What if It Indeed Was Beef ?

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ON Monday 28th Sep, a mob of local Hindu men attacked the house of 50 year old Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, near Delhi. They beat him to death, molested and threatened his 18 year old daughter Sajida and grievously injured his 22 year old son Daanish. The attack took place after announcements were made in the local temple that the family had consumed beef. “They dragged my brother and father outside the room and used bricks which they found under his bed to beat them. My father was taken outside the house and beaten to death. My brother was dragged to the courtyard downstairs and they used bricks to hit him on the head and chest, leaving him unconscious. They also tried to molest me and hit my grandmother on her face. They threatened to kill me if I said a word to the police,” wrote Indian Express, quoting Sajida. “Can they bring my father back if it turns out it was not beef?, wrote the paper, again quoting  Sajida, in what seems to be the most disturbing and heart rending part of this  story.

The underlying message of this tragic story is clear: Eating beef can get you killed in India. The politics of beef is not new in India. Many States had declared cow slaughter illegal many decades ago. In Maharashtra, which has implemented a complete beef on sale and consumption of beef in the State, the legislation banning cow slaughter was passed in 1976 under the Congress rule. The present BJP Govt in the State has added other bovine animals like bulls to it, thereby throwing hundreds of thousands of people out of livelihood with the stroke of a pen. Even in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the High Court recently asked the Govt to implement the ban on cow slaughter, a law is dating back to 1932. The politics of beef has sharply come into focus after the BJP came to power in Delhi winning a comfortable majority in the 2014 Parliamentary elections. But such incidents have not only happened under BJP rule and hence one should not miss the tree for the woods by focusing only on the BJP and its allies. Uttar Pradesh, the State where this tragic incident happened, is ruled by Samajwadi Party, which has become notorious for playing and encouraging communal politics in the state.  This is not a new phenomenon in India but old fault lines which are increasingly being manifest now in the form an aggressive Hindutva polity.

Cow slaughter is banned even in Uttar Pradesh where this gruesome killing took place. What is truly disturbing is that the victim’s daughter had to plead for their life in such a manner. The authorities have taken the samples for forensic testing to ascertain whether it was really beef. What if it turns out that Akhlaq Ahmad’s family had actually consumed beef? Isn’t the killing of one person, grievous injury to his son and attack on his house enough to not only arrest the culprits but build a strong criminal case against them and punish them? The sharp focus on consuming beef and cow slaughter is the outward symbol of an underlying communal polarization. Targeting people eating beef and its consumption is not restricted only to Muslims, but it has been the new way of defining and identifying the ‘’outsider’’ in India now.

After the BJP came to power, various right wing Hindu groups have taken it upon themselves to enforce their own ‘’moral code’’ in India, of which protection of cow and enforcing ban on beef consumption is a major issue. One must not forget that Narendra Modi came to power on the back of an aggressive media campaign which focused on ‘’growth, governance and development’’. For those who focused only on news channels, it would seem that the party had given up its communal and divisive politics and given up on demonizing Muslims. But that was only a mirage, a smokescreen, to lure more voters, especially in urban India. It is interesting to note that while the BJP didn’t give much prominence to its old Hindutva slogan of Ram Temple and mentioned it towards the end of its election manifesto, its various leaders most notably Amit Shah continued to harp back on the party’s old slogans centred around communalism. References were made to butchers flourishing under the Congress Govt, thereby subtly targeting Muslims and also invoking the protection of the cow in the bargain as an electoral chip. In its bid to garner maximum seats in the Hindi heartland, the party aggressively used its star campaigner Amit Shah to raise the communal pitch. The party subtly played the politics of polarization, skirting the law but dropping enough hints about what they were targeting. 

Even after coming to power, many leaders of the Sangh Parivar have reignited various communal issues, like Ghar Wapsi, Love Jihad etc. But in almost all these cases, where Sangh Parivar’s including BJP’s own leaders have indulged in such naked communalism, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been conspicuous by his silence. Never reluctant to use social media, even on trivial issues, he has not publicly taken any stand against such party leaders. The BJP has often used the fig leaf of ‘’fringe elements’’ to disregard the threat from such political leaders, but it is increasingly becoming clear that the party is deliberately allowing such elements to go unpunished, so that it can reap electoral benefits from this politics of polarization. While the ‘’fringe elements’’ within the Sangh Parivar have been used to keep the communal cauldron boiling to benefit the party electorally, Narendra Modi has been projecting himself as a messiah of growth, governance and development. His PR machinery has been in overdrive to project him as a decisive leader that can catapult India into the big league. This image is used to keep the party’s urban middle class vote bank intact.

The beef ban implemented in various States in India does not only limit the options of people in choosing what they would like to eat, but it has also thrown hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Muslims, out of business. In the guise of respecting religious sentiments, these bans are also being seen as a way to hit the economic interest of Muslims. It is ironic that while in the state of Maharashtra, where there is a complete ban on sale and consumption of beef, its exports have not been banned. In fact India is the largest exporter of beef worldwide. In the raging debate over the politics of ban, one must note that India, which claims to be a secular State, should not limit and infringe on people’s choices of what they eat or don’t eat. It should not be turned into a religious debate and should neither be a debate about disrespect to religious feelings of one community or the other. This debate should be about individual choices and the State should have no say in deciding that. Unless of course, India has already become Hindu Rashtra.

In the meantime, the UP Govt’s decision to send a sample of meat found in the victim’s refrigerator for forensic investigation to confirm whether it was really beef or not is reprehensible and utterly shameful. What if it really is beef? Would it justify the killing of Mohammed Akhlaq? The killing in Dadri has thrown up disturbing questions for India, if it still cares. Narendra Modi’s conspicuous silence on all such serious issues has encouraged a culture of impunity in India. He may have enthralled his audience on his recent visit to the US and made huge claims about Digital India, but back home, in a small hamlet near Delhi, a man has been killed for allegedly eating beef. Digital India might prove a mirage, but Mohammed Akhalq’s death is an ugly reality that India needs to face, sooner rather than later.

Tariq Jameel is an investment professional with interest in politics and sports. He can be reached at: tj@kashmirobserver.net 

 

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