EXCLUSIVE: Meet the cow protectors: men who'd kill in its name. A video diary
Over the last few months, the Indian cow has been turned into a grenade.
It has triggered gruesome murders and lynch mobs, flash raids and angry debates. Intemperate speeches, trade bans, eating bans, thinking bans, freedom bans. Laws have been changed in its name; fundamental rights denied.
Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched to death in Dadri for allegedly storing beef in his refrigerator. Two others - Zahid Rasool and Noman - were killed in separate incident by mobs who thought they were transporting cows. On the other side, cow-protectors claim that one of their own, Prashanth Poojary, was killed by cow smugglers in Karnataka.
The cow has armies of believers defending it. And as many others denouncing these protectors. The furore around this peaked in the run-up to the Bihar elections.
For a while, it seemed India would literally drown in "cow politics".
Then, as suddenly, it all subsided.
There is a temptation to think that all of this was just cynical play by the Hindu right-wing parties and the results in Bihar have sent out a message that "cow politics" yields no electoral dividends.
But that would be living in a fool's paradise.
The overt incidents may have receded with the BJP defeat in Bihar, but the toxic mindset that underpinned it has not.
Panchjanya, the mouthpiece of the RSS - the parent organisation of the BJP and other right wing Hindu groups in India - recently ran a cover story calling for the murder of those who slaughter cows. It claimed the divine authority for such murders came straight from the ancient texts: the Vedas.
This distorted idea of the sacred is spreading dangerously beneath the skin. In the past few months several extremist Hindu outfits have formed vigilante cow protection gangs throughout the country - "Gau Rakshak Dals".
According to some reports, the Bajrang Dal - one of the outfits in the Hindutva Sangh Parivar - has vowed to raise an army of 10 lakh new volunteers.
These "dals" or groups believe that cows - which Hindus worship - are in constant danger of being slaughtered and consumed. To prevent this, they say, Hindus like them have to resort to violence.
Even though they claim that their sole aim is to protect the animal, it is clear that their target are the country's religious minorities.
The election in Bihar may be over. But Uttar Pradesh is up next in 2017.
Uttar Pradesh is one of the most communally charged states in India. An average of 34 people lose their lives to riots in the state every year. It has already witnessed hundreds of small communal riots this year.
We travelled to UP's Aligarh district, which has a number of slaughter-houses, to trail the self-styled "Gau Rakshaks" of Hindu Mahasabha - an exclusively Hindu political outfit whose goal is to create a Hindu Rashtra.
We accompanied them in one of their late night "raids". Armed with guns, hockey sticks and knives, members of the vigilante wing of Mahasabha set out to hunt down cow traffickers in the thick of night.
Catch spoke to them as they patrolled the streets in search of their adversaries and engaged in a hot pursuit of trucks suspected to be transporting cows.
In a video shot through the night, the members discuss why they celebrate the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and how they are willing to kill and be killed for the cow.
"Wouldn't you protect your mother's honour?" they ask.
You can watch Part 2 of the series here:
Text: Shoma Choudhury