Muscular religiosity


October 07, 2015

The dastardly killing of Akhlaq in an Indian village on the suspicion that he ate beef is the ugly face of majoritarian politics whose intimidating ways is posing a challenge to the voice of reason.

Trust the politicians to put across their point succinctly. A leader from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the eastern state of Bihar has described a huge debate in the country in the simplest of words. “This is a fight between beef eaters and cow protectors,” he has said. Well, this is what India has been talking about after the most distressing and shocking incident of violence in a village not too far from the national capital, New Delhi, a few days ago. A man was bludgeoned to death by a mob in a village in Dadri on the ‘suspicion’, please note only on suspicion, that he had consumed beef, portions of which were also allegedly in the refrigerator at his home.

Anybody wondering why beef should be the cause of social conflict in a village, especially in one that has never seen a communal problem in its history, must know that the cow is an icon of worship for the country’s largest community which believes in Hinduism. In parts of India, cow slaughter is prohibited but buffalo or oxen slaughter is not.

Beef is not just the poor man’s main source of animal protein because it is cheaper than other meats available, it is also consumed by others, including some practising Hindus, as a part of their dietary traditions. The number of people who have come out openly on social media and elsewhere after the Dadri killing to say that they are beef-eating Hindus is only an indicator of the cultural diversity that is at the core of India.

Yet, the angry reactions reflect the larger social divide which has come to exist - one that, ostensibly, the Bihar leader would not like to admit publicly because he would lose votes in the upcoming assembly elections. But, the issue is not purely an electoral fight. It is much more political.

So what exactly happened at Dadri? Mohammed Akhlaq and his family had excellent relations with others in Dadri, irrespective of religious beliefs. His friends enjoyed their meals with him on Eid al Adha, as always. But someone noticed that a calf in the area had gone missing. Somebody else thought it could have been slaughtered and consumed by Akhlaq’s family. And, somebody close to or related to a local BJP leader forced the priest at the local temple to make an announcement on a loudspeaker that a cow had been slaughtered. So, a mob rushed to Akhlaq’s house, lynched him to death and injured his son, who has since undergone multiple brain surgeries.

On the face of it, this may appear to be a case of a Muslim being killed because he was suspected to have consumed beef which, incidentally, has not been banned in Uttar Pradesh, the state where Dadri is located. It can very easily be dismissed as yet another communal flare-up.

But, if one looks at the events that have led to this situation it will clearly show that this is a clear expression of majoritarianism. Akhlaq being a Muslim is purely incidental to the situation. Tomorrow it could be anybody who does not tow the line. Any voice of dissent, any form or shape of difference, including the Hindus who eat beef, or who do not think alike, may be the targets of majoritarian assertion or intimidation.

The section which asserts its identity as the numerical majority is clearly damaging the cause of democracy. This group believes that it can determine what we will eat in the confines of our homes, which boy can meet which girl, if at all, and which opinion can be voiced and which one silenced. Freedom guaranteed to all Indians in the constitution, it appears, is under threat from those who sowed the seeds of social divide in the mid-80’s for a generation to grow up without knowing the culture of this country, an ethos which the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, so eloquently expressed when he wrote in 1925 in Young India.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote: 'But supposing even that I myself do not kill the cow, is it any part of my duty to make the Mussalman, against his will, to do likewise? Mussalmans claim that Islam permits them to kill the cow. To make a Mussalman, therefore, to abstain from cow-killing under compulsion would amount in my opinion to converting him to Hinduism by force. Even in India under swaraj, in my opinion, it would be for a Hindu majority unwise and improper to coerce by legislation a Mussalman minority into submission to statutory prohibition of cow-slaughter'.

Not believing in what the Mahatma said would mean a process of marginalisation of communities in a society that is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious. That is something the moderate and liberal Hindus would not like India to be and, most certainly not, after seeing Pakistan become a failed state with its policy of marginalisation. Clearly, India is seeing the emergence of two sets of people.

One that is clearly tolerant and this is the section that exists in all religious groupings and the other intolerant, again, cutting across religions. In the wake of the killing of rationalists like Dabolkar, Govind Pansare and M M Kalburgi, and now that of Akhlaq, it is the politics of intimidation that is posing the challenge to the voice of reason. It could help the voice of reason if Prime Minister Narendar Modi broke his silence even if he had campaigned against the ‘pink revolution’ before he got elected. But, if he doesn’t, it would mean he prefers to violate the constitution which he had sworn on.
Whose handiwork?

Some things don’t seem to change for the better. A fairly good number of Muslim women have plans of contesting the local bodies elections in the western state of Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district. At least, a score of them have plans to make their mark in the electoral arena. To their surprise, they have suddenly found handbills being distributed in the Muslim dominated areas that a fatwa had been issued prohibiting them from contesting elections because it is not permitted in Islam!

Nobody knows who has printed those handbills and why they are being distributed at a time when everybody should be busy doing the ground work for the electoral battle. It is true that the contents in the handbill are being countered by the Moulvis and Islamic scholar on the fallacies of the fatwa.

But, the fact remains that for every positive step taken by the women to move up the ladder of democracy, the efforts to pull them down, not necessarily take a step backwards, seems to be getting stronger.

The move to cause confusion among the electorate will hopefully get defeated. It doesn’t really matter how many Muslim women win or lose. But the effort to participate in the democratic process would be a positive step just like the Imams have decided to deliver sermons across the country on the faithful not following the un-Islamic violent or ideological path of the IS.

Tailpiece

Newspapers over the weekend have reported the case of a 70 year old man in the US being given the pink slip because he was farting. His boss had told his wife that the office had received complaints of visitors having problems with ‘the odours’.

In India, men many years younger than this US citizen (retirement age in India whether in private or public service is between 58 and 65) would have no qualms about creating ‘the odours’. In fact, if the same rule is applied in India, particularly in government offices, the rate of unemployment would only shoot up.

The gas that goes out can also bring many down!

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]