[The impunity with which Muslims are being lynched in the name of cow protection has created a sense of terror and restlessness sin the community. (Getty Images)]
When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.
- Nelson Mandela
India has been bedeviled by a spate of gruesome lynchings. And at the epicenter of the country’s violent upheaval is the indolent cow which is considered sacred by Hindus .The targeted communities have lately got some breathing space after being under the grip of lynch mafias only when the country’s highest court stepped into action. The Supreme Court of India has directed the government to ensure that cow vigilantism groups do not take law into their own hands. Cow vigilantism has become the most powerful fascist instrument for rightists for coercing those who do not toe their ideology. It should come as no surprise that, in the three years since the BJP took the reins of power, India has witnessed an avalanche of intolerance against minorities.
The Partition of India was the most cataclysmic event of the century that convulsed an entire subcontinent. Unlike most revolutions that usher freedom from oppression and herald a conducive culture, the freedom which India and Pakistan gained from the British was both mournful and celebratory; .No one could conclude whether the scorecard was in favour of Pakistan, India or Britain.
The most crucial post partition issue was the future of Muslims who either opted to stay in India or had no option on account of various complexities. Many of the misgivings of Muslims were sorted out when India adopted a secular constitution and provided adequate safeguards for protecting the cultural and religious rights of Muslims.
While the rule of law treated Muslims as equal as others, the bitterness that led to partition lingered and could not be eliminated by law .it had seeped the culture of the country. The cultural divide manifested in several forms of discriminations Muslims had to suffer .The rightist Hindus continued their vilification campaign against Muslims and always perceived them as enemies .This was not just a post partition phenomena .The demonization of Muslims by Hindus began much before partition and ban on cow slaughter has been a very old agenda of h the BJP-affiliated Rashtriya Swayamsevek Sangh (RSS), a radical right-wing Hindu nationalist organization and a key source of political support for the BJP. They have consistently challenged India’s secular social order. Whipping up communal strife is a necessary part of the Hindu nationalist playbook. Banning cow slaughter had been a major goal of the RSS since its inception in the 1920s. But until Mode became prime minister it had failed to find a leader in the BJP who would make it a part of his national policy.
Several bloody communal riots have taken place during the regime of the Congress party which projected itself as friend and savior of Muslims .The Congress did have some extraordinarily committed secular leaders but its dilemma was how to cope with the vast Hindu majority which was an important electoral demographic.
Communal riots in India normally had a common pattern with the sparks being triggered by isolated incidents. More important was that these eruptions of religious intolerance were area specific and defined by geographies.
The ascendancy of the BJP government had given rise to a communal fuse that has huge inflammatory power whose heat is being felt across the country. The new wave of intolerance that has gripped the nation has now got a specific vocabulary: cow vigilantism.
Everyone acknowledges that several Hindus consider cow as sacred .The Indian laws also silently proclaimed the sanctity. Cow slaughter has long been outlawed in several Indian states but in these seventy years there was very thin evidence of cow worship on a large sale .The cow has many economic uses for which all communities revere it ,but everyone knows that in cities as well as villages cows which have lost economic vale on account of age have been treated very badly except by highly orthodox Hindus who feed them the way we feed human beings.
Beef, which is the flesh of livestock like cow, bulls and buffaloes, has been consumed by all communities and cows which have dried and have lost economic value have been traded freely; even orthodox Hindus sell decrepit old and sick cows and won’t prefer to nurse them. These cows find their way in the abattoirs. The major contribution to beef comes from bulls and buffaloes and the remaining from cows. The way the government had framed its policies on beef is a very clear indication that its real concern is not bovines but Muslims.
The impunity with which Muslims are being lynched in the name of cow protection has created a sense of terror and restlessness sin the community. It has taken such a form that every Muslim is being eyed as a beef eater .Muslims even fear that they would get trapped even if they eat legitimate meat .The forensic report comes too late and by that time physical violence has already wrought damage. The roots of the current crisis, in which the life of a cow is considered more sacred than anything on earth, go much deeper than Modi, reaching into the fundamental battle between illiberal Hindutva forces and a pluralistic tradition.
It is true that many Muslims are slaughtering cows in areas where they are protected by virtue of the density of their own population .However the real fact is that by and large most Muslims have now given up beef.
A far less vigorous test is being applied to non Muslims who constitute the greater segment of beef eaters and yet are being tolerated, whereas Muslims are being subjected to physical violence for even some small breaches .Several decisions of Indian judiciary have clearly indicated that not all governments policies about Muslims meet the test of law .in the Supreme Court’s judgment on triple talaq also two judges dissented and endorsed the conservative and orthodox Muslims stand.
Political calculations aside, even the economic dynamics show that the country’s policy on cows is on slippery ground. India has more than 300 million cattle – a third of the world’s bovine population – but only 3 percent of its arable land. The fodder it grows is sufficient for at most 60 percent of its livestock. About 140 million cattle are therefore chronically undernourished. A huge number of usually over-aged cattle or male calves made redundant by the tractor are, as a result, driven into the forests to starve to death.
The export of beef has provided an alternative. As a result there are more than 3,500 slaughterhouses that export 2 million tones of ‘beef’ a year, though most of this is officially classified as water buffalo. The trade provides more than two million jobs, mostly to Muslims and Hindu dalits (the former Untouchables), a safety valve Modi’s government is determined to close.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been issuing huge advertisements publicizing his development agenda and demonstrating to the country that he means business and has untrammeled control over the country’s administration .Mr. Modi needs to bring the same zeal to overhauling India’s policing and judicial system that he has brought to other issues.
He must take cue from some of the highly orthodox Hindu ideologues in India’s freedom movement who also reposed faith in India’s pluralism. The tallest statesman to emerge from BJP ranks, Atal Behari Vajpayee himself refrained from practicing confrontationist politics with minorities and even respected their sentiments. This is the reason why his popularity and fan following cuts across creeds and castes.
The founder of Banaras Hindu University Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya also symbolized the multiculturism of India. Malaviya declared:
“India is not a country of the Hindus only. It is a country of the Muslims, the Christians and the Parsees too. The country can gain strength and develop itself only when the people of India live in mutual goodwill and harmony.”
[Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]