You Say Cow, I Say Viral!

Bovine protection Version 2.0, in Surrealistan

The “news story” of a “cow rape” went viral in Mahoba last week.

“If your blood doesn’t boil at this, you are…”

It’s a fill-in-the-blank sort of question and also a multiple choice one. There’s a) Anti-National, b) Pakistani, c) Muslim, and d) All of the above.

If you weren’t in Surrealistan – India’s most populous state, home to lawlessness since the beginning of time, also known as Uttar Pradesh – this would definitely be, in all likelihood, a trick question.

But deep inside our hinterland, in a little village called Kharela, in the hamlet of Mahoba in rural Bundelkhand, what this is, is the sensational beginning of a “news story” just ripe. Its raison de etre is to set the local social media afire.

Which is exactly what it does.

Mobile phones across Mahoba start blinking and burning up as the terrible story of the ultimate act of violence is shared on What’s App furiously – again and again – endlessly. All kinds of self-styled professionals – from self-styled journalists, to self-styled social activists – are pressing forward, share, adding their preferred emojis of rage.

Gaay ke saath dushkarm (A cow, violated)”, screams one. “Vehshi darinde ne kiya yeh kaam (A monster has done this)”, blares another. “Ghor kalyug aa gaya hai (This is the age of Kalyug)”, “Vaasna ke nashe me lipte yuvak ne… (Lust drives youth to…)” setting off the ugly vicious cycle of fuelling, inciting, perpetuating that rawest of emotion, hate.

Anxious as we were at the possibilities that lie ahead in the wake of this virtual forest-fire – riots, mayhem, murder, and more, generously sprinkled with religious profiling – we were also certain about not jumping into the flames without reason. Or hopefully armed with a fire extinguisher.

This is a news story, after all.

So, we must tackle it with news.

Off went KL reporter Sunita to the kasbah, who was promptly taken to the “mauka-e-vardaat”, where she was pointed towards the weapon – the lathi – and also shown drops of dried blood around. Why had the lathi not been taken as evidence yet? Nobody knows, and we head next to the cow’s owner.

His name is Gulab Singh and he is reeling in the crowd with his story, for what must be the 100th time, narrating details about the alleged “rapist” – how he’s the driver for the local daroga, how he’s indulged in such behaviour earlier as well, how he was let go after some compensation was promised. His most vehement answer is reserved for the most important question, the one that haunts these parts in sinister ways every breath you take – “Kis caste ka hai? (What caste does he belong to?)” “Pandit hai!”, says Singh, again and again. And the effect is instantaneous – a hushed silence falls on the crowd milling around, a kind of a permanent state of shock and awe.

In the meanwhile, Singh shares several shock and awe details of the episode that he says took place in the wee hours of the night, or as he keeps referring to it, “yeh kaand”. The “rapist”, he says left his mobile at the site, which is how he was identified. A pair of worn off trousers were retrieved too, he adds – “he must have forgotten to put them on”, he adds, helpfully, his eyes never once looking away from the camera filming his harrowing story.

Did he find them himself? No, is the answer. To both mobile phone and pants.

How did he fathom the cow had been violated? Apparently, he did not. “The doctor has refused to come”, he says, “I have called him so many times.”

As the news story travelled – from village under-the-tree baithaks, to kasbah mobile phone repair shops that double up as downloading-streaming joints where you can copy off the latest videos onto your phones, to the town’s grocers and touts and advocates who are always hungry for the sniff of a story and regard fact versus fiction mere fine print – it grew, in perfect Bundeli fashion, in ways at once appalling and hilarious.

And all at the click of a button.

The cow, said one, was found bleeding in the fields.

She had been discovered in a near-death condition.

She had injury marks all over her body.

Singh, mouthing, “Gaay ki haalat gambhir hai (The cow’s condition is serious)”, in the video that went viral under 24 hours, made for the last word. It seems she refused rotis and is “not even drinking water”, he says, his mood as morose as the cow’s. Medically, he can’t commit on her condition, of course, because the doctor, you see, has refused to pay a visit.

Blood pressures continued to soar through Mahoba, in the meanwhile, rising with every blue double-tick.

“How intoxicated was he with lust that he did this!”, said one mahashaay, who moonlights as poet – best known for his fiery (read communal) verse.

“He was actually inebriated”, added his friend on the Breaking Mahoba group – a What’s App group that seems to have dropped the “news” that generally follows “breaking”. (Ironic, we know.)

“But what are these gau rakshaks doing?!”, demanded another friendly soul, who signs off all his messages with ‘Senior Advocate’. He also did a broadcast message with this piece of news, likening the era we live in to the times of the Mahabharata. “Even Dhrishtarashtra”, it began, “would say, ‘Please take me away from this world’, if he were to see the state of our nation today.” Well, that’s something everyone in Delhi is saying these days – as they step out into the gas chamber for just another day of work.

Mahoba, home to a Muslim population close to 7.6%, is prone to communal flare ups and the battle lines are drawn most aggressively over What’s App. Even amidst one What’s App group, when the issue has something even barely to do with religion, the chat remains polarized. In this particular case, since the “accused” is both Hindu and upper caste, the story has gone cold. It has lived its viral life of 48 hours, though.

But even as the furore dies down, we wonder if we should stop questioning the eye-witnesses-who-do-not-exist.

We know we must though because Mahoba is the Delhi of Bundelkhand in that the cases of sexual assault and violence against women here have been one too many. Just in the last year, we have reported on actual rapes one too many – of young girls, of women, of little children, of old women.

A pre-teen who was picked up from her home, brutally raped and murdered, her body thrown into the quarry. When she was found, she was unrecognizable. Currently, her family is being pressured to settle.

A young woman who was forced to listen to sleazy songs, by the cop, when she went into file a complaint against a taxi driver who had refused to turn off the music that was making her uncomfortable. “Kaun sa chalaya tha, batao na (Tell me which song he played)”, said the cop, winking.
A teenager who was molested in school, by her teacher.

An eight-year-old who was raped in the fields where she’d gone to relieve herself.

But these are not the news stories that are catching fire and going viral, no. We like our bullshit far too much – sometimes, literally. And gaay ke saath dushkarm is just too snug a fit.

The villain of the “cow rape news story”, is currently in remand. He has been booked under the Cruelty to Animals 1960 Act, we’re informed, and proceedings will follow.