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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 45 New Delhi October 31, 2015

Three Murders and a Lynching

Wednesday 4 November 2015

by Ram Puniyani

Laws of nature cannot be applied to human society so directly. Still sometimes these have been used to explain/justify social catastrophes, ‘When a big tree falls, the earth shakes’ (in the aftermath of the anti-Sikh massacre of 1984), ‘every action has equal and opposite reaction’ (during the Gujarat carnage of 2002) are too well known. I have been very puzzled from last month or so since the scholars-writers, who have returned their honours and are being questioned as to why they did not do so when the Emergency happened or the anti Sikh violence rocked the country or when the mass migration of Kashmiri pundits took place or when the Mumbai train blasts killed hundreds of innocent lives. I am tempted to think of the laws of physics of ‘qualitative transformation’ during heating or cooling of water, when the temperature remains the same but water becomes either steam or ice.

 When Dr Dabholkar, Com Pansare and then Prof Kalburgi were killed over a period of months, the danger-signals started being perceived but still it took the beef-lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq to give a message that something has drastically changed in the society, and the spate of returning of Sahiya Academy, national and State awards followed in quick succession. The writers’ protest was against the rising intolerance in the society. The incidents that followed and ran parallel to these ‘award-returns’ were equally horrific. The killing of a trucker on the assumption that he was carrying cows for slaughter; the beating of an MLA in the Kashmir Assembly by BJP legislatures and the scattered incidents of attacks on Muslims on the ground of beef consumption are too striking. We are currently facing a situation where anybody can incite violence by just uttering the word beef, while seeing mutton or some such thing. We are living in an atmosphere where the cow cannot be shooed away even if she is blocking the traffic.

 The viciousness of the atmosphere is not lost on the social perceptions. The insecurity of the minorities has gone up by leaps and bounds. One knows that since the present NDA regime came to power, all those ‘spewing hate’ are working overtime. For one Akbaruddudin Owaisi there is an army of Sakshi Maharaj, Sadhvis, Yogis and what have you. This army of mostly saffron-robed or the ones with association with the Hindu nationalist politics hold high positions within their political combine, what is known as the Sangh Parivar. The Prime Minister himself had exerted the Hindu youth to emulate Maharana Pratap to save the honour of Mother cow during his election speeches. During this last over one year, words like haramzade (illegitimate) have been used with gay abandon. On the mere suspicion, a Pune techie, Mohsin Shaikh, was done to death. Serial attacks on churches were passed off as thefts, the Love-Jihad bogey was kept alive and the likes of Yogi Adityanath, the top BJP leader from UP, stated that for every one Hindu girl marrying a Muslim, Hindus should bring 100 Muslim girls. Muslim youth have been barred from participating in festivals like Navaratri. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the BJP’s Muslim face, advised those wanting to eat beef to go to Pakistan. The glorification of the Mahatma’s killer, Godse, has been stepped up and temples are being planned in his memory, while a BJP MP from Kerala stated that Godse was right but he chose a wrong target. The atmosphere of communal violence has gone up in a big way during the preceding year.

 Even after the awards started being returned, the BJP leadership looked down upon the writers/scholars and overlooked the pheno-menon which has led to the returning of the awards. To mock these writers Buddhi Shuddhi puja path (purification of intellect ritual) has been organised and the BJP spokespersons are humiliating them in talk shows with all their ferocity. To cap it all, the Haryana Chief Minister, an old RSS pracharak, said that Muslims can live here but only if they will give up beef-eating. No doubt the BJP chief, Amit Shah, has talked to some of these leaders behind the close doors, but that does seem to be a mock drill as the leaders concerned did say that they went to meet their chief for some other reasons and none of them gave any serious apology.

 Disturbed by what is going on, the President, Pranab Mukherjee, on three occasions urged the nation to uphold pluralism, the core civilisational value of the country and to uphold tolerance. The Vice-President, Hamid Ansari, reminded the government that it is the duty of the state to uphold the ‘right to life’ of citizens. The index of the changing social atmosphere is reflected by the statements of two outstanding citizens of the country. Julio Reibero, the top cop, expressed his pain and anguish by saying that “as a Christian suddenly I feel stranger in my own country”. And the renowned actor, Naseeruddin Shah, had to point out that “I have never been aware of my identity as a Muslim until now”.

These are not ordinary times. The values of pluralism and tolerance have been pushed to the margins. With this government in power all the wings of communal politics, the RSS affiliates, have unleashed themselves in full blast. Communalism is not just the number of deaths due to violence, it is much more. The foundation of this violence begins with the manufacture of perceptions about the religious minorities. These perceptions, based on history and some selective aspects of the present society, are being given an anti-human tilt and interpretation. This is used to create hatred for the minorities and that’s where the communal elements can unleash violence either as a massive violence like Gujarat or Mumbai or Bhagalpur or Muzzafarnagar or the one at Dadri. This creates divides in society which over a period of time are converted into polarisation. And polarisation is the foundation of the electoral strength of a party wanting a nation in the name of religion. As per a Yale study, communal violence is the vehicle which strengthens the BJP at the electoral level.

 Communalism has been planted in India over a century-and-a-half ago. The British policy of ‘divide and rule’ used communal historiography as a major weapon. This type of interpretation of history was picked up by communal organisations and given an anti-Hindu or anti- Muslim tilt and gradually this has been strengthened after every act of violence which has been the outcome of their politics. The present phase is the one where the cup of communalism is spilling out from its earlier levels or boundaries. The intensity of ‘Hate’ constructed around temple destructions, Love-Jihad has been supplemented by the oft-used tool of beef. In the present situation the divisive elements, who are in the centre-stage of politics, also know that they are safe and secure as the present government precisely wants what they are doing, their contrary posturing notwith-standing.

 The present combination of the government, guided by the ideology of Hindu nationalism and the ‘fringe elements’ having the same ideology, has a vast network with a wide reach. This party has the advantage that mostly it does not have to dirty its hands in the local agenda of sectarian nationalism, and so there are many elements which can do the local work for dividing the society. The so-called fringe elements are now occupying the centre-stage, and so the ‘qualitative change’ in the situation. The flood of awards being returned is due to the situation created by deeper communalisation of society. This is manifested in growing intolerance, attack on plurality and is leading to the insecurity of minorities, which has qualitatively transcended the earlier limits. The question is: how to uphold the values of the Indian Constitution in the current times?

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.