The detention of five people under the National Security Act in Madhya Pradesh last week, all of them alleged to have committed offences related to cattle laws, amounts to gross misuse of a law meant solely to prevent activities that endanger the country’s security or public order. India has unfortunately become habituated to the abuse of preventive detention laws. In recent times, they have been wrongly invoked against political dissenters and vocal critics, with total disregard for constitutional freedoms. The latest instances point to a new form of misuse. This is possibly the first time that a law that provides for a maximum of one year in prison through an executive order without trial or bail is being used against those suspected of offences against cows. The implications are terrifying. It means that law-enforcers will stop at nothing to demonstrate ideological adherence to majoritarian beliefs. This poses a grave danger to the freedom of movement and vocation, as well as the dietary choices, of sections of society that do not share the majority community’s reverence for the cow. In the first case in Khandwa district, the police, who recovered a cow carcass, traced three men who had allegedly killed the animal. In the second case, authorities in Agar Malwa district claim there was some disturbance due to two men who were allegedly transporting cows. The ostensible reason to book them under the NSA is that they were likely to cause disruption of peace. This is too flimsy a ground to invoke so stringent a law, especially when there is no evidence of security or order being under grave threat.
In its order last year directing a series of measures against mob violence and public lynching, of which those transporting cows were frequent victims, the Supreme Court had warned against the dangers of a socio-political framework based on disrespect for an inclusive social order, and wanted the state to take preventive and remedial measures. In its apparent eagerness to prevent incidents that may lead to a communal backlash, the Madhya Pradesh government is detaining potential victims to prevent them from indulging in provocative acts! In invoking the NSA in respect of minor offences, solely out of fear of aggressive protests by right-wing Hindu groups, the Congress regime in Madhya Pradesh is displaying utter cravenness. It is not clear why the police is not content with prosecuting them under laws that ban cow slaughter. There is some unease among Congress leaders over these actions of the party’s new government in the State. However, it is not enough for the party to voice mild disapproval of the Kamal Nath regime’s actions: its leadership has to denounce the gross misuse of the law to mollify cow vigilantes and the short-sighted aim of neutralising the BJP’s campaign that the Congress is against Hindu beliefs. The State government must revoke the detention.