Hindu cow vigilante groups in India are escaping punishment for lynchings because of police inertia and complicity by local officials, leaving the family of those affected without justice, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. The report urges the government to prosecute mob violence by cow protection groups that have targeted Muslims, Dalits and other minorities in the five years since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power. “According to a survey by New Delhi Television, there was a nearly 500 per cent increase in the use of communally divisive language in speeches by elected leaders – 90 per cent of them from the BJP – between 2014 and 2018, as compared to the five years before the BJP came to power,” said the report, released on Tuesday. India’s election will test limits of Narendra Modi’s populism, but he’s still in the box seat Cow protection formed an important theme in a number of these speeches. The report quoted studies showing that between May 2015 and December 2018 at least 44 people, including 36 Muslims, were killed in attacks over beef consumption and the cattle trade. “Calls for cow protection may have started out as a way to attract Hindu votes, but it has transformed into a free pass for mobs to violently attack and kill minority group members,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. The report looks in detail at 11 vigilante attacks and reveals why the perpetrators have not been punished. In one case, the statement in which the accused men confessed to the killings was not recorded by the police. In others, the mobs enjoy local political patronage, which can intimidate the police into inaction. In one case of outright complicity, the murder of a Muslim man by a mob in June 2018 was described by in police records as a “motorbike accident”. “In almost all of the cases, the police initially stalled investigations, ignored procedures, or even played a complicit role in the killings and cover-up of crimes. Instead of promptly investigating and arresting suspects, the police filed complaints against victims, their families, and witnesses under laws that ban cow slaughter,” the report said. Human Rights Watch said state governments must send the message that lynchings will be firmly punished. To prevent further mob violence they must also ensure prompt police action against any perpetrators, safeguard victims and witnesses, and, if possible, try the cases in fast-track courts. We need to keep recording the extent of the cruelty, particularly the way the lynchings have been filmed Harsh Mander, human rights activist “Thus far, several states have designated officers and issued circulars to police officials on addressing mob violence. However, most of the court’s other directives have yet to be complied with,” the report said. Human rights activist Harsh Mander believes that while the report is unlikely to embarrass the government, it is important to acknowledge how hatred has been “legitimised and valorised” by the political establishment. “We need to keep recording the extent of the cruelty, particularly the way the lynchings have been filmed and shared. This ‘performative’ aspect of the violence recalls, for me, the lynchings of African Americans in the US as a way of showing the status to which a community has been reduced,” Mander SAID.