A group of young filmmakers make a compelling documentary on what motivates Gau rakshaks to indulge in vigilantism and unpaid volunteering by following a group in Rajkot on a 'raid'
The truck, which was supposedly smuggling cows, was taken to the police station. Some gau rakshaks were seen unloading the truck, while others took photos of the process
Seven 20-year-olds from Mumbai travelled to Rajkot in Gujarat in December 2018. It wasn't your usual wintry road trip. What did Rajkot have to offer? A gau raksha dal. It is a vigilante group with Hindutva affiliations, that aims to save cows from being smuggled across state lines or intrastate.
Why? It is this question that the documentary, Gau Premi (For the Love of Cow) attempts to answer.
A class assignment demanding a short documentary be made on a contemporary issue, prompted Maitreya Sanghvi and six classmates to make their way to Rajkot.
Interestingly, they had reached out to several gau raksha dals on Facebook and the one from Rajkot was the first to respond enthusiastically. "They were keen on being featured in the film. They asked us to visit them and promised to show us around," said Sanghvi, the director. He and the others decided to keep their opinions about the illegitimacy of gau raksha to themselves, to encourage honest answers from the gau rakshaks.
Happy to have found a credible lead for their film and nervous about the possible dangers of the assignment, they drove to Rajkot from Mumbai. "I was pleasantly surprised because they were very hospitable and more than forthcoming," says Suchi Dembla, the assistant director. They were having golas (ice lollies) with the gau rakshaks, when the Mass Media students were caught off guard. One of the gau rakshaks offered to let them accompany him and others on a 'raid.' A raid is usually based on a tip off about cows being smuggled and is carried out to catch the 'smugglers' red-handed.
They made their way to a dhaba on the outskirts of the city and waited till 3 am, but there was no movement. "We weren't ready to give up just yet. On the third night, one of them informed us that the truck in question had been halted and that we could head to the spot to see for ourselves," said Dembla. What happened next forms the crux of the film.
Gau rakshaks outside the police station the night the ‘raid’ was successful. One is seen explaining that he believes cows being smuggled for slaughter is a problem that is never going to stop
"Vigilantism is a result of frustration with the system. So, the government needs to take a long, hard look at this issue," Sanghvi says, adding that it was a disturbing experience. "It's unsettling that they receive cooperation and support from the police. As we have seen before, things can go completely out of hand when untrained vigilantes, who aren't trying to de-escalate the situation necessarily, are involved." Sanghvi is referring to the numerous lynchings that have taken place in the name of protecting the cow, which Hindus hold sacred. Gau Premi makes for a compelling watch because it questions the motivations of the gau rakshaks, who indulge in unpaid vigilantism. The violence is palpable in the frames without the filmmakers resorting to showing bloodshed.
Gau rakshaks waiting outside the police station while the truck in question is parked. The alleged accused were in the lock-up by then
Are the gau rakshaks fuelled by a reverence for the cow or hate for marginalised communities like the Muslims who sustain themselves through herding, leather and meat trade, is the issue the filmmakers tackle.
Watchm on: vimeo.com/ 422826599
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