Under article 48 of India’s constitution, the slaughter of cows is prohibited. Accordingly, 21 out of 29 states in India prohibit cow slaughter in various forms, with prison sentences ranging from six months to 14 years.
Since 2005, the Supreme Court of India has accepted the constitutionality of cow slaughter laws. In 2018, several state governments toughened their laws to increase the punishment for cow slaughter. While prohibitions on cow slaughter have a long history in India, “cow protection” mobs are a new phenomenon, and such groups have perpetrated more than 100 attacks since May 2015, resulting in 44 deaths and approximately 300 injured.
In 2018 alone, cow protection lynch mobs killed at least 13 people and injured 57 in 31 incidents. Not only do these mobs take the law into their own hands by publicly beating or murdering individuals suspected of cow slaughter—usually with impunity—but they also harass and intimidate individuals engaged in the dairy industry without connections to cow slaughter.
In July 2018, a dairy farmer named Rakbar Khan was beaten to death in Rajasthan. While the details of his death continue to be corroborated, it appears that the police were complicit or directly involved, along with a local mob. In December 2018, in another incident in Uttar Pradesh, a mob shot and killed police officer Subodh Kumar Singh and another victim after finding cow carcasses.
In response, Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath stated that the mob attack was an accident and generally denied the existence of lynch mob killings in his state.
In a July 2018 ruling on mob violence and cow vigilantism, the Supreme Court of India instructed the government to enact legislation to address extrajudicial and nonstate actors, particularly when their actions result in hate crimes.
The ruling—which also instructed state governments to monitor mob incidents—came in response to petitions to the court regarding vigilantism against Muslims for cattle slaughter, dairy farming, and beef consumption.
Based on these concerns, in 2019 USCIRF again places India on its Tier 2 for engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, egregious” standard for designation as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). While the Indian government repeatedly has denied USCIRF access to India, the Commission welcomes the opportunity to openly and candidly engage with the government—including the chance for a USCIRF delegation to visit India—to discuss shared values and interests, including international standards of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights.