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India: Meat bans, mob justice and Dadri lynching - Selected Editorials

2 October 2015

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Daily News and Analysis - 2 October 2015


A Muslim man has been murdered because his neighbours took offence at the food he ate. Is this what has become of the idea of India?

The murder of a 50-year-old man at Dadri, just 45 kms from Delhi, over rumours that his family consumed beef raises just one question: where is India headed? Taking cue from a clutch of governments banning beef possession and then putting restrictions on meat eating during religious festivals, zealots have now signalled their intention to commit murder for the cause of the holy cow. The imposition of legal or social sanctions on traditional food habits by governments and communities in a climate of religious polarisation was certain to head down this path of violence and senseless loss of life. The murder of Mohammad Akhlaq signals an escalation of communalisation with dangerous implications for individual liberties and religious freedoms. We have seen communal violence erupt over alleged desecration of religious scriptures and structures and even over stray fights between members of different communities. But rarely, if ever, has it happened that a family is attacked within the confines of its home by a mob, over the choice of meat it consumed. A lakshman rekha has been crossed and the day could soon be upon us when both society and the state are allowed to enter the private confines of homes on the pretext of upholding social morality and religious strictures.

In the Dadri incident, the victims have testified that they had always maintained good relations with their Hindu neighbours. They have also insisted that the meat discovered in their house was mutton, indicating the role of troublemakers and rumourmongers in stoking communal tensions. While the political or cultural affiliations of the mob are not known, the political dimensions of the crime are hard to ignore. A fraying of social relations has been in evidence in Western Uttar Pradesh ever since 2012, after the Samajwadi Party came to power. This culminated in the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 in which leaders of the SP and the BJP have been reportedly implicated in the Justice Vishnu Sahay Commission’s report. Politicians have not been content letting matters rest, evident in Amit Shah’s “badla” remark and Azam Khan’s acerbic responses during the Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP’s phenomenal sweep in the Western UP belt, far from restoring normalcy, saw the birth of new slogans and campaigns like love jihad and ghar wapsi. While cattle theft has always been a source of communal tensions in rural UP, there is no evidence of Akhlaq or his son, who is critically injured, having indulged in such actions.

A local BJP ex-legislator Nawab Singh Nagar is on record saying that the victims would be responsible for what happened, if they had consumed beef. In his words, the crime was “not the outcome of a conspiracy, but excitement that got the better of the mob”. Nagar’s defence of murder amounts to devaluing and dehumanising Muslim citizens. More importantly, his statement also reveals why this cannot be treated as an isolated incident or a local outrage. Alarmingly, groups of bigots have been allowed to enter the socio-political mainstream and have even begun to dominate it. The agenda that is unfolding will not end with beef ban or cow slaughter. It is our lifestyles, social freedoms, personal choices, identities, political beliefs and our cultural diversity that are under attack from the saffron Taliban, if we may stick that label to such murderers and hate merchants. The BJP may well continue to boast that the investment climate and the ease of doing business have improved in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But none of that matters or will matter if the country’s minorities have to live in fear of their neighbours and the Hindu right wing outfits.

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The Times of India - October 2, 2015


Food bigotry: Dadri lynching confirms that bans are giving rise to a culture of dangerous vigilantism

The lynching of a 58-year-old man in Bisada village in Dadri, Greater Noida, owing to rumours that he had slaughtered a cow and stored beef is a horrific reminder that there are pockets in India where vicious bigotry, rather than rule of law, is the order of the day. No less shocking is the fact that far from condemning the incident, local BJP leaders said they would convene a mahapanchayat to demand the release of the six people arrested in connection with the murder. They also said if it were proved that the family had indeed stored beef, the fault was theirs.

The reaction of local BJP brass sums up the culture of impunity in India today. One where atrocities are committed in the name of protecting this or that religious taboo. That the Bisada incident was communally motivated is clear. The point is, even if the family did slaughter a cow, at worst they had flouted a law. The unusual eruption of mob violence shows that the government’s vigorous imposition and defence of bans on religious grounds is providing a fillip to dangerous vigilantism.

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court recently sought to enforce a beef ban in a state where Muslims have traditionally eaten beef. The matter will now be heard in the Supreme Court. The government needs to think hard whether such bans are feasible. Their outcome will be other Bisadas – perhaps full-blown communal riots, with the potential to tear apart the country’s social fabric. In which case we can bid goodbye to visions of enhanced FDI, peace, prosperity, acche din and India’s inevitable rise that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been promoting so eloquently.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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The Indian Express - October 1, 2015


Murder in Bisara
The mob that killed Mohammad Akhlaq drew force from a perceived pattern of intolerance and impunity.

Akhlaq’s family in Dadri, Tuesday. (Express Photo by: Gajendra Yadav)

Just about 45 km from the national capital, 50-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq was beaten to death by a mob on Tuesday, instigated by a rumour and an announcement at a local temple about a Muslim family storing and consuming beef. How should one look at this murder on Delhi’s edge, in Bisara village? As a gruesome crime committed in a region that gained notoriety most recently for the eruption of largescale communal violence in Muzaffarnagar almost two years ago in 2013, whose scars are yet to fade? Or as a portent of a spreading intolerance and polarisation, which is emboldened by a perceived official sanction for acts of majoritarian lawlessness and violence? Disquietingly, indications are, the latter scenario is playing out. The murder of Mohammad Akhlaq may not just be a standalone breach of the thinning rule of law in the badlands of western UP, but a part of a disturbing pattern of anti-minorityism in the country that threatens to strain fragile ties and the neighbourliness between communities.

This pattern draws upon and contributes to the new rash of meat bans in several states, exhuming old legal provisions and conventions as justification. It is shored up by a BJP MP like Yogi Adityanath, who pronounces Muslim population growth captured by the latest census figures to be a “threat to Hindus”, demands a Central law to check it, and runs an opinion poll on his website that calls for yes and no answers to whether the majority community is under siege in India today. It is bolstered by a Union minister like Mahesh Sharma, who suggests that Muslims are essentially anti-national, and gets away with it, no political penalties paid. That spreading pattern of anti-minorityism draws succour, most of all, from the silence of a prime minister who is an eloquent communicator on just about everything else.

It has only been a little over a year for the Narendra Modi government, and it has notched several successes in terms of changing the story that is told about India, at home and abroad, even if there has been less to show on the ground. There is time for the more substantive achievements to come about. But Prime Minister Modi must know this: If unchecked, the growing perception that the state will be with the mob against the minority will turn away not just the much-awaited foreign investor, but also make more fragile every domestic project and reform. In the “Modi wave” that swept the BJP to power in 2014, Hindu stirrings against the “Other” may well have been mixed up with shared aspirations for a better life, jobs and change. But now, the prime ministership of a large and diverse country demands that Modi rise above that element of his mandate that seeks to drag India down to a lesser, more impoverished idea of itself.