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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 42, New Delhi, October 10, 2015

The Lynchings

Saturday 10 October 2015, by Badri Raina

A quickly assembled loud speaker atop a make-shift temple first blared the rumour that, allegedly, a cow had been slaughtered in the village and that Hindus must gather apace. Simultaneously, that wonder from Silicon Valley called Whatsapp helped spread the good word within minutes, enabling a large mob to collect in front of the only two Muslim families in the village of Bisada in Dadri, Western Uttar Pradesh.

And, lo and behold, “beef” was discovered in the refrigerator at one of the houses. Akhlaque and his son were promptly set upon in righteous fury on behalf of the allegedly slaughtered cow, and Akhlaq, the human being, was brutally dispatched to satiate the soul of the animal. Did it matter that nobody had any evidence that a cow had been slaughtered? And by Akhlaq? Did it matter that the meat may have been just mutton, left over after the Eid festival? Did it matter that there was no law against the storing of beef, even if it was beef? Did it matter that the suspicion should have been reported to the law-enforcement agencies, even if there was a law banning the storing of beef? Did It matter that for over a century the families have been living in the said village in uneventful harmony, and that Akhlaq may have been a very innocent man?

None of this mattered; because this killing had to be done if the “majority” community was to be shown a reason to vote in a particular way come the imminent Panchayat elections and State elections of 2017. One of the people arrested now turns out to be the son of a Bharatiya Janata Party leader, by the name of Sanjay Rana, known to be close to the Member of Parliament from the said constituency, and Minister of Culture in the Central Government, Mahesh Sharma. No wonder the gentleman has been anxious to pass off the murder as an “accident”, pleading that the matter should not be “politicised”. You see, whatever is initiated by the majority community to further its fortunes is never politicisation or polarisation: it is always pursuing the “national interest”. Nor is it ever “vote-bank” politics. Such epithets and accusations apply only to the minority and marginalised segments of society who must be seen, as per the tenets of Hindutva, never to quite constitute the nation.

The Corporates and the media houses they run do not like such shenanigans, even as they wish the Hindu Rightwing to continue to be in state power because of their no-nonsense allegiance to market-fundamentalism and their contempt for social welfarism. Thus, such media have been obliged to express great dissatisfaction over the lawless lynching of an innocent citizen, not knowing that the locals who shared the honours of the ritual killing of a Muslim man would turn on them with equal fury when they visited the scene. Result: some journalists have come back from Dadri with a broken nose or two. Mere collateral damage, we are to think, because the job of the communalists is done; only the harvest needs to be gathered in due course.

What hope is there in such a season of unreason to argue the history of the case of beef-eating in India? If only the Hindutva brigade read with diligence their own prized icon of Hindu glory, Swami Vivekananda, they might benefit greatly on the substance of the question. For a quick but tellingly comprehensive education on the matter, it would suffice to log onto the “Swami Vivekananda Quotes” on the internet. Such reference, however, might be highly damaging to the political project of the Hindu Rightwing now underway. That project aims with devious energy to propagate the myth that beef was never eaten by Hindus, and that only the invading Mussalman wrought the calamity of cow slaughter. And, taking cue from the ideological mentors of the current power structure, to make it known that the righting of that and other “wrongs” will no longer be left just to law-enforcement but taken up by committed fascios basking in the knowledge of a friendly state.

However, there is reason to believe that some sections of the Congress are less than clear or firm on the subject of the consumption of beef products. Needless to say such hesitation on a subject central to the legitmacy of secular citizenship in India can only be termed unfortunate.

This piece is captioned “The Lynchings” for a reason. Turn a page and you will find it reported (Hindustan Times, October 2) that in Hamirpur, once again in Uttar Pradesh, a ninety-year-old Dalit was not only prevented from entering a temple but duly smashed and burnt alive for his gumption.

