The video of four Dalit men being beaten with iron rods by cow-protection vigilantes has sparked protests in Gujarat. Some Dalit activists responded by dumping bovine carcasses outside government offices in two districts in the state.

The most obvious lesson from this sorry episode is that Dalits continue to be easy targets despite their equal legal rights under the Constitution. There is another lesson as well. No modern nation state should tolerate vigilante violence of this sort. There have been several reports from other parts of India about cow-protection vigilante groups that have assumed they have the right to use violence against other citizens. Only the nation state has the right to use violence.

All political parties need to come together to condemn vigilante groups. Their members need to be hauled up by the police whenever violence is used. And they should also be forced to read Hindutva icon V.D. Savarkar’s brilliant essay on how the cow is not a holy mother but a useful animal.

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