ON A SATURDAY NIGHT IN APRIL, at around 9 pm, I rode a motorcycle to the outskirts of Haryana’s Jhajjar town, 20 kilometres west of Delhi, accompanied by a photographer.
“Bhrata shree,” an enthusiastic Gau Raksha Dal, or GRD, activist had addressed me over the phone earlier that evening, using the Sanskrit word for brother. “Come whenever you want. We’ll start the gasht”—patrol—“once you’re here,” he said.
The location he had called us to was an unlit and isolated stretch of road, right before National Highway 334B, about a kilometre from Jhajjar bypass. I stopped the motorcycle after spotting a group of 20 men, all gau rakshaks, or cow-protection vigilantes, milling about near two parked SUVs—a Scorpio and a Mahindra Bolero. Close by, there was a police control room van with five uniformed policemen. Some of the vigilantes, too, were in a uniform of sorts: white T-shirts bearing the insignia of GRD Haryana—a bejewelled cow, framed by a pair of crossed daggers, and flanked on each side by AK-47s. Under this was a couplet: Apni laashon se gaumata ke gulshan ko aabaad rakhenge! Woh ladai hogi ki gaumata ke dushman bhi yaad rakhenge!—Our corpses shall keep the cow mother’s garden flourishing! We’ll give the enemies of cow mother a fight they’ll never forget!