshaks. But the waters are muddied 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 a part of the same spectrum of vigilantism, thus setting back the hard work of many hundreds of grassroots activists that run 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 activists. Not only are we 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 they rescue? They land in shelters that are equally pathetic for any animal and which do not have sufficient fodder, access to veterinary doctors and fail to provide even the basic minimum quality of life. Eventually, most of the cows die a miserable death. Why is the treatment of cows in dairies across India absent from their criticism? Why aren’t Gau Rakshaks vegan?

The 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 that there is strict action against the unlawful acts of these self-proclaimed ‘cow protectors’. And for those genuine animal rights activists who are caught in this storm, we stand by you. We will not allow Animal Rights activism, which stands strong on the fundamental respect to all lives, to become a conduit to further religious and political vested interests, locally, regionally or nationally!