You see, the Bharatiya Janata Party as the political wing of the RSS may want Dalit votes in order to hold on to power, but the RSS has an agenda that goes beyond. It seeks to make Hindu Rashtra a constitutional reality. And Hindu Rashtra, it clearly understands, cannot mean the rule of all Hindus but of the upper castes along principles of hierarchy laid down in the Manusmriti and the Dharma Shastras. That “vision” has no place for the Shudra, except as slaving underlings who may not lay claim to being kosher Hindus except when they may be required to swell a mob to attack the “enemy”. In normal course, they are not to be counted among Hindus—reason why it may be claimed that Hindus do not eat beef, since Dalits who do—beef being ten times cheaper than mutton—are not quite Hindus. Not that no other Hindus eat beef. Those magnates who own the beef export trade—India is the world’s biggest beef exporter, and such exports have gone up by a whopping 44 per cent since the Modi Govern-ment took office—do not seem to mind much that the beef they export is slaughtered in other countries. In all criminal jurisprudence it is laid down that those who supply contraband of any variety are more culpable than those who merely consume the same, but remarkably, this universal principle does not apply in the case of beef. You see, in the end, it is the economy, stupid.

 Thus the lynching of the ninety-year-old Dalit must be read as an intimate part of the text that is now unfolding in Bharat. That there are Dalit politicians who support the Hindu Rightwing is of course a fact; but have we heard from them on the matter brought up here? Not to my knowledge. You see, there comes a point in the social evolution of the underlings when they kick the ladder they used to climb, and join the class of erstwhile oppressors. And smilingly call all that “progress” and “development”. What moral edict in world history has ever been stable? Including those concerning the eating of beef.

It seems more than possible now that if the Hindu Rightwing continues to garner electoral victories, its boldness in attempting a demolition of the secular Constitution of the Republic of India (the earlier demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992 and the current attempt to demolish not just the Nehruvian legacy but Nehru’s persona being preparatory steps to the goal) will gather both pace and legitimacy, since the voter will be construed to be repeatedly endorsing a political force that has such a strategic agenda. It does seem now that not argument, not evidence, not the rightness of things, not the case for democracy, but only defeats at the hustings may oblige the majoritarian nationa-lists to stepping back, even if tactically and temporarily. But the politics and the mobili-sation that ought to be visible to make those defeats a reality appear only feeble, divided and complacently self-regarding, even if distinctly more anxious. All of which, as this writer has been saying repeatedly, makes the coming elections to the Bihar Assembly one of free India’s most momentous contests.

We will know in about a month how that cookie may crumble. In the meanwhile, one rather laughs at idle demands from sections of the media and citizens at large that the Prime Minister make himself heard on such matters as the lynchings.. Some even are crestfallen that whereas an Obama never fails to speak to social atrocities in America, his bosom friend here in India saves his tweets for other purposes. If the honourable Prime Minister, for reasons best known to him, does not wish to break his silence on such happenings, maybe he could ask his friend Barack to say something about those lynchings. Ah, the fallacy that America and India are one and the same. In matters of money-spinning may be, but as democratic cultures, clearly not. Except of course when a Geoge W. Bush be in office; and even then not, because no one, but no one, may ever challenge the magnificent provisions of their First Amendment. Which is not to say they do not have their own murdering gun-slingers—increasingly so. Yet the state never seems wholly complicit with their shenanigans, even if often inclined to favour the fair and lovely (sic) over the dark and dangerous (sic).

Akhlaq and the ninety-year-old Dalit man have paid the price for thinking they were of greater value than an animal and an idol. They misunderstood the import of official slogans regarding “vikas” (development); vikas has no further reference than to the class interests of the upper castes whose shrine is in Silicon Valley where the honourable Modi went for propitiation among the howling of beefed-up devotees. A crucial component of the RSS idea of vikas is social regression to the times of the Manusmriti. Development is to be restricted to technology and profit-maximisation; its social component must necessarily be a medieval revivalism which is far too sunk in prejudice and unreason to challenge the economic content of predatory development. The two are inseparably linked, and no one knows this better than the Numero Uno. Thus Obama and America had better mind their own business, including their penchant for freedom of religious practice. That in India must remain reserved—speaking of reservations—only for the upper- caste crust of the majority community. For the rest, it is either obedience, or lynchings.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